How to tell if you’re in a toxic relationship

December 14, 2018 9 min read
My previous relationship left me in ruins. It ended after I had lost my voice, my self esteem, my self worth and doubted every thought I had, assuming I was wrong and stupid. Add to that having also gained an eating disorder due to constant comments about my body and you get a shadow of the happy person I was when I met that horrendous person.                       

Had I known that it would end with this complete wreckage of my once confident self, I would have never got into it from the begging, obviously. Yet even though I consider myself rather smart on my good days and intuitive when it comes to people I had no idea.


When we first started dating there were no expectations and things were light enough for me to ignore red flags because they felt minor, and I assumed every person has those ‘things’ that make you think to yourself ”I don’t like this, but I guess I can live with this.” Ignoring those red flags led to both of us developing feelings and deciding it’s a full-on-relationship.


Once we settled into a routine and the initial excitement wore off, it felt ‘too late’ for me to end it. It was convenient despite the lack of support and constant clashes between us. I didn’t feel good, but I also didn’t feel bad and why would I break up with someone who’s essentially ok over nothing?! Something felt wrong from the beginning, but I attributed it to so many other things and life’s circumstances because it’s really hard to actually internalise that this person I’ve fallen for is actually evil, but with the best intentions, of course.


It was extremely hard for me to see the truth about this person I thought I was in love with. Especially since it also means I had to tell myself I was wrong to ignore my spidey sense, that my judgment was wrong, that I couldn’t protect myself from harm and that now I’m letting this person keep hurting my well being.


It’s a lot harder to put a clear “I can’t take this anymore” line when it comes to psychological abuse. No one was hitting me, calling me names or threatening me. It was subtle. It was unnoticed. It was gradual until it became overwhelming. That person crossed every mental and most of the physical boundaries I had, and I let him because I thought I loved him, when in fact I was just blind to the addictive cycle of the toxic drama with this person.


I sank into depression which made it even harder to leave. If before we met I was single, surrounded by friends and happy. After we got together, my spirit was annihilated and leaving him would mean I’d stay depressed but I’ll also be completely alone on top of that since I had also stopped seeing all my friends due to the ties of the relationship.


So here I am, about a year and a half after the fact, still with insecurities and definitely enough baggage to finance the newest Tesla to some lucky shrink in my future, but I’ve also decided to treat that as a learning experience and grow from it. The biggest lesson I took away is that you can see it when it comes, and while sometimes it’s easier to keep going without changing anything even if you’re in an unhappy situation because change is scary even if it’s for the better. There’s comfort in the familiar even when it’s bad for us, as anyone who’s been left alone with a pint of ice cream knows too well.


To help anyone out there learn from the experience, anecdotal as it may be: Here ere are my few top signs that mean you should run, and never look back:

How do they really make you feel?                       

You can have a few good moments with some incredibly terrible people just as you can find yourself in the middle of a drama shit-storm with the most amazing, kind and caring person. It is important to assess the average. If there’s a persistent lack of joy and unhappiness it may be the first sing this toxic for you. Even if you’re so accustomed to constant unhealthy behaviour that it becomes your normal and your mind doesn’t register it anymore, your body will still feel the physical effect of the negativity. 

How does the idea of spending a week non-stop with this person makes you feel? How do you feel at the end of a full day with them? are you drained? tired? lacking in energy and lifeless? are you anxious? nervous? irritable? lacking in patience? stressed? are you looking forward to your time apart?

Someone who’s bad for you will often result in some of the above mentioned emotions since even if you’re not seeing it or think everything is fine. It took me months of feeling bad before it clicked that the reason for it was the relationship.

Ask your friends and family for their honest opinion on both of you.
I’m sure you’ve all had this type of experience in the past where right after a breakup all your friend suddenly inform you that they’re “so happy you finally broke up, I never liked this person” and every time I thought to myself ‘where the fuck were you when I needed to hear this?’

A lot of times people in toxic relationships are the last to realise what’s actually going on and how much it’s damaging them since the easiest and most natural thing to do is excuse bad behaviour in someone you love and let your strong emotions for them cloud your judgment and justify it to yourself.                  

The people who love you and truly want what’s best for you, should be able to tell you the truth if you ask for their honest opinion. Ask them what they think of that person, about how they treat you, about how they’re like around other people. Ask if you’ve changed since you got together.

I know I stopped seeing my friends as often, became less energetic and took offence at things that never bothered me because suddenly, due to the nature of the relationship, it felt like everyone were against me. Someone that knows you well might also notice negative changes to your behaviour before you do.
Another thing to consider is if you’re being honest with your loved ones. Are you saying everything is ok despite feeling it isn’t the case? this should be a warning sign.


Lack of support, lack of feedback and scorekeeping.

In my relationship I’ve felt unheard, ignored, I started questioning myself, I felt ridiculed. I felt like there wasn’t anyone I could turn to, since every time I tried to ask for support or help from this person who’s supposed to be my loving partner it was met with belittlement. My feelings and needs weren’t important enough to consider while their needs were above mine. 

My ex broke promises, wasn’t available, kept ignoring issues I tried to raise and kept reminding me of everything I’ve ever done wrong. They dominated conversations, ignored my requests and ignored things that were important to me, while nagging me to fulfil anything they’ve asked for, even at the expense of my convenience and resources, which they never contributed to. Every time I did something wrong, it was drilled into me even if it was a one-time occurrence and ignored and excused themselves from repeated mistakes I asked them countless times to address.    

After he broke my will and self-esteem, he would mention breaking up about four or five times a week, informing me how much he loves me, but how he’s also sure he’s meant to be single and how much better and freer he used to feel, but that I shouldn’t take it the wrong way. That behaviour made me constantly be on-edge, not sure where I stand and not being able to trust anything positive he would say since there was always an underlined insult hidden within it. He never gave up control and I felt I had no control over anything.


Check yourself.

In my personal case, things felt very complicated. I am a very total person and I am a massive pleaser. I love helping my loved ones and I used to be very good at self sabotage, so I can’t say it was all my Ex’s fault. In hindsight, I can see I facilitated some of his bad behaviours and I let that person cross my personal boundaries because I was lying to myself about it being ok, wanting to please him. 

When I realised things weren’t good I became resentful to the mistreatment I received and instead of ending it right then and there, I found myself “fighting back”, being passive-aggressive at times and acting out of fear and pain. After a long time processing what happened and where things went wrong I can say that now I am clearer in how I communicate, I have a zero-bullshit-tolerance policy and maybe things wouldn’t have ended so badly if I were able to defend myself better.   


In conclusion, people are complex creatures and someone who means well might not be able to see they’re actually causing great harm, which in turn can cause you to lash out back at them and result in both of you being unhappy. Being honest with yourself about your feelings and trying to see where they actually stem from is the most important first step. If you’re not feeling well it can also be completely unrelated to anyone in your life, but can also be the result of a toxic relationship.

Toxic relationships can happen with anyone, it doesn’t have to be a romantic partner, and you’re going to be stronger and better for taking action against them, in favour of yourself.                                                       


Laura Patrick
« Laura is a freelance writer visual artist and science nerd. She is passionate about self development and personal growth and spends most of her free time reading scientific papers about the human experience and summarising them so that you won't have to. » All posts →