How to Navigate a Toxic Relationship

Relationships are complex, made more so because there are people in our lives we simply can’t avoid.  Some relationships are toxic. If you notice you dread being around them, are emotionally exhausted after an encounter, sense you’re being controlled, or feel like you’re always “walking on eggshells,” this is probably a toxic relationship.  The challenge is, you may have been in the relationship for so long, the behavior seems normal. I want to suggest you don’t have to continue swallowing the poison.

Staying in a toxic relationship is damaging to your self-worth.  The behavior creates a distorted view of you, because of the consistent devaluation and invalidation experienced in the relationship.  You may begin to believe others perceive you the same way. Additionally, the stress generated from toxic relationships can be a threat to your physical health.  Chronic stress is associated with heart disease, insomnia, compromised immunity, and overeating.

Below are some ways you can navigate toxic relationships.

    • Manage your reactions.  This is where you have the most control.  Learn to be self-aware of your vulnerabilities, so you know when you are at risk of being pulled into toxic drama. Give yourself permission to step back, and assess your reaction- before your respond. Learn to be assertive about your needs, and say “no” to unreasonable demands.
    • Limit your exposure. Understand you may be contributing to the development of toxic relationships because you don’t realize you have the right to set boundaries.  In a toxic relationship, the individual has gained power over you in the way you respond to their demands and your desire to take care of them. You don’t have to go to the family dinner, or run to the rescue every time your friend calls in distress.  Take your power back.
    • Protect yourself. Learn to recognize the signs of a toxic relationship. Ask yourself if you truly respect the person who is exhibiting toxic behavior.  If not, then don’t allow them to determine your worth. Seek people whom you respect and trust to help keep you in balance when toxic behavior leaves you feeling destabilized.
    • Practice self-kindness. Eliminate negative self-talk.  It is natural to adopt the criticisms of others as truth, and begin criticizing yourself in the same way.  This is not constructive, and will only increase your stress. Treat yourself like you would a good friend, and offer encouragement.

If the toxic relationship is with someone you can’t avoid, such as spouse, ex-spouse, or parent, you may need  help.  A mental health professional can offer support and assistance in navigating the relationship.


Written by: Ann Sheerin