Toxic relationships are incredibly harmful, hurtful and can even increase into abusive situations, which can be very dangerous. In a toxic relationship, the behaviors of one or more partners can make even the most logic and psychologically sound person feel “crazy”.
Relationships like this are not normal. Many times denial, guilt, or shame are at the forefront and used as manipulation. Boundaries are important in every relationship, but critical in toxic relationships. Why? Well, because boundaries are an incredibly effective way to set the standard for what type of behavior, respect and reciprocity happens in a relationship….in essence… how you will be treated.
Boundaries can also help identify red flags/warning behavior, improve communication, release shame/blame, and help detach from situations or people who make you feel uncomfortable or unsafe. Boundaries can also make you feel more secure, heard and increase your self-esteem.
Please keep reading to find out how having clear boundaries can avoid toxic relationships.
Maybe the toxic relationship looks like this:
Your partner does not respect personal, physical, emotional, time-centered or sexual boundaries. Maybe they want ALL of your time, they refuse to take no for an answer, or use emotionally abusive language and are very jealous of other relationships in your life.
Toxic relationships can also involve someone who blames and shames or is overly critical and judgmental, someone who manipulates you, puts you down, lies or uses hurtful words against you. Overall, the hallmark of a toxic relationship is lack of respect.
Toxic relationships can also become contagious in that (although you may not be a toxic person) the toxic energy affects you… you may notice that you hold resentment or anger within yourself and project that energy onto others.
You may play out dynamics of toxic relationships with others. For example, you are unkind or snap at your kids. Or you are less trusting of a friend because you lack trust in your own relationship.
As a result, a toxic relationship can affect many other relationships in your life. As much as you try to fix it, it always comes back to something you did. You feel you always have to apologize about something gone wrong in the relationship, but apologies are never returned.
You are unhappy and know this isn’t the way a relationship is supposed to be, however, you fear being alone… and the effort of getting back out into the dating world seems awful and impossible, especially in the times of a pandemic… so you stay… You feel like you’ve lost your voice and have dropped the standards for yourself…. And you feel so very misunderstood and …all alone
Eventually you end up in a place of being completely depleted of energy.
You can’t remember when you last smiled and all of your energy is focused on not offending your partner or making waves. Unfortunately, this only contributes to bitterness and resentment. You continue to blame and shame yourself too. It almost seems like a cycle or more bad days than good ones.
It is important to know that very few toxic relationships start out that way. Toxic partners implement their behavior in extremely slow and subtle ways. First, it’s a small critique, like “Why do you always need to call your parents?”, then it manifests into more control and isolation (“I don’t like your friends” “Why did you wear that dress to the party?”).
Also, many toxic relationships have the potential to escalate into abusive and even violent relationships. In over ten years of working with victims and survivors of intimate partner abuse, not one person reported that it started off abusive and toxic. Actually quite the opposite-with charm, extra attention and seemingly loving behaviors. Clear boundaries can help quickly identify and steer clear of toxic relationships. It helps you become in tune with what YOU want, and find the respect and love that you truly deserve. Please know that you are not alone and there is help!
It’s true that a toxic relationship can be devastating and make you question everything about yourself.
However, clear boundaries can help avoid these situations. Please KNOW that toxic relationships are NOT your fault, especially if you have a habit of attracting these types of people in your life. The problem may be a boundary issue that you never had the chance to learn or implement confidently. Clear boundaries can help you in every relationship, especially with toxic people. Keep reading to find out how…
Lack of boundaries in a relationship can leave you feeling defeated, depleted and misunderstood. You may find yourself stuck in a cycle of miscommunication, assumptions and hurt feelings. When you try to voice how you feel, you are met with name calling, eye rolling and other disrespectful behaviors. You may find yourself making excuses for the toxic person or investing a lot of time into “fixing” them or getting them help. You may also ignore your inner voice and even buy into the fact that you are the problem.
Clear boundaries can help you avoid toxic relationships by seeing them for what they truly are… toxic. You will begin to deeply explore your feelings, relationship history and even explore learned patterns in upbringing. You will begin to identify relational patterns clearly and pay attention to red flags, attachment issues and emotional triggers. With clear (not rigid…clear) you can begin to feel heard, validated and authentically get your needs met, unapologetically. You will release guilt and shame and know when it’s time to move on from relationships that are becoming toxic.
