What Is a Toxic Relationship?

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What is a Toxic Relationship

A healthy relationship brings joy and fulfillment to your life. Whether you work alongside them, are romantically entwined, or have been best friends for years, positive relationships will make you feel good about yourself and look forward to the future. Unfortunately, not all relationships are created equal. Some relationships take a toll on your mental health and leave you drained, defeated, and depressed. These relationships are considered toxic. But what is a toxic relationship?

What is a toxic relationship?


When discussing abusive relationships, people refer to romantic relationships most frequently, and with good reason. Unfortunately, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men experience severe physical violence at the hand of a romantic partner. And that’s only domestic violence. Other types of violence come in much more insidious forms.

A common type of psychological abuse is gaslighting. This term comes from a play of the same name that appeared on the theatrical scene in 1938. It follows the story of a husband who tries to make his wife believe she is going insane.

The term today refers to the practice of making someone question reality through manipulative tactics.

It’s a way for abusers to control a situation so they can continue their passive-aggressive, emotionally abusive, toxic behavior on their victim. They make you feel bad and ensure you lose all confidence in yourself so you can’t leave. They make you believe you don’t deserve anyone better, and they’re the best you’ll ever have.

It’s hard to stand up to someone who does not acknowledge their own reality. These relationships are difficult to leave because:

  • If you live with them, you may have nowhere else to go
  • You have a long history and don’t want to throw it away
  • You have happy memories and cling to those times, hoping they’ll return
  • You tell yourself they won’t do it again
  • You don’t want to lose that connection and are afraid of being alone


Toxic friendships have a lot of similarities to toxic romantic partnerships because they both are chosen. In most instances, you elect to spend time with these people. You chose to build a relationship with them, which makes it hard to leave. You don’t want to throw away the relationship you’ve spent time and effort building.

While they generally don’t have the element of physical abuse, toxic friendships still exhibit several of the same controlling behaviors as a romantic relationship. They might:

  • Gaslight you, negating your experiences by pretending they didn’t happen
  • Use your relationship an ultimatum to force you to do things you don’t want to do
  • Blackmail you with personal information you’ve shared
  • Make you feel bad about yourself
  • Dismiss your thoughts and feelings
  • Use verbal abuse and tell you not to take it seriously, because it was “a joke”

If your close friends don’t make you feel safe and supported, you need to reevaluate the health of those relationships.


You don’t need long term, love-based relationships to deal with toxic people. Superiors can use their power within the company to exploit those who report to them. It’s hard to stand up to someone when they have the power to fire you.

Some red flags of a toxic workplace environment include:

  • If they leverage their power to force you to do things you don’t want to
  • They make lewd comments and get away with them because you can’t speak up
  • They take your ideas and get credit for them
  • They belittle comments you make in meetings

Ways to Get Out of a Toxic Relationship

It’s hard to diagnose a toxic relationship and even harder to leave one. Here are some techniques you can use to start preparing yourself to end or address a toxic relationship.

  • Find your support groups. Whether you find a group therapist or reach out to friends you trust, find your support networks. A counseling professional could help give you skills to non-confrontationally address the abuser. A friend could give you a place to stay if you need to leave an abuser and have nowhere else to stay.
  • Consult or involve a third party. Getting an objective perspective can help you see through the guise of gaslighting to see the truth. If you’re dealing with an office relationship, talking to HR will give you the support you need to get your account on record and involve the company in the dispute.

Whatever you do, understand that you deserve to have relationships in your life that make you feel confident in yourself and proud of your accomplishments.

If your relationships make you question your worth, you need to seriously question those relationships.

Sarah Margaret Henry
Published in Life


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