Within the realm of relationships, one would think it would be so easy to sniff out and identify “toxicity” in a second. Sometimes it is that easy. Other times, you get sucked into it without realizing, and it’s always harder to identify when you are in it than when observing from the outside.
Are toxic relationships only limited to romantic partners? No. Family, friends, acquaintances, colleagues, or peers can constitute healthy relationships or destructive ones. Being able to identify the small differences between healthy or toxic relationships is a main gateway to less stress and exhaustion in your life.
Criticism and Contempt
John Gottman, a researcher and couples psychotherapist, is considered a guru of communication to many. From his love lab research to his “Four Horsemen Apocalypse”, he has listed a few, out of many, communication styles that need to be avoided. One of the highest indicators of toxic relationships and divorce is criticism and contempt. Criticism can appear in small subtle dosages to big heavy ones. Put downs, distastefully making fun of you, passive aggressiveness, superiority, or any other expression of judgmental disapproval in both private or public can be forms of criticism or contempt. It not only builds a defensive and resentful wall up in return, but is also demoralizing and emotionally unhealthy.
I repeat, this article is for all types of relationships, not just romantic ones. We can get sucked into one-sided relationships with the most well-intentioned people. Certain behavioral patterns and lack of boundaries can shift a connection into one that is not two-sided. Is it a two-way conversation and or is it a monologue? Are you compromising or sacrificing? Is it all about the other person or do you feel that it is a balanced maintenance?
You know how interacting with some people literally leaves you feeling drained and others don’t? Imagine spending the rest of your life with that. Picking and choosing where you want to invest your energy is smarter than leaving yourself emotionally exhausted and physically tired by the end of the day. Unhealthy attachment styles, unnecessary drama, or emotional instability can leave you emotionally drained and part of a toxic combination.
Also, every individual has their own rhythm, level of calmness or state of flow in life. Being around people who are either compatible or are able to accept and work around your own boundaries, personal space, and character can help maintain your maximum state of wellbeing. When incompatible people who have different rhythms in life constantly surpass those boundaries and throw their own baggage onto you then your energy will surely be headed down. You will feel emotionally drained with no extra energy to invest in actual constructive things in life.
Note: you can have all shades of characters in your life. This is what makes life so interesting and diverse, however, knowing the difference between someone who oversteps emotional limits, making you feel inadequate or uncomfortable, and one who doesn’t is always crucial.
Inability to Enjoy Good Moments
Stress can outweigh positivity sometimes, but if you feel you’re continuously unable to enjoy good moments with this person, then maybe it’s time to look back and question that relationship. Has it always been like this? If yes, then why? More importantly, why am I doing this to myself? If not always, then when did things change? Is it a temporary phase due to inconvenient circumstances or has that been going on for a very long time? Not only is it emotionally unhealthy being around someone who is a constant downer, but it can also shine light on whether it is time to let go of this relationship or not.
Prevention of Growth or Change
As human beings, we constantly evolve, grow, and change. Having supportive people around you not only serves as an emotional foundation, but also motivates you for further improvement. You need flexibility to move forward, not rigidity holding you back and forcing you to stay in one place.
Abuse is when one person uses destructive behaviors in order to maintain psychological or physical power and control or to force an idea, behavior, or a person on another person. Sometimes abuse can be so subtle one does not realize it. Relational abuse can be emotional, verbal, financial, sexual, or physical. Communication style, criticism, threats, force, isolation, intimidation, emotional manipulation, blackmail, violence, or rape (even within marriage) are all abusive patterns.
Think you might be involved in something toxic? Be sure to catch Part 2, which will discuss how to remove yourself or let go of toxic relationships for a stress-free life.