10 Signs You’re in a Toxic, Unhealthy Relationship and How to Help Yourself

“Love is never any better than the lover. Wicked people love wickedly, violent people love violently, weak people love weakly…the lover alone possesses his gift of love.” ~Toni Morrison

All relationships are not created equally. Others can rage like a hurricane and make you feel far less secure than before. It is hard to comprehend the chaos that has become your reality.

In my late twenties, I was in an unhealthy and addictive relationship. With some time now and reflection I’m able to reflect on my relationship. I wish to offer some tips to others in similar circumstances.

The Signs that your relationship is becoming toxic or unhealthy

1. You are putting in most of the effort and your needs aren’t being met.

Emotionally I felt exhausted and drained. It was common for me to feel like this when trying to express my feelings to my partner. Most times, I felt that my efforts were futile.

2. It’s almost as if you walk on eggshells.

My ex-partner would not be able to handle it, and I was unable to anticipate when I might say something that would cause him emotional distress. It made me nervous to bring up my concerns about the relationship, as I felt like he had a wall built around him that I just couldn’t knock down.

3. You hang on because you think that’s what you are supposed to do when you love somebody.

You can blame it on Disney and romantic movies, or the countless love songs. But how many people remain in unhealthy relationships just because they feel that we owe them something? What do we owe to ourselves?

Looking back on my past relationship, I stayed in it for far too long it because I thought that’s what you do when you love somebody. When they’re hurting, you stay with them. But what if it’s one sided and it’s hurting you most of the time? Does that sound like love or unhealthy attachment?

4. It is easy to get hooked on the highs of your relationship.

Bad things can be bad. You forget all about the negative aspects when things are going well. This addictive, on-and-off pattern can make it intense and addictive. It almost feels like a game. The downside is that it can be extremely unpredictable. The feeling was that I was always preparing for the next major crash.

5. Your relationship is always open to you.

I gave most of my time and energy to my previous relationship because I didn’t think I deserved to be on the receiving end of love. It’s now clear that I was wrong.

6. You’re trying to solve problems that aren’t yours to solve.

I tried too hard to solve my ex’s problems and didn’t focus on myself. I was overwhelmed by huge life transitions like moving and starting a new career, so it seemed easier to try to help him even though he didn’t ask me for help.

I was also able to keep my distance from the fact that our relationship was in decline. It hurt too much to accept that our relationship was over and that I’d given 100 percent someone who no longer cared about my feelings or well-being. To admit it is to accept, and no one wants to be aware of how unhealthy your relationship has become.

7. Stonewalled.

If I was vulnerable enough to try and communicate my feelings, my ex-partner would keep silent for long periods. This was pure mental torture. This was the hardest thing I’ve ever felt emotionally.

Also, Stonewalling could be extremely confusing and traumatizing. It would make me feel helpless, neglected, isolated, and disregarded. I would feel helpless, abandoned and disrespected. This made me desire to talk more. We would eventually talk again and I began to become anxious. He became avoidant.

8. This can cause you to lose your sense of self.

The end of my relationship left me feeling broken, like I was a doormat being repeatedly stomped on. The person that I’d been before our relationship was no more, and all I was left with was a deep sense of shame for losing myself

I felt like I had fallen like Humpty Dumpty. No matter how much I tried, I couldn’t put all my pieces back together.

It was hard to admit that I’d enabled my ex to treat me disrespectfully over and over again. I’d worried so much about him that I stopped focusing on myself and became entwined in trying to save a relationship that had fallen apart long ago. I didn’t want to accept after all the years we were together that this was the way that it would end.

9. The feeling is that you are lost and out of control.

My ex-husband stonewalled me and I felt as if I were waiting for someone to decide my future. Everything was put on pause. I gave him all of the power in the relationship, and I felt like I was waiting for answers that I’d likely never receive.

10. It is difficult to feel respected.

The moment that the stonewalling began, my ex-partner stopped being concerned about me. It was so painful, shocking, and degrading. I think part of me stayed in the relationship so long because I couldn’t admit that this person who cared about me in the beginning had stopped showing concern for me and treated me without any kind of dignity.

This loss of communication, love and affection was very difficult to deal with. My feelings of apathy, indifference and lack of compassion caused me to feel like a garbage dumper. I felt unheard, invisible and degraded.

These questions will help you get an idea of the impact that unhealthy relationships have on your life. 

