Updated: Oct 10, 2021
As a therapist with experience working with emotional abuse and trauma, I felt moved to write a blog on toxic relationships. You have probably heard the term "toxic" at least a couple of times on the past year. The term appears to have been started by Lillian Glass, a California-based self styled communication and psychology expert who claims to have coined the term in her 1995 book Toxic People.
Some people have no idea they are in what some would describe as a "toxic relationship". Ultimately, toxic people will make you feel not only drained of energy but increasingly insecure. It is very likely you feel you have lost yourself. Often partners, friends, family members of toxic people are left questioning themselves and feeling useless.
Below I have outlined some common effects of a toxic relationship:
Feeling constantly drained
Feeling as though nothing you do is good enough for said person
Feeling increasingly insecure and unsure about yourself
You begin to question yourself; whether this be your career, relationships with others such as family and friends or even your own opinions
Feeling less of the person you were before you met the toxic person.
Toxic relationships often start (on the surface) very positively. Toxic people tend to "love bomb" at the beginning of a relationship. Quite often the toxic person will tell you that they have "never felt like this before"; they may also refer to you as their "soul mate" and "true love". Clinical Psychologist Carla Marie Manly, describes Love bombing as a tactic of flooding a new partner with an overabundance of attention, compliments, and often false promises". The praise and attention may feel great to start with, but this behaviour is unhealthy and unsustainable. The toxic person uses this to gain your trust.
Jackson Mackenzie, author of Psychopath Free and founder of online support community for abuse survivors Psychopathfree.com puts forward the following red flags often displayed by toxic people:
Selfishness and crippling thirst for attention
They have an insatiable demand for adoration. They drain all energy from you and you soon feel as though your life is about them.
Essentially, they make you feel as though the problem is you; you are manipulated into doubting your own sanity. For example, you may rightly point out that you have been hurt by an action or comment, only to be told "you are so sensitive" "you're crazy! You need to see a psychiatrist!" "It's not normal to be so upset by this" Read more about gaslighting here
Lack of empathy
They can't put themselves in your shoes or anyone else's. They can't comprehend your feelings.
The have high expectations of others but do not hold to these standards themselves. For example, they may be very judgemental of those who cheat on their partners, but they do this themselves. Or they may be very critical of people who haven't had a certain level of education, even though they have not had this themselves.
Focus on your mistakes and ignore their own
They may often remind you of your short comings, while disregarding their own. They may put down your career even though you are more successful than them.
Only you see their true colours
Toxic people are often very popular. They have many friends cheering them on. These are superficial friends however do not see the real them. Often they use and discard these friends.
Undermine your self esteem
Initially they showered you with attention- however, now you feel as though you are a bother to them. You often feel inferior, even if logically, you have nothing to be inferior about.
It is important to point out that toxic relationships can also be in the form of friendships and family relationships. In fact toxic relationships within friends and family can sometimes feel harder to break free from. Similarly to a romantic relationship, with toxic friendships, usually your feelings are not acknowledged (or often minimized) while the emphasis will be on the toxic friend. This can result in you feeling drained and insignificant. Similarities can often be drawn between a toxic relationship and narcissism, although they do not always go hand in hand. Quite often I have had clients who feel embarrassed and even ashamed to bring this to therapy- but it is important to note that, a friendship can feel just as significant as a romantic relationship and it is important that this is acknowledged.
It is also important to point out You do not need to be weak, naïve or stupid to find yourself involved in a toxic relationship. In my experience as a therapist, I quite often find that it is quite kind hearted people who found themselves drawn into this type of partnership or friendship.
Having a safe space to talk about your experience could be the first step in moving on from a toxic relationship. If you feel in need of help please feel free to contact me or take a look at my website. Alternatively, I recommend the below books which I found to be very useful on the subject.
Psychopath Free Jackson Mackenzie
Whole again Jackson Mackenzie
Gaslighting: Recovery Handbook Amy White