“Toxic relationships” has been quite the buzzword recently as people start to become more aware of problematic relationship behaviors and dynamics. Thanks to social media, conversations about red flag relationship behaviors has become more mainstream which allows people to better understand how they may want to move forward and set boundaries around such behaviors so they can have a healthier relationship.
On this episode of Get Naked with Dr. Kate, Dr. Kate Balestrieri and therapist, Jaime Mahler, LMHC, discuss signs of toxic relationships, how survivors of such relationships can begin their healing journey and set intentions for healthier relationships, and how couples can overcome toxic behaviors that are not serving them as individuals or the relationship as a whole.
Signs of Toxic Relationship Behavior
Depending on the behaviors, identifying toxic relationship dynamics can be hard to spot, which is why many people don’t realize they are in a toxic relationship until they’ve invested much of their time and energy getting to know a person. Toxic behaviors often start off covert, slow, and mild in intensity, but eventually escalate into overtly problematic and harmful actions. By this time, the person has already put up with so much, that it can feel challenging to create new boundaries, stand up to the toxic behaviors, or leave the relationship entirely.
You Feel Manipulated
People who exhibit toxic behaviors in relationships often use manipulation to keep their partners in a relationship or coming back to them despite the pain they cause. Manipulation can include strategies like lying, gaslighting, blame shifting, stone walling, and engaging in what’s called the cycle of violence/abuse. The cycle refers to a seemingly never-ending cycle of tension, conflict, and honeymoon (love bombing), which creates a psychological dependence, or sometimes referred to as a trauma bond, that is hard for many to break free from.
You Feel You Are Walking on Eggshells
You may have heard the phrase, “I feel like I am walking on eggshells around them.” This occurs when it feels like you have to delicately tip toe around and be hyperaware of how what you say or do might cause an outburst in someone. As such, you constantly censor what you say, how it’s said, what you do, wear, or act like in front of someone to avoid conflict that you otherwise might not have to consider around others.
You Feel a Loss of Identity
Many who are in toxic relationships feel like they have lost their identity or sense of self due to how much energy that is taken from them. Those in toxic relationships might find themselves spending less time engaging in their hobbies, spending less time with friends and family, and curating their life around the wants, needs, and preferences of the toxic partner. People often feel as if they have “lost themselves” in the relationship and if/when they leave, they often spend a good deal of time reconnecting with themselves and tending to the parts of their life that was neglected during the toxic relationship.
You Feel Everything You do is Wrong
Toxic partners have a way of making their partner feel as if they can’t do anything right and that they are constantly making mistakes. A toxic partner might take a miniscule mistake and make their partner feel they just did irreputable damage as a means to make the partner feel like a failure.
You Feel Controlled
Toxic partners more often than not, need to feel in control of their partner. This means that they likely want to control who their partner sees, what they wear, the color of their hair, what they do with their body, and more. Those in toxic relationships often report that they feel they need to run everything they do by their partner or their partner will be upset. Control can also result in a partner needing constant access to private technology, social media accounts, bank account access, transportation, and access to the home.
You Feel Emotionally Depleted
Toxic relationships can be absolutely exhausting. The amount of time spent ensuring that you are being perfect to ensure you aren’t upsetting the partner with the toxic behaviors takes a ton of mental and emotional bandwidth. Many feel that at the end of the day, they don’t have the ability to hold space for anything or anyone else in their life as they have spent the whole day being hypervigilant towards their partner’s needs and behaviors.
Healing is Possible
Toxic relationships can be traumatic and take so much from you. However, you are resilient and can come back from these types of relationships with awareness and boundaries to protect yourself in current or future relationships. Be sure to check out this podcast episode to learn more about how you can begin the much needed healing process that you are deserving of.
Jaime Mahler, MS, LMHC, is the New York-based psychotherapist and mental health educator behind the popular Recollected Self social media brand. Jaime’s therapeutic education on trauma and toxic relationships has gone viral on TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube with millions of views and likes. In addition to becoming the trusted empathetic resource for her many followers, Jaime is a noted mental health contributor for outlets such as USA TODAY, NBC News, Parade, and more. She is the author of her new book TOXIC RELATIONSHIP RECOVERY: Your Guide to Identifying Toxic Partners, Leaving Unhealthy Dynamics, and Healing Emotional Wounds After Breakup (September 5, 2023). She is actively engaging in conversations around trauma healing and toxic relationship dynamics through her social channels and popular mental health podcast Unlearned.
As a therapist and trauma specialist Jaime helps people of any adult age take control, reclaim their power and move ahead with pride, determination and optimism when recovering from a bad relationship and prepares them for what to look for when getting back out there. She and Dr. Kate talk about Toxic trauma and healing. They talk about the difference and importance of ME vs. WE and Interdependence vs. Co-dependence. Most importantly is that each partner makes sure they are taking care of their “self” and figuring out the difference of a toxic gaslighting relationship vs. healthy respect for one another and true compromise.
Jaime goes over her acronym OASIS for points about a toxic relationship. It is an important subject matter and may help you see some warning signs, how to handle them and maybe turn it around. Dr. Kate and Jaime remind us to always watch out for our mental health within a relationship.