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Free Yourself From Toxic Relationships
Free Yourself From Toxic Relationships
We’ve all had toxic relationships—maybe with friends, family members, neighbors or bosses. These relationships deplete you of energy, infuse you with negativity, bring unnecessary drama or conflict to your life and trigger feelings of low self-esteem, insecurity, resentment, frustration or irritability. It’s important to realize that toxic people are often unconsciously making you feel how they feel about themselves; in other words, it’s more about them than it is about you. It’s important for all of us to routinely take inventory of our support systems and care enough about ourselves to eliminate toxic relationships and focus instead on establishing and nurturing positive ones.
As human beings, we are all attracted to what is familiar. We may unconsciously recreate old dysfunctional-relationship patterns from roles we’ve had in our families-of-origin in our current personal and professional lives. As we become more conscious and move forward in our lives, we need to reevaluate these relationships, empower ourselves to shift our boundaries or even end these relationships altogether. Dr. Phil said, “We teach others how to treat us.” If we care about ourselves and have positive self-esteem, we are going to set healthy and appropriate expectations, limits and boundaries in our relationships.
In my practice, I advise clients to consider the following three factors when assessing and confronting toxic relationships:
1) Is the person/relationship temporarily or chronically toxic?
If you are in a relationship with someone who is going through a difficult life challenge, such as divorce, illness or the death of a loved one, they may be in a bad space and temporarily toxic. In these relationships, it’s important to set healthy limits and boundaries for yourself in terms of how much contact and support is healthy for you to offer. You can encourage these individuals to get additional support by reaching out to others in their support network (such as their friends and family), or seek professional support from a therapist, doctor or spiritual advisor. Remember, the toxicity of this relationship is probably temporary and will pass. However, if the person’s toxicity is more of a chronic personality style or relationship pattern, it is not likely to pass and your relationship with them will need to be addressed for your own wellbeing.
2) How close and important is the relationship?
The closer a toxic relationship is to you, the more important—and more difficult—it may be to address. For example, a toxic relationship with your partner or mother is a more challenging and delicate situation than a toxic relationship with a neighbor or coworker. It’s important to run a cost/benefit analysis of your toxic relationships to assess whether what you gain from the relationship outweighs the emotional cost.
If a toxic relationship is with someone in your outer circles, I recommend moving toward clearing your life of this relationship as best as you can, if not altogether. For example, if it’s a neighbor who brings you down, shift your boundaries from having closer to contact to having little or no contact with her by simply waving hello rather than engaging in gossip over the fence.
If a toxic relationship is with someone very close to you, or you benefit from the relationship, communicate honestly and assertively with the individual to best promote a healthier dynamic. For example, you may need to speak honestly with your mother about your concerns and give her the opportunity to learn and change. If she cannot, then you have the choice to change your boundaries by possibly decreasing the amount, type or frequency of contact you have with her in an effort to make the relationship more manageable and less toxic in your life.
3) Which factors can you control and which can you not?
You can control your own boundaries, your communication, your behaviors and your responses. You cannot control the other person.
You can do your part by speaking honestly, assertively and diplomatically and using “I statements” to express your feelings and set healthy boundaries. Then it is up to them whether or not to change. You get to decide if you can still have that person in your life. If you find yourself repeatedly expressing the same needs and setting the same limits over and over in the same relationship to no avail, seriously consider relationship counseling or ending the relationship altogether.
Ending relationships is hard. Many of us want to avoid the pain of processing the termination of a relationship and may choose to avoid dealing with it altogether. But problems do not go away unless they are addressed. You must care enough about yourself to free yourself of negative relationships. You must have the courage to find your voice and address these relationships honestly and directly. You must also have faith that by letting go of these people, you are freeing up your energy for new and positive people to come into your life. Letting go of toxic relationships and wishing the other person well can bring you to a place of forgiveness and healing that will free you from the resentment that negatively impacts you, even after they are no longer an active part of your life.
It is important to note that toxic relationships exist on a continuum from somewhat toxic to abusive. If you would like help or support from a therapist to work on self-esteem, setting healthy boundaries or ending toxic relationships, please visit www.therapists.com. If your relationship is toxic because of addiction, contact the National Alcoholism & Substance Abuse Information Center. Abuse (physical, verbal, emotional or sexual) is never OK, and abusive relationships must be ended if the abuser does not seek help and change his or her behaviors. If you suspect you are in an abusive relationship, please contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
By: Joyce Marter
Joyce is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor (LCPC) and owner of Urban Balance, an insurance-friendly counseling practice with over 40 therapists and five locations in Chicagoland. She was selected by Crain's Chicago Business for the "40 Under 40" list of 2010. Marter received her Masters Degree in Counseling Psychology from Northwestern University and was awarded Distinguished Alumni of the Year in 2008. She currently serves as the Vice President of the Board of the Illinois Mental Health Counselors Association. Marter has been consulted as a psychological expert on television, radio and in publications such as The Wall Street Journal and U.S. News.
October 25th, 2012