Yes, it’s true you may be feeling hurt, disrespected, alone and confused, however, clear boundaries can help you really avoid settling for less than you deserve, in any relationship. In therapy in SImi Valley, Ca and online therapy in Ventura County, I work with my clients on developing clear boundaries in their lives.
How Clear Boundaries Help Avoid Toxic Relationships
How # One: Clear Boundaries Help You Pay Attention
First, let’s understand what a boundary is. One thing to know is if you don’t know what a boundary truly is, you will never know how to enforce it. A boundary is a limit you set with others that determines how you will be treated in the relationship. There are many types of boundaries: physical, emotional, time, space, sexual boundaries too.
Boundary crossings can also include unwanted physical contact. Many times, we learn how to “be agreeable” in childhood by giving a relative a hug, when we don’t want to or being tickled even though we feel uncomfortable. Many times, an authority figure or parent tells us we have to…so we comply. We may not even have words for the feeling at such a young age, but something feels off… The truth is…we are doing something we don’t want to.
In adulthood, that may look like something as subtle as a friend or parent that constantly gives unsolicited advice, when you don’t want it…or a boss that doesn’t respect your time off.
Or it can be more unsettling, like someone who makes inappropriate comments that make you feel uncomfortable or even sexual boundary crossings, such as refusal to wear a condom or pushing certain limits that you feel unwilling or nervous about. You don’t have the heart to voice to any of these people how you feel so you just accept it and go with the flow… but it still feels really bad.
Pay attention to these feelings… boundary crossings in toxic relationships usually does feel bad. Write down your feelings, talk to your support system and identify problem behaviors. The main thing is to listen to your gut and trust your instinct. Once you can connect with your feelings, you can assert the boundary, identify issues and communicate your needs clearly. At Simi Psychological Group, we work personally with you on identification of boundaries and how to implement them with others. We can help you to be clear on how you feel in a relationship and how to assert boundaries from the start to avoid them going toxic. Once you are clear and can pay attention to what is happening, we can work on how to communicate and support you in feeling heard and avoid misunderstandings and hurt feelings in your relationships.
How # Two: Release Unhelpful Feelings to avoid toxic relationships
Up to this point, the words “blame” and “shame” have come up a lot. Why? Well, a lot of toxic relationships require one person to feel guilt over another person’s feelings. We learn these emotions from a very young age. Perhaps your parents are divorced…Did you have shame about this, even as a little kid or teen? Many kids feel responsible to “fix” their parents at a young age. Were you a “fixer” or a “little therapist”, helping your mom while she was crying over your dad? How about phrases like “When you are bad, it hurts Mommy’s feelings”? If you ever had to wonder as a child how to emotionally support your adult parents, chances are, you did not have a household with strong parental boundaries.
Scenarios like these require us to investigate our past childhood messages about love and relationships. Feeling responsible for another person’s feelings or having an obligation to fix them is not serving in any relationship. Research on learned behavior shows that children who observe chaos, instability and especially violence among parental relationships, are more likely to have unhealthy adult relationships.
Conversely, childhood enmeshment (having overprotective or “helicopter parents”) can directly impact attachment, lack of boundaries, and codependency in adult relationships. Even unhappy parents who “stay together for the kids” can unknowingly do damage because children observe and absorb so much at a young age.
So… maybe this wasn’t your fault at all… maybe it was learned behavior… maybe the messages you observed as a child about love and relationships shaped how you see them today and what you see and tolerate as “toxic”.
The good news is that now you have the opportunity to learn how this has played out in your life and relationships. In psychotherapy in Simi Valley, Ca we work with our clients on diving deeper and learning. We can work to help you get to the root of where things may have gone wrong and how to avoid reliving learned behaviors from childhood. Together, we can help you to release feelings of blame, shame and guilt about how you feel and look into past relationships, trauma, or mixed messages about love.
