Research shows that almost 50% of adults experience some sort of psychological aggression from their partner, meaning that toxicity in relationships is not as uncommon as you might imagine. Toxicity is not something you put up with and often, it isn’t something you can “fix”—especially if the other person is unwilling to work on themselves. Toxic relationships can take a big toll on your mental health, resulting in problems like anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, shame, and emotional pain. Because it can affect your happiness and well-being so profoundly, toxicity is something you shouldn’t just put up with. Don’t hope it will just go away on its own, because it won’t.
Signs of a Toxic Relationship
Signs that your relationship is headed in the wrong direction include having a partner who belittles and puts you down, manipulates and controls you, has explosive outbursts, tries to isolate you from family and friends, gaslights you, blames or shames you, is passive-aggressive, withholds attention and affection as punishment, and is jealous or possessive.
In a toxic relationship, boundaries are not respected, and the person tries to take more than you can or want to give. Sometimes, toxicity exists not in your personal relationship, but in your workplace, family relationships, or friendships. In any of these scenarios, abuse, manipulation, and control are unhealthy and should not be accepted under any circumstances.
Is Your Partner, Friend, Family Member, or Work Colleague a Narcissist?
Not all toxic relationships have a narcissist in them, but all narcissists are toxic. A person with Narcissistic Personality Disorder feels more important than others and has an unjustified sense of entitlement (and a huge ego). However, not all narcissists are easily identifiable. This is because there are different types of narcissists. As such, an overt narcissist is one you can spot a mile away. They come across as arrogant, competitive, and entitled.
A covert narcissist, on the other hand, can use more subtle methods like passive aggression, gaslighting, and even being charming to get you to cater to their every whim. Some narcissists get what they want by playing the victim role. Others are deeply manipulative and can be quite skilled at manipulating the thoughts and feelings of others.
Can a Toxic Relationship Be Saved?
When a relationship involves any kind of abuse (including narcissistic abuse) it is advisable to walk away. This is because narcissists don’t believe anything is wrong with them, and any attempt to ask them to change their behavior is seen as a direct attack. What’s more, when you leave a narcissist, they often indulge in retaliatory measures such as launching smear campaigns against you, getting enablers on their side, creating triangles against you, and even taking your things. If you are in a relationship with a narcissist, it is wisest to end it, but do so wisely. Before you leave, make copies of all your documents, change any passwords they may have, and meet them outside your home when you break up. Avoid their attempts at wooing you back by “love bombing” you and promising they will change.
What If You Can’t Completely Cut a Narcissist Out of Your Life?
Sometimes, it isn’t as easy as walking away. This is the case, for instance, if the narcissist is someone at work or an in-law. In this case, try the “gray rocking” method. It involves being extremely bland, unresponsive, and non-reactive when a narcissist is around and giving them no information they can use against you. It involves techniques such as avoiding eye contact and not showing emotions during a conversation.
If the narcissist is someone at work, the relationship may be unsustainable if the person resorts to triangulation, taking credit for your work, and gossiping about you. As hard as it may be, you are relatively lucky, since you can always leave your job. Someone with a narcissistic in-law, parent, or child simply has to resort to gray rocking and having limited contact with the abuser.
Toxic relationships can exist anywhere. They are characterized by a lack of respect, pushing boundaries, and malignant techniques like gaslighting and manipulation. If you are in a toxic relationship, make a detailed game plan for your exit, especially if your partner is a narcissist or another type of abuser. When it comes to narcissists you cannot avoid, simply limit their access to you and use the gray rocking method, so they lose interest in you and stop trying to provoke you.