Relationships make us tick. It’s just human nature. Maybe your friends make you stronger, or maybe your grandparents drive you to succeed — or maybe that newfound S.O. inspires you to grow. They’re our “why” and often our “how.” They make us laugh, smile, and push us to have #goals.
Well, that is, most relationships — at least the good kind. You know, the ones you want to have.
No relationship is perfect, and we’ve known that since we were in diapers. But some are downright toxic — and not always in a super obvious way. And let this be clear: just because you’re trying to be a good person doesn’t mean that you’re obligated to devote energy to these kinds of toxic people.
In fact, it can be impossible to be a good person if you are under the constant stress of relationship drama. Dysfunctional relationships can completely wreck you, and all the other relationships you’re trying to maintain — including that important relationship with yourself.
Like a carbon monoxide leak, toxic relationships aren’t glaringly conspicuous. At first, their poison slowly exhausts you to the point where you’ve slipped into a kind of social unconsciousness, oblivious of the realities around you. You don’t even realize you’re sucked in until you’re completely immersed, drained of energy to be fully the person you are.
So if more than a few of these warning signs sound too familiar, you might be better off rethinking the relationship and confiding in someone far, far away from this person.
1. You’re just not yourself.
All close relationships change us, but they shouldn’t shrink us. While healthy relationships enhance the parts of our personalities that were already there, toxic relationships can halt our growth and grow our insecurities. They turn us inward, contort our natural instincts, and make us question our very foundations.
So if you haven’t been feeling like yourself lately — and looking at old pictures of yourself makes you wonder where your personality went — consider examining the relationships around you. Does someone draw out the worst parts out of you? Have you forgotten how to heartily laugh in front of anyone in particular?
2. Pleasing the other person has become an obsession.
Of course, we want to please the people we love. And in non-toxic relationships, this is generally fairly easy — and even if we fail to please the other person, we’re not thrown into major panic mode. But too often in toxic relationships, power is one-sided.
So if you feel like you can never do anything “right” yet you still find yourself constantly seeking their approval — requiring the entire focus of your mind, body, and soul — chances are there is some manipulation involved, and you’re immersed in a spell that’s causing you anxiety.
Healthy relationships don’t make you feel like you’re constantly walking on eggshells of perpetual judgment and condescension. They don’t take, take, take — they give back, too.
Also, remember: you technically can’t make someone else happy. That’s on them.
3. You feel trapped.
Sometimes relationships can feel a little stagnant or stifling, but you shouldn’t be constantly gasping for air, desperate for some sign of life. Usually, a little humdrum in a relationship is a common sign that maybe you either need some quality time together or you need to focus on self-care.
But if the entrapment feels more like you’re on a sinking ship and there are no lifeboats in sight, it’s a sign — a sign that you’ve have hit an iceberg, sir, and you need to reexamine what has brought you to this breaking point.
4. What’s truth again?
Lying is always a bad sign, but it’s an especially bad sign if you’ve lost your sense of what’s real in this relationship, and you’re constantly questioning where things stand with this person. If follow-through is just not there, and you don’t trust their intentions, you need to watch your step in moving this relationship forward.
Furthermore, if you feel like you need to lie — whether it’s to yourself, to your friend or partner or, more notably, to outsiders about the relationship in question — it might mean that some real truth bombs are standing right in the middle of the room, waiting for you to awake and acknowledge them.
5. You dread or avoid interactions.
Instinctively, we know when there’s a consistently bad player reappearing in our lives. We flinch when they recite old, painful routines. We dance around their existence, finding joy when they’re not there while desperately searching for some sort of good in what they do and say. We cower when they start going on about that again, afraid to share what we really think or feel.
Rational follow-through doesn’t always follow our gut’s advice, however, especially if we’re immersed in a toxic relationship. So if you keep wondering, “Wow, I really don’t think I like spending time with this person… ever,” and that realization actually feels like a huge awakening, start paying attention to what’s in front of you, and empower yourself to bravely look your current reality in the eye — all while kindly reminding yourself, it doesn’t need to stay this way.