What Is a Toxic Relationship?
A toxic relationship is one that makes you feel unsupported, misunderstood, demeaned, or attacked. On a basic level, any relationship that makes you feel worse rather than better can become toxic over time.
Toxic relationships can exist in just about any context, from the playground to the boardroom to the bedroom. You may even deal with toxic relationships among your family members.
People with mental illnesses, such as bipolar disorder, major depression, or even depressive tendencies, may be particularly susceptible to toxic relationships since they are already sensitive to negative emotions. For example, someone with bipolar disorder who is in the midst of a mixed or depressive episode may have a somewhat weaker grip on emotional stability than others, and that may make that person an easier target for toxic people. However, toxic people can affect anyone.
Here’s what you need to know about toxic relationships, including what makes a relationship toxic and how to determine if you’re in one. You’ll also find tips for effective ways to manage these types of relationships.
Signs of a Toxic Relationship
Only you can tell if the bad outweighs the good in a relationship. But if someone consistently threatens your well-being by what they’re saying, doing, or not doing, it’s likely a toxic relationship.
Relationships that involve physical or verbal abuse are definitely classified as toxic. But there are other, more subtle, signs of a toxic relationship, including:
You give more than you’re getting, which makes you feel devalued and depleted.
You feel consistently disrespected or that your needs aren’t being met.
You feel a toll on your self-esteem over time.
You feel unsupported, misunderstood, demeaned, or attacked.
You feel depressed, angry, or tired after speaking or being with the other person.
You bring out the worst in each other. For example, your competitive friend brings out a spite-based competitive streak that is not enjoyable for you.
You are not your best self around the person. For example, they bring out the gossipy side of you, or they seem to draw out a mean streak you don’t normally have.
You feel like you have to walk on eggshells around this person to keep from becoming a target of their venom.
You spend a lot of time and emotional strength trying to cheer them up.
You are always to blame. They turn things around so things you thought they had done wrong are suddenly your fault.
Toxic vs. Healthy Behavior
When determining if a relationship is creating toxicity, it’s important to look at which behaviors are being displayed most frequently in the relationship. In other words, if one or both of you are consistently selfish, negative, and disrespectful, you could be creating toxicity in the relationship. But if you’re mostly encouraging, compassionate, and respectful, then there might just be certain issues that create toxicity that need to be addressed.
It’s important to recognize the signs of toxicity—whether it’s in you or in the other person. Here are some signs of both toxic behaviors and healthy behaviors.
It’s important to note that toxic relationships are not limited to romantic relationships. They exist in families, in the workplace, and among friend groups—and they can be extremely stressful, especially if the toxicity isn’t effectively managed.
Not all toxic relationships are caused by both parties. Some people are simply toxic to be around—they sap your energy with negative behaviors like constant complaining, critical remarks, and overall negativity. Or, they may argue with others constantly, explain why they know better, or point out the flaws of others—all of which may weigh on you over time.
Sometimes people act this way toward everyone and are unaware of their effect on others. They also may not know healthier ways to communicate. It’s likely that they don’t know how to read social cues well enough to know when they’re frustrating people or making them feel like they are being criticized or ignored.