How To Handle Toxic Relationships

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or this post, I felt inspired to write about abuse in platonic, familial, and professional relationships because I believe that we need to be more aware that abuse is abuse, regardless of the relationship dynamic. I, like many other abuse survivors, have become more aware of even the most subtle signs of abuse in relationships; as a result, I tend to distance myself from {anyone who treats me badly} very quickly. When I escaped from my abusive situation, I vowed that I would never, ever, ever tolerate abuse again. From anybody. I think it’s extremely important that we assess all of our relationships regularly; we can then take control of what happens within those relationships that have devolved.

What happens in a relationship is up to both people involved but we sometimes have to take initiative, if necessary, to fix what makes us unhappy. How the other person reacts to such a discussion will tell us everything we need to know about the friendship. If the friend in question has a willingness to work on the issue{s}, great; if not, we then have to decide the best way forward.

Sometimes, we’re not aware that there’s any trouble in the relationship. People change over time, for reasons we can’t understand or control. Relationship dynamics can go through subtle changes that can make 2 people {who got along perfectly well in the past} less compatible. Sometimes, we’re aware that something has changed, even if we can’t pinpoint the change itself. Sometimes we don’t notice the change in a relationship or friendship until we start to feel changes in our mood after spending time or having a lengthy conversation with the person in question.

Deciding what to do about the relationship in question leaves us feeling incredibly torn, particularly when it’s a family member, long-term friend or someone we know in a professional capacity. With family and friends, there are other people to consider if we can’t resolve issues; limiting or severing contact with someone isn’t easy. If we have issues with a boss or colleague, finding another job isn’t easy if the employment options are limited.

Assessing relationships involves recognizing how we’re affected and considering our options. For many people, myself included, unresolved relationship issues lead to prolonged stress which can manifest itself in a long list of physical symptoms such as headaches, digestive problems, high blood pressure, depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and PTSD. No relationship is worth the cost of our health. If that sounds harsh, it’s because I have experienced everything on that list and still do to some degree.

What questions should you be asking in your relationship assessments? Consider how you feel when you think of or interact with the person in question. Consider how you feel before and after you interact with the person in question.

  • Does thinking of {this person} adversely my mood?
  • When I have to interact with {this person} in any capacity, do I feel a sense of dread? Do I have to emotionally prepare? Do I feel anxious? Do I notice any physical symptoms of stress or anxiety?
  • Do I avoid interacting with {this person} if possible?
  • Do I feel drained after interacting with {this person}? Do I notice any physical symptoms of stress or anxiety for hours/days after I’ve seen or talked to {this person}?
  • Do I feel frustrated or angry because I didn’t speak my mind or stand up to {this person}?
  • Do I feel guarded around {this person} because I never know what s/he will say or do?
  • Do I censor myself  around {this person} to keep the peace?
  • Is it possible to address my issues with {this person} without fear of repercussions?
  • Is {this person} open or closed to any discussions about what’s bothering me?
  • Am I keeping quiet about my issues with {this person} because I’m afraid of hurting my relationships with mutual loved ones or colleagues?
  • Do I see things ever improving despite attempts to resolve things with {this person}?

You may think of more questions before you’re finished with your assessment and that’s a good thing. Answer each one truthfully, thoroughly, and without making excuses or exceptions. The point of assessing your relationships is to rid yourself of the stressful, dysfunctional ones or, at the very least, limit contact to reduce the stress as much as possible. Your history with {this person} will help you decide your options. If you’ve had unsuccessful attempts at resolution in the past, things will most likely not improve; if you decide to open a dialogue with {this person}, prepare yourself for the following possible outcomes:

  • {This person} may agree to talk about things, but it’s not a guarantee that s/he will change. Ask for what you want/need; if s/he’s not willing to oblige, at least you know where you stand.
  • The relationship may devolve or end.
  • Whatever happens is beyond your control and you can move on, knowing that you did what you could to make amends.
  • If the relationship ends, mourning it is a natural process. Additionally, the end of your relationship with {this person} will affect mutual relationships with others in your family, social circle, or workplace. Don’t force others to choose sides because it isn’t fair to those around you.
  • Don’t allow anyone to force a continued relationship with {this person}. Explain that you respect their right to a relationship with {this person}, just as you have the right to do what’s best for you.
  • Beyond factually explaining {to mutual friends, relatives or colleagues} what took place between you and {this person}, cease any and all further dialogue out of courtesy.
  • Resist the urge to feel guilty for doing what you must for self-preservation. Everyone handles their relationship issues in a way that’s best for them.

“You don’t ever have to feel guilty about removing toxic people from your life. It doesn’t matter whether someone is a relative, romantic interest, employer, childhood friend or a new acquaintance. You don’t have to make room for people who cause you pain or make you feel small. It’s one thing if a person owns up to their behavior and makes an effort to change. But if a person disregards your feelings, ignores your boundaries, and continues to treat you in a harmful way, they need to go.” ~ Daniell Koepke

If you have any questions or need further advice after reading this article, get in touch. We’re here to help.

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