10 ways to identify and break free from toxic relationships

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All of us want healthy, happy, and successful relationships.

But sadly it doesn’t always work out that way.

We can find ourselves feeling stuck in unhealthy connections that bring pain and sadness when they should be bringing joy.

Sometimes we don’t see the warning signs until it’s too late. Other times we know what’s going on, but we just don’t know what to do for the best.

This article will help you to empower yourself.

We’ll run through all the ways to identify and finally break free from toxic relationships.

So, let’s not waste any time!

How do you know if your relationship is toxic? 15 signs to look out for

1) There’s a lack of support

Relationships are about teamwork.

You should feel like you have someone on your side, and by your side to do life with.

So if there’s a general disinterest in one another’s life, then you may feel far more alone.

Perhaps it seems like your needs, desires, and wants don’t really matter so much.

Rather than be your cheerleader, you might even feel like they try to compete with you.

If they feel like you have “won” at something, this unnerves them and so they want to try to bring you down a peg or two to take the upper hand.

2) Some pretty nasty things get said

They say that whilst sticks and stones may break your bones, words can never hurt you. But boy are they wrong.

The truth is that the words we speak can cause a great deal of pain and sadness.

In many ways, we can be violent with our words. They land blows.

Your relationship could be toxic if you struggle to speak to one another with respect, kindness, and decency.

For example, discussions quickly descend into shouting matches. Or even your simple day-to-day interactions are filled with cruel cutting words or biting sarcasm.

And it takes its toll, the criticism, cynicism, snide remarks and lack of compassion leave you feeling deflated.

3) Jealousy takes over

I say takes over, because the truth is that a little bit of jealousy in a relationship is natural.

In some ways, it’s just a sign that you care.

But if the green-eyed monster makes an all too regular appearance in your relationship, it’s not good.

And if that turns into full-scale possessiveness you are clearly involved in a toxic situation.

Suspicion and mistrust can quickly rot a relationship.

4) Envy gets in the way of celebrating each other

In a healthy relationship, we love to see our partner thrive.

So we feel elated for them when good things happen and share in their success.

We’re proud when their hard work, efforts, and talents are rewarded.

It should set alarm bells ringing if this isn’t the case in your relationship.

For example, if they seem envious or even bitter when good things happen to you.

5) You feel on edge about what you say or do

Walking on eggshells seriously gets in the way of intimacy.

It’s hard to be ourselves when we feel constantly hyper-vigilant.

And so it puts a strain on relations.

Maybe you feel like whatever you say or do, it’s always wrong. Your best efforts are met  with tension.

You’re worried about raising your concerns because you don’t want the arguments. So you try to simply do whatever it takes to avoid conflict.

6) The relationship is plagued with lies and dishonesty

All of us lie. But for most of us, we’re talking just a little bit.

In fact, research found that 75% of people only tell one or two fibs a day.

Perhaps surprisingly, we’re more likely to lie to the ones we care about most. But significantly, 88.6 % of people said they were white lies.

And they’re often spoken to spare others’ feelings. For example, saying you like a gift when really you don’t.

The remaining 11.4 % were characterized as “big lies.” And these are the sorts of lies that are destructive.

They break down trust.

Perhaps it’s your partner who you suspect lies. Or perhaps you find yourself lying too.

For example, you find yourself being deceitful because you worry about how they will react to the truth.

It’s an underlying sign of toxicity in a relationship if you cannot be fundamentally honest with one another.

7) You neglect yourself

You may feel like you’ve started to lose sight of yourself. Perhaps so much so that sometimes you feel like a different person.

You don’t take the time for your own self-care.

Your own interests and hobbies have been seriously neglected. In fact, your free time in general seems to have been sacrificed.

Because your partner doesn’t approve of time spent solely for yourself, you have let go of the positive habits you once made time for.

8) You’ve sacrificed other close relationships

Maybe your partner used to get moody when you went to see friends. Or they felt jealous at how close you were to a family member.

And because that caused tension in your relationship, you found yourself distancing yourself from others so you didn’t rock the boat.

You may not have even noticed other significant connections slipping from your life. But as you increasingly centered yourself around your partner, it just seemed to happen.

9) There are controlling behaviors

You can’t go anywhere without being constantly asked what you are doing or who you are with.

If you spend anything, even your own money, it’s met with 1001 inquiring questions.

If you fail to instantly answer text messages or phone calls they get mad. Even the things you wear may be scrutinized.

These all point toward control issues.

They can spring from jealousy or a lack of trust. But either way, if your partner doesn’t feel fully in control, they aren’t happy.

10) There’s a build-up of resentment, frustration, and bitterness

Conflict is an unavoidable part of all relationships, whether we like it or not.

But how we deal with that can make or break our connections.

If grudges get held they can eat away at the goodwill in your relationship.