  • Are you wondering why I’m staying in the relationship? Do I stay because I’m afraid of being alone and dealing with my own issues?
  • Do I spend enough time initiating contact? Do I put in the most effort?
  • Do I allow the toxic relationship to continue by allowing this person to be disrespectful? Is there a limit to inappropriate and disrespectful behavior in a relationship?
  • Do I try to save my spouse? Are they more important to me than I am?
  • What makes me want to end the relationship? Does it make me feel guilty for wanting to end the relationship?
  • Do I try to stop something from running its course? What do we want?
  • Am I co-dependent? Are I codependent?
  • Are I living the life that I desire? Is this relationship making me happy and loved?

The hardest thing you can do is to leave a toxic and unhealthy relationship. You aren’t alone, and you deserve to be in a healthy and loving relationship. A relationship that is full of love and mutual respect should be your goal.

Here are some resources and activities I’ve used that helped me along my path to growth and self-empowerment.

1. Express your emotions; be yourself.

Holding in all of the hurt from a toxic relationship isn’t going to make it go away. Talk openly to trusted loved ones or friends about what you’ve experienced. You might be surprised at the stories of others. A counselor can help with strategies, tools and resources that will assist you in this challenging time.

You can write a diary or a mock-letter to someone who has hurt you or your future or past self. To help me envision my future, I wrote a letter to self ten years in the future. It was inspiring and motivating.

2. Learn more about codependency.

I was familiar with the term codependency, but I didn’t truly understand what it was until I heard a podcaster mention the book Codependent No More,Melody Beattie. The book transcribed everything I experienced during that turbulent relationship.

It made me realize that I put all of my energy into a relationship that wasn’t mutual or healthy and lost myself on that journey. This book reinforced my belief that our choices are up to us and not the other person. I was inspired by it to be my own driver in all aspects of my life.

3. Take some time for yourself.

After things ended, I didn’t realize how addicted to the relationship I was and how challenging it would be to not reach out to my ex. It was like going through withdrawal. Although it felt intensely and frustrating, it was rationally for my best. However, it became a visceral experience when I cut off contact.

The hardest thing and most frightening thing was being alone. I had forgotten how vital it was. My healing journey began once I was able sit down with all my thoughts and myself. Participating in yin Yoga and meditation helped reduce my anxiety and build-up stress.

4. Accept responsibility for what you do.

I wasn’t just a victim in the relationship; I was also an enabler. My ex treated me unkindly and inconsiderately as I continued to be in a relationship that was becoming very unhealthy. It was difficult to believe that I had allowed this to continue.

5. Take care of yourself.

Humanity is a process of learning. Have patience and be kind to yourself.

Because it was too painful, I felt the need to get over my feelings of loss and insecurity when this ended. It was all too real.

This would be a long process and it was clear to me that I needed to move quickly through the phase. Take your time. Give yourself grace. There will be days that are worse than others. You will eventually have more positive days than negative days.

6. Be kind to yourself.

Initialy, I felt compelled to forgive my ex because it would end the pain. I wasn’t the only one who was making me upset. It took me so long for this to become apparent. What is the point of allowing someone to abuse me emotionally?

It was me for allowing someone else to have such an inordinate amount of control over my feelings. Everything becomes easier once that is done. Although you may not be able to get closure with your ex-partner, it is possible for you to find your way.

7. This is a valuable lesson.

Every relationship has a lesson. Even if it was a difficult time, learn what worked and what didn’t work. What you want and don’t want. Decide what are acceptable and unacceptable boundaries in a relationship so that the cycle doesn’t get repeated in the future.

8. Be the writer of your story and take control of your destiny.

Don’t wait for someone to change to start living your life. Click the Play button to get started focusing on what you are aiming for in the future. While you might not be able put together all your pieces in the exact same manner as before, take some time to identify who you would like to be and start rebuilding yourself.

9. Believe in yourself and love others.

Take good care of yourself because if you don’t, nobody will. Have high standards for what you deserve in a relationship and don’t accept less. Positive affirmations of your worth are a positive way to live. What you think of yourself and how it is perceived by others will affect your perception.

We might not have control over others’ actions, but we do have control over our own. It’s time to empower ourselves to live the life we want to live.

We can take the time to understand what caused a bad relationship and vow to end it. You can be secure in your love and have partners that are. We deserve to have a happy, healthy and fulfilling relationship with ourselves as well as with our partners.

Sarah Masse

Sarah Masse enjoys writing when she isn’t working as an occupational therapist. She’s always up for meeting new people or exploring a new destination whether that be in the country or outside of it. Sarah has a traveling blog, which documents some of her adventures at truetravelnista.com. Visit Sarah on Instagram at smasse14

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