Throughout life we encounter people who, were they permitted to enter the inner circle of our lives, would undoubtedly impact us in a profoundly negative way. Fortunately, most of the time we have the intuitive foresight to cast these human leeches back into the miserable swamp from whence they came before they are in a position to cause any real, lasting damage.
Every so often, however, one of these humanoids will fail to set off any of our red flags, and expertly wear down our defense to a point where we are vulnerable to emotional manipulation at their behest.
Although typically associated with the realm of romance, toxic relationships can come in virtually any shape or form: from the ‘Condescending Grandfather’ to the ‘Manipulative Friend.’ Whatever the case, if you find yourself relating to the following experiences, it’s time to face the hard truth that you’re in the relationship equivalent of a nuclear waste barrel.
1. You “Understand”… A Lot
Oh, look at you. You’re so reasonable, so rational, so… understanding. Newsflash: you are not “understanding.” Your normal standards of respectful behavior, punctuality, etc. have been progressively undermined to such an extent that you’re willing to put up with almost anything.
Didn’t reply to my text for a week? That’s cool. Four hours late to dinner? No problem! You forgot our anniversary? No biggie. Here’s my present that I got 4 months ago…
2. Your Feelings Are Contingent Upon How They Respond to You
Do you often find yourself sending sincere messages to someone, waiting with hopeful anticipation for a correspondingly earnest response, only to receive a ‘k’, ‘lol’, or ‘stfu’ (tongue-in-cheek, of course)? Is this exchange generally followed by a sinking sensation in your stomach that is awfully similar to the experience of being rejected outright?
If the answer to both of these questions is a resounding ‘yes’, then you are- unequivocally- in a toxic relationship.
The thing is, these people know exactly what they’re doing. That random text you get when you’re trying to move on with your life is not so random after all. They’re a manipulative puppeteer, and you better believe they know which strings to pull to get the reaction they want out of you.
3. You’re Full of Excuses (For Them)
When your friends/family/partner question their objectively questionable behavior, you immediately rise to their defense:
• “It’s not their fault. They’ve been really stressed with work lately”
• “Fair enough that they didn’t show up. They didn’t know anyone else there”
• “They do this to everyone. They can’t help it”
The excuses vary, but they all betray the same harsh reality: you are much more invested in them than they are with you, and you will do virtually anything to ensure that the pitifully dull flames of your “relationship” remain alive.
4. You Often Hold Back Your True Feelings
Have you ever found yourself deeply offended or hurt by someone’s actions, only to employ every defense mechanism under the sun as a means to avoiding a volatile confrontation (and the likely emotional fall out that follows)?
If this mechanism of avoidance has become a standard, but one-sided feature in your relationship(s) with your friend/partner/family member, it’s safe to assume that you have entered the d̶a̶n̶g̶e̶r̶ toxic zone.
5. You Frequently Compromise Your Values
The transition from childhood to adulthood is marked by the development of a sophisticated moral compass which we use to navigate our respective socio-cultural landscapes and judge our own, as well as other’s, behaviour.
If you’re in a toxic relationship, your values are often severely compromised, if not entirely violated. Perhaps you’re a staunch feminist that frequently finds yourself laughing off casually sexist “jokes,” or maybe you’ve enabled someone to cheat on their partner despite holding the belief that cheating is morally reprehensible.
Whatever it is, when push comes to shove, you will inevitably break the values you hold most dear during your interactions with this person.
6. Nothing Is On Your Own Terms
All interactions you have with this person are almost exclusively on their terms.
If you meet up, when you meet up, where you go, and what you do is, generally speaking, independently determined by them. You are more or less rendered into a passive participant in your own life, with little to no personal agency.
7. You Prioritize Them Over & Above Everyone Else
When they do want your attention, you will go out of your way to give it to them- even when it comes at the expense of your other relationships.
This disproportionate prioritization can translate into a slew of anti-social behaviors, including flaking out on pre-arranged plans, ignoring other people when you’re with them, or even indulging in inappropriate sexual touching in the company of others.
Despite the variation, all of these behavioral permutations inevitably lead to the same outcome; namely, social ostracism and isolation, which in extreme cases can escalate a mildly toxic relationship into a severely abusive one.