In its place, irritation mounts.

If grievances aren’t raised, dealt with, and resolved then you might feel a lot of resentment start to build.

11) There feels like a lack of respect

We all know how important respect is in building solid relationships, but we don’t always know how to identify its absence.

That’s because underlying respect shines through in lots of little ways.

Things like making plans and keeping them, rather than constantly canceling. Or responding to messages within a reasonable time frame.

Of course, some of this also comes down to both communication and expectations. But it’s definitely a red flag if you often feel disrespected or dismissed.

12) There’s a lot of avoidance

We all take different approaches when handling things. And for some of us, that approach is hiding from difficulties.

The ‘lying low’ strategy seeks to avoid as much conflict as possible.

You may choose to do that by trying to gloss over your problems or simply trying to stay out of your partner’s way as much as you can.

If you both avoid each other, then it’s clear something isn’t working.

13) Different day, different drama

Here’s the thing, your relationship is unique. So there may be things very specific to you that are taking place.

But regardless of those details, they fall under one simple heading:


It never feels like an easy ride. There is always a new challenge, new obstacle, or new problem heading your way.

Rather than improve your life, your relationship seems to make it worse.

14) You’ve started to feel trapped

Your head is spinning so much that you can’t see a way out.

You want things to be different, but you don’t know how. Perhaps you are feeling defeated, drained, and pretty hopeless by now.

You know you want this to be over with, but you feel stuck and don’t know how to break the pattern.

(Keep reading for some practical tips to help you break the cycle!)

15) You are clinging to the memory of better times

Here’s why toxic relationships can feel so hard to get out of:

Because usually, they weren’t always that way.

In the beginning, simply being in this person’s presence may have made you feel on top of the world.

You felt special, cared for, and important.

Even though that feels like a distant memory — it is still a memory.

And so you cling to the past, the fun times, and the connection you once felt.

You wonder if you can make a change in order to get back to that place.

But deep in your heart, you may know that your relationship can’t be saved, and you need to break free.

So how do you begin to do that?

Let’s take a closer look.

How do you end the cycle of a toxic relationship? 10 ways to break free

1) Know that you only have to start from exactly where you are

It’s tempting to gloss over this step. I mean, it sounds like an obvious point, right?

Clearly, you’re starting from where you are, where else could you start?!

But let me explain:

What I really mean is to accept and acknowledge where you are.

And that can be much harder to do than we would imagine.

Denial is a defense mechanism the mind uses to try to protect us from pain. And the reality that causes your toxic relationship will most likely be a painful one to accept.

But healing can only begin when you feel ready to face the truth.

Hopefully, the fact you are here reading this article means you are already well on your way.

You are willing to accept that toxic patterns are present in your relationship.

That is already enough. Doing this means you have taken the first step.

You do not need to concern yourself with every single step along the way. It’s ok to start where you are and take one day at a time.

Because piling on extra pressure is not what you need right now.

2) Use journaling to really explore the full range of your emotions

Digging deeper into your emotions right now serves two important features:

Firstly, you are gaining a greater understanding of the situation and how it is impacting you. This can fuel your motivation for making lasting changes.

Secondly, by allowing these emotions to surface you aren’t burying them. Emotional expression over repression is how we learn to deal with negative feelings in a healthy way.

You may be surprised to discover some unexpected emotions that you didn’t even realize were there.

When we can name our emotions — whether they be fear, grief, or guilt — something significant happens.

Research shows that they lose some of their grip over us. It gives us just enough space around them.

You can explore your feelings more by writing them down.

Journaling has been shown to help us through challenging times, provide us with vital insights, and can even build our confidence.

And this is certainly something you’re going to need moving forward.

3) Rebuild your confidence

The breakdown of any relationship shakes our confidence. But this is especially so when leaving the grips of a toxic relationship.

That constant stream of negativity you have faced, potentially on a daily basis, is bound to leave you feeling under strain.

In order to envisage a positive and happy life you need to rebuild your confidence.

Things that can help you do this include:

  • Surround yourself with love — Spend time with friends, family, and people who care about you.
  • Volunteer your time — Getting involved in something meaningful that feels bigger than you can provide a positive distraction and help build self-esteem at the same time.
  • Dress in a way that makes you feel good about yourself — You might want to get a new look, a fresh haircut, or wear your favorite clothes.
  • Try new things — Start new hobbies (or rediscover old ones), explore new things, and broaden your horizons. Pushing your comfort zone, even just a little can help to make you feel powerful again.

4) Send yourself love notes

For so many of us, our healing journey is one where we learn to become our own best friend and confidant.

Don’t get me wrong:

I’m certainly not suggesting we need to cultivate an overreliance on ourselves. It’s important to have people we trust and allow to support us in life.

But all too often we neglect to be our own primary source of love and affection.

