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How To Identify A Toxic Relationship? Here Are Some Signs!

As a counsellor I have seen for the woman in a toxic relationship, the change is in reverse. The butterfly changes into a caterpillar, such that people who meet them after a big gap will not even recognize them anymore!

We humans cannot live without  relationships. As a baby, a human needs help to survive for a few years and that lays our foundation for longing and need for relationships. Even when we grow to be physically independent, there is no way that can happen to our emotional needs. 

Relationships are categorized as familial, casual, professional, friendly, romantic, neutral and many more.  Some relationships are just there, they neither nurture us nor do they harm us. 

Many of us will think, “How can a relationship harm us or destroy us completely? Why would we allow someone to do that to us? Won’t we walk away from a toxic relationship?” Unfortunately it is not as easy as it looks like. Many people suffer in a toxic relationship throughout their life, finally becoming someone they were not supposed to be nor wished to be.  And the worst part of it is, they become addicted to the pattern of a toxic relationship and drama involved in it. 

Parents, siblings, friends, colleagues, or a romantic partner/spouse, anyone can create a toxic relationship with us. Or maybe, we ourselves are the creators of the toxic relationship without our knowledge. Though it is easier to walk away from some of them, it is very tough to break the pattern when we have toxic relationships with our parents or spouses.

Toxic parenting

As children  we are indoctrinated to believe that our parents are always right. We follow the religion they ask to follow, adapt their preferred lifestyle and look up to them for guidance. At least in the initial years, no child has a say in his/her own life development and pattern. Since our parents are the most important people in our lives we have to learn how to accommodate and adapt to their idiosyncrasies, their faults, their moods, their demands and their rules. But unfortunately in many cases, parents do not adjust to their children, especially if they do not fit perfectly into the idea they had of a child they wanted. 

Parents are supposed to lift us up and support us whenever we fall down, but there are parents who will tear a child apart and bring them down loaded with guilt knowingly or unknowingly. 

Parenting is not easy. Discipling children and guiding them to be happy and successful is not easy for anyone. There are times when we have to resort to unpleasant methods for the good of the child. The problem is we have no definitive line that is drawn to show us when parents are crossing the limits and moving towards being toxic parents. A child should never live day in day out in fear, guilt or reeling under their obligation to parents and their demands. An isolated event can be forgotten or forgiven, but the neglect and abuse that is ongoing and progressive can damage the child permanently, leading to more toxic relationships in their lives in future. 

Often it is a selfish and self-centred parent who creates a toxic relationship with the child. Some behaviours that lead to a toxic parenting is

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  • Being verbally or physically abusive
  • Subtle abuse in form of neglect, anger, shunning of child, or ignoring their basic rights and needs
  • Labelling, name-calling, or gaslighting to take away self-confidence 
  • Controlling all decisions
  • Not giving privacy even when it is needed
  • Overly critical of even small mishaps or mistakes
  • Manipulative 
  • Pushing the children until they are tired and give in against their own interests and wishes
  • Not accepting that, as an adult, the child is independent to make his/her own choices. 

People who have been in a toxic parenting relationship, unfortunately often end up finding toxic romantic partners as well or they themselves turn into toxic partners. 

Toxic partners

In a parent child relationship, a child is unaware and helpless to take a stand. But, when it comes to romantic partners, though there is a choice to walk away from the relationship and the person involved is mature enough, people do not often take that step. 

No relationship is a smooth walk, no matter how compatible the couple are. It is often a roller coaster ride, though the peaks and lows or the speed of the ride may vary. Often, a partner accepts the toxic behaviour as normal ups and downs for a relationship to go through until they settle down. Only, this toxic pattern becomes normal and they become stranger to themselves in due course of time waiting for things to become normal. 

The toxic pattern that makes it addictive

Toxic relationships last because it follows a pattern, which eventually leads to hope for a future. It is not that men do not become victims of toxic relationships, but today I will concentrate on issues faced by women based on my experience as a counsellor for them and also with a few of my own personal experiences.

When getting married a woman is told that relationships are difficult and it will require a lot of effort from her to make it successful. There are bound to be difficulties, disagreements, dissents and discomfort but she should strive to make it successful in the end for a happy married life.

The toxic relationship is not a mutual sharing of happiness as it is supposed to be in a romantic relationship, but becomes a struggle to keep one of the partners happy at any cost. Finally, nothing becomes enough and the drama followed by an explosion anyway takes place. 

At times the woman may think of walking out, but then there is a dramatic change. A fix is offered which looks like a dream come true. Or she made to go through the guilt of being the cause of the explosion that took place harming her. The fixing creates a delusion of extreme love. A temptation to redeem the relationship slowly takes over the despair the victim has experienced, leading to hope once again. The hope will not last long since the insecurities will seep in once again through the self-centeredness, dominance and control of the partner. The cycle repeats. 

