Sex & Relationships

Are you in a toxic relationship?

A clinical psychologists reveals the red flags we all need to look out for.
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Our friends, family and partner are meant to support and encourage us throughout our lives and help us become who we want to be.

But what if you feel that a relationship is bringing you more harm than good?

Clinical psychologist Gillian Needleman from Jean Hailes, one of Australia’s leading women’s health organisations, is here to help.

What is a toxic relationship?

A toxic relationship is one where you’re unable to have a meaningful and positive connection with the other person. This can often leave you questioning yourself, your relationship and your life.

Remember, ANY relationship can be toxic – this includes romantic relationships, friendships and family ones too.

What are the red flags?

Emotional manipulation, guilt-tripping, and constant criticism are three key signs to look our for.

Toxic relationships often also go through destructive patterns, where one person gives and gives, and the other doesn’t give back, or worse, doesn’t show any gratitude for what you do.

“You can get exhausted, always trying to save or rescue the other person. You neglect your own emotional needs because the focus is always on them,” says Ms Needleman.

How you feel before and after spending time with the other person is a key sign in measuring if the relationship is toxic or not.

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What are the consequences of staying in a toxic relationship for too long?

The health impacts of a toxic relationship should not be underestimated.

They can affect your sense of self and identity, damage your self-esteem, and even lead to feelings of depression and/or anxiety.

You can be left feeling inadequate, or somehow flawed, like who you are and what you do is never enough.

“In a toxic friendship scenario, you might always feel emotionally drained after seeing them; it can be a real energy drain, a feeling of heaviness,” says Ms Needleman.

“You might feel a huge sense of obligation or guilt for not seeing them enough. You might be dreading the interaction, knowing that a conversation all about them, or a stream of criticism, lies ahead.”

Speaking up about what you are and are not willing to accept is crucial.

(Credit: Getty Images)

What to do about it

First, work out what you’re feeling.

You need to be intuitive.

Separate yourself from the relationship and identify what emotions you have and how they’re being triggered.

Second, establish your ground rules. Decide what behaviour and actions you’re prepared to accept and what you’re not.

For example, Ms Needleman says, “To a friend who always makes you feel that you are never doing enough, work out what you think is reasonable, and become aware of the ways they make you feel inadequate. At these times, roll out a prepared response, or just remind yourself that you are good enough!”

Lastly, protect your boundaries.

“You can do this by either practising it yourself and sticking within them, or by stating it to other person in the relationship. You could say to them: ‘I’m not letting you put me down anymore’. In the case of a guilt-tripping friend, you might say, ‘I can’t see you every week and I don’t want to be made to feel bad about it’.”

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It’s not going to be easy

These steps may seem simple, but Ms Needleman reminds us that navigating a toxic relationship can be a tricky and sometimes long process. “Even in the most toxic relationships, you’re already somehow bonded to that dynamic or that person.”

The best advice is to talk to those close to you who do support you, to help you stay clear-headed during this time.

To learn more about toxic relationships and tips for dealing with them, check out Jean Hailes for more resources and information.

This story is published as part of a promotion for Women’s Health Week 2019, 2-6 September. Read more about this fantastic event on their website.

If you or anyone you know needs help or advice, contact 1800 RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or Lifeline on 13 11 14.

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