The truth is that showing yourself love is a habit you can cultivate. So be your own source of strength and admiration.

Write yourself a love letter.

Don’t hold back. What do you really like about yourself? What makes you feel proud of yourself?

If you are struggling, step outside yourself for a moment and instead become an outside admirer.

5) Use the power of affirmations to give yourself a lift

For years I didn’t get affirmations.

I’d heard they could do wonderful things, but they just felt like BS to me.

I’d repeat positive expressions like “You are strong” or “You are confident” but they had pretty much no effect.

But it changed for me when I realized I’d been using them all wrong!

You see, affirmations do work. But you need to believe them.

You have to feel good about what you’re saying. Otherwise, they feel like a lie, and your brain sees straight through them.

And it’s a lot harder to find that belief when you choose an affirmation that feels so far from your current reality.

So instead, take baby steps.

Not feeling so “powerful” or “confident”?

That’s ok.

Reach for something that does make you feel better, but also feels true.

For example, after a particularly bad breakup once, I would remind myself throughout the day “It’s going to be ok”.

This had the soothing effect I wanted.

You might look at yourself in the mirror and tell yourself “I love you” or “You are a good person who deserves happiness”.

Whatever affirmations you chose, simply reach for the better feeling to know if you are on the right track.

6) Be vigilant for negative thoughts and answer them back

If affirmations are how you feed yourself positivity, this next step is how you minimize the negativity.

Because our thoughts can get the better of us.

Thanks to an unfortunate psychological phenomenon called the negativity bias, we’re hardwired to seek out the bad over the good.

Whilst this undoubtedly sucks, knowing this is enough to help us try to override it.

Be mindful of negative thoughts, because these so often turn into negative stories.

Actively question them when you notice them. Rather than accept them as fact, acknowledge that they are just thoughts.

Even better, try to find reasons why they are not true. Argue against those negative thoughts.

7) Learn to forgive yourself

Of course, there is nothing to forgive, but that doesn’t mean it won’t feel that way.

Because one of the strange things about toxic relationships is that they can bring up all kinds of feelings.

One of which might be guilt.

It could be guilt that you couldn’t make your relationship work and chose to leave. Perhaps you even feel shame about “abandoning” your partner.

You may feel guilty that you stayed so long. Perhaps you carry shame that you ”allowed” yourself to be treated badly.

Often healing involves learning to forgive and let go.

Letting go of all your own perceived imperfections. And learning to accept what has happened has already passed. You cannot change it now.

All you can do is show yourself lots of compassion and move forward.

8) Shower yourself with affection

Whilst we’re on the topic of compassion, now is most certainly the time to shower yourself with it.

Treat yourself in whatever way feels good.

Maybe that’s with your favorite foods, activities, TV shows, etc.

Indulge in positive feel-good things.

I say positive, because negative things like alcohol and drugs may appear to offer some solace, but ultimately are destructive.

Treat yourself like you would your best friend.

9) Do some self-inquiry

Even the most painful experiences provide us with opportunities for growth.

It may not feel like that when you’re in the raw stage, but you can come back even stronger.

Going on to create healthy and happier relationships in the future is now within your grasp once you turn your back on toxic connections.

Often the relationships we end up forging with others are a reflection of the ones we have with ourselves.

Unbeknown to us, we pick up unconscious unhealthy ideas about love and romance — and in the process end up self-sabotaging.

The better understanding you have of yourself, and what love means to you, the easier it is to break free of these destructive patterns.

The world-renowned shaman Rudá Iandê talks a lot about how the secret to creating fulfilling unions lies within us. And we’re the only ones who can unlock it.

In his free masterclass on the ‘Art of Love and Intimacy,’ he explains why many of us chase love in a toxic way that ends up stabbing us in the back.

And importantly, he offers practical and empowering ways to put a stop to it.

You can check that free video out here.

10) Give yourself time

Leaving a toxic relationship, just like leaving any relationship is a grieving process.

There aren’t any shortcuts around that.

Instead, you have to allow yourself the time and space to move through it.

That may involve some patience.

Please remember that healing isn’t linear. In fact, sometimes it can feel more like a messy scribbly line.

I don’t say this to demotivate you, but only to allow you to create fair and realistic expectations of yourself.

One day you may feel a little better, but then the next, you feel like you’re back to square one again.

But I promise that you are not. It is all part of the same progress. It’s just that healing is never neat.

Give yourself time to rest, and let the emotions come and go as they need to.

Pearl Nash

Pearl Nash has years of experience writing relationship articles for single females looking for love. After being single for years with no hope of meeting Mr. Right, she finally managed to get married to the love of her life. Now that she’s settled down and happier than she’s ever been in her life, she's passionate about sharing all the wisdom she's learned over the journey. Pearl is also an accredited astrologer and publishes Hack Spirit's daily horoscope.

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