How Toxic Relationships Work

 The more horrific part is, slowly the victim becomes familiar with the pattern and gets addicted to the fix that follows and also the drama involved. Strange but true. As a counsellor, I have heard women tell me that they usually love the fixing part of the drama so much that they look forward to it after an explosion. In fact they look forward to an explosion itself, even if it hurts them a lot. 

Not many realize they are slowly changing like the caterpillar which becomes a butterfly, only here the change is in reverse. The butterfly changes into a caterpillar, so much that people who meet them after a big gap in time will not even recognize them anymore. 

Unfortunately, the woman in a toxic relationship will not even know what is happening to her, in this cycle of abuse, fixing, giving hope and slowly pushing her down all over again. She will not even believe the people who tell her that they do not recognize her anymore. 

How to identify a toxic relationship?

If more than 50% of your answer is yes to the below questions, you are probably in a relationship that needs to be evaluated by someone who can identify a toxic relationship. You have to seriously think it over. 

  • Do you constantly feel the fear of upsetting your partner?
  • Do you feel it is OK once in a while for a husband to beat his wife?
  • Have you been socially isolated because your partner doesn’t approve of others hogging your attention? He wants you all for himself?
  • Have you moved away from things that interested you because your partner disapproves of it?
  • Do you feel like you are not the person you were earlier? Are you becoming the person your partner wants you to be?
  • Are you defending your partner’s behaviour by saying “He got upset because he loves me a lot”?
  • Do you end up thinking that you were the reason for the abuse that happened to you?
  • Have you been lied to very often? Do you think it is OK to be lied to because that is the way he is?
  • Do you have financial independence? Do you have a say in how you, as a partner, will be spending the money?
  • Are you going on vacation, movies or parties where your partner wants? Can you not even have a say or make your choice at least 30% of the time?
  • Do you avoid meeting family and friends for the fear that they may get to know that your partner isn’t perfect as they assume him to be? Or for the fear that the partner doesn’t approve of it?
  • Have you slowly started to ignore your needs, happiness, hobbies, interests? Is there a constant feeling that it is enough if you do not create another drama?
  • Are you afraid to discuss problems, issues or things that hurt you?
  • Do you feel physically and emotionally drained very often?
  • Do you feel a lack of control over your own life?
  • Do you think it is OK for your partner to throw things around or break valuables in anger because he needs an outlet for his hurtful feelings?
  • Do you feel that yelling, saying hurtful things about you, or shouting is OK because it is always better than physical abuse?
  • Are your needs, emotional or physical, being dismissed very often? Does it happen as a punishment?
  • Are you ridiculed in front of family and friends repeatedly?
  • Are you threatened with withdrawal of financial stability, time with your children, or companionship? 
  • Is your partner always present when you try to spend time with your parents, siblings or family? 
  • Does your partner demand that you share personal details like your passwords to access your mobile, emails and bank accounts?
  • Do you bear the burden of most of the menial chores around your home?
  • Do you try to remember who you have spoken to, what you have done throughout the day and how you spent your time before your partner walks in because he wants to know all the details?
  • Do you look forward to some disruption in the routine so that the fixing moment will bring you some short lived joy?
  • Do you spend your energy and time so much on the partner that you have little time for yourself?
  • Do you find yourself stopping the thoughts that you feel may offend your partner?
  • Do you dread your partner’s footsteps?

I am shocked as I write this article because I have been in a toxic relationship for a long time without even realizing it, but I was saved because my partner worked in the gulf and I did not have to face the drama 80% of the time. Also, I realized the change I was undergoing on time and recovered, thanks to cancer which opened my eyes. I answered yes to quite a few of the questions above being honest to myself. 

Keeping love alive in a marriage is not the sole responsibility of a woman

As a woman, it is not your sole responsibility to make your marriage a success or maintain peace in your relationship. It takes commitment from two people to build a family or a relationship. You deserve the admiration, help, validation and security of a relationship, including on those days when you are not an angel. 

A toxic relationship can be mended, but it takes effort from both the partners. No legal document should allow a person to  belittle, dismiss or scoff at you to express yourself, give your opinion or put out your perspective. Marriage is all about balance from both the partners who are equal. If it cannot happen, it is always better to move out to breathe fresh once again. There is no better life than you living it yourself without allowing someone else to live it for you.

Image Source: Still from the movie Tumhari Sulu

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About the Author

Farida Rizwan

I am Farida Rizwan, 55, Counselor and Psychotherapist working as Senior Curriculum Developer with Chimple Learning. I am ardent blogger @www.chaptersfrommylife.com and share my life experiences of surviving breast cancer 3rd stage for read more...

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