During counseling many clients I have treated use phrases like “I can believe I allowed toxic behaviors from him”. Release that shame and blame!! Understanding how the past impacts your present situation, is key to releasing unhelpful feelings that may holding you back. Remember, while this is not necessarily your fault…maybe you didn’t even know about boundaries, however, now is the time to learn, grow and implement change in your relationships. Learning to assert clear boundaries will help you to unapologetically seek what is best for you.
How to avoid toxic relationships #3 Boost Self Esteem
Once you invest in asserting clear boundaries in your relationship, you will begin to feel more confident in trusting your judgement and will keep your standards high. You will develop more insight and self-awareness. As a result, you will only surround yourself with those whose energy and respect match your own. You will seek positive, nurturing and supportive people…tolerating toxicity will no longer be an option. Having a strong support system is necessary and vital to growth and healing. In treatment, I focus on empowerment and celebrating your achievements, learning and growth. I will help you stand tall after you stumble and learn the lessons meant in your life. It is important to remember that practicing self-love during these times is very vital.
How # 4 Conquer Fears of Loneliness
Sometimes, asserting boundaries in a relationship doesn’t go as planned…especially in a toxic relationship…because the other person will not respect the boundary. Knowing when it’s time to let go is key. Fear of being alone sometimes gets in the way of releasing these relationships, even though we are still so unhappy. However, think of it this way, the longer you stay in something that is not for you, the longer you block what is truly meant for you… a respectful relationship free from toxic behavior.
Detaching yourself is difficult, but in session, we will focus on understanding that detaching from a toxic partner doesn’t mean you don’t love or care for them… it just means you are prioritizing your own needs and mental health. Together, we can address fears surrounding loneliness and embrace some time for yourself to heal. Allowing yourself to rethink dynamics in your relationships, and empower yourself along the way.
How to avoid toxic relationships # 5 Learn to Say No
Saying no can be so uncomfortable at times, especially if we really care about the person, we say no to. When we go along with what others want, disregarding our own…we may find we are people pleasing. People who identify as “people pleasers” often carry resentments from being railroaded by others while their needs go unmet. Learning to use the word “no” is powerful and enables you to make the best decision for yourself.
During therapy at Simi Psychological Group, we focus on self-care for you and sometimes that includes declining invitations from others. Especially so when you are uncomfortable or they are toxic. Together we will identify what it means to have the approval of others and how to say no without excuses or feeling guilty. If it doesn’t work for you, just say no….And if your “no” is taken as a negotiation from the other party…then you know your boundaries are being crossed.
(Side Note–> Make sure to check out our blog on 5 pains of taking hold of toxic relationships!)
How # 6 Improve Communication
By going with the flow in a toxic relationship, you are either denying or avoiding…. and that’s okay…. but that’s not what you deserve. You deserve to be heard and to say what you mean, without fear or guilt. When you learn to set clear boundaries, you must learn clear communication. This means avoiding assumptions or taking things personally. Instead you learn to speak bravely from your heart and allow the other person the ability to listen and make changes, if they are willing.
In therapy near Thousand Oaks, Ca we will work with you on improving your communication, which will benefit the messages you send to yourself and others. As a result, you will feel more understood and able to say what’s really on your mind with confidence and courage.
Learning how to set clear boundaries can be extremely difficult. However, understanding how to implement them in your life can help avoid toxic relationships in your life. Learning to listen to your inner voice is key and not allowing the feelings of others to dictate how you “should feel”.
Having clear boundaries is hard with certain relationships, especially when you realize they are toxic. We here at Simi Psychological Group are here to help in this struggle to empower you and help you have the healthy relationships you deserve! Call us today and schedule a free consultation and let us help you heal yourself and your family!
Written by Dr. Reena Becerra
I believe that through self-compassion, inspiration and hope it is possible for anyone to reach their deepest and truest goals. My focus is working with children, adolescents, and families that struggle with Anxiety, ADHD, Depression and relationship issues. I also have a strong passion for working with adults with a history of trauma. Healing, self-love and acceptance and growing through transformation, are all within reach. Learning to truly love and connect with one’s self and others is a true gift. It would be my honor to be on this journey with you.