Life is about investments. We invest our time, energy, talents, and resources into people, tasks, and experiences that create a sense of wholeness and purpose for us. Sometimes, we make good investments, and other times we don’t. That’s life.
Ask anyone who has ever been in one, and they will tell you that toxic relationships are bad investments. However, the nature of them makes us invest more and more with the hope that things will get better. It can be hard to tell if you are in a toxic relationship sometimes. Maybe your partner is always putting you down, or perhaps they are never satisfied with anything you do.
While there is no universal definition of what constitutes a toxic relationship, there are some common characteristics. A toxic relationship is often characterized by emotional manipulation, abusive behavior, and/or neglect. It can be hard to see things clearly, and it may even seem like there's no way out. But it's important to remember that you have the power to end the toxicity and create a healthy, fulfilling life…you just have to make a different investment.
That is not to say that it will be easy or that you won’t have to make some sacrifices. Many times when people leave toxic relationships, they are leaving the financial breadwinner or the social butterfly who everyone on the outside of your relationship loves. You have to consider the impact on your mental health, however, if you continue investing. Here are some tips for how to break free from a toxic relationship:
1. Know the signs of gaslighting and run as soon as you see them. Gaslighting is a form of manipulation whereby a perpetrator twists reality so much that you start questioning your experience. Essentially, gaslighting makes you doubt the reality of what you saw, what you heard, what you remember, or what you felt. It's a potent form of control that can leave you feeling confused and worried that something may be wrong with you.
2. Talk to someone you trust. It can be hard to see things clearly when you're in a toxic relationship. Talking to a friend or family member who can offer an outside perspective can help you see the situation more clearly and make a decision about what to do. Make sure that this is a safe person who truly has your best interest at heart.
3. Seek therapy. You definitely shouldn’t be surprised that this is on my list. If you're struggling to cope with the emotional fallout of being in a toxic relationship, therapy can be an invaluable resource. A therapist can help you work through your feelings and develop healthy coping mechanisms.
4. Plan for a safe exit. When planning your exit, depending on the level of danger within the relationship, you may consider relocating, changing your job/career and contact information, and/or involving law enforcement to ensure your continued safety after you leave the relationship.
Toxic relationships can have a lasting impact on mental health, even after the relationship has
ended. PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, is a condition that can develop after exposure to a traumatic event. For many people who have been in toxic relationships, the emotional and psychological abuse they experienced can be so severe that it meets the criteria for PTSD. Symptoms can include intrusive thoughts and memories, avoidance of people and places associated with the trauma, hypervigilance, and extreme anxiety. If you have experienced a toxic relationship, it is important to seek out professional help to deal with the aftermath. With proper treatment, you can begin to heal your psychological wounds.
Relationships are hard, and they take work. They require communication, compromise, and a whole lot of effort. If the relationship is consistently creating negative emotions for you and you are left feeling worthless, you have officially overdrafted your psychological account. This account allows you to cope with stressors that you encounter in your daily life. However, if the account is overdrafted by your toxic relationship, then you have no capital to address the other stressors that occur on your journey.
Make changes before you overdraft your psychological account. And, if you are already at the point of being overdrafted, there’s only one solution. Just like with your bank account where you have to start making deposits until you get out of the hole, you have to start making emotional deposits (e.g., using the tips above) until you get yourself out of the hole.
The cost of toxic relationships is simply too high for you to continue investing.