2018 has been quite the year, let me tell you. One major breakup, a string of ill-advised Tinder dates, and a run in with someone who was all wrong for me but I fought for tooth and nail anyway. It sounds like the plot to a bad rom-com where the female protagonist learns a tough lesson and comes out stronger in the end—she’s empowered! She’s enlightened! There’s a montage of her going out with friends and realizing she’s all she ever needed, the credits roll over a Coldplay or Maroon 5 song.
As much as I wish my life was like a movie, this is not the case. I fell into a pseudo-relationship and lost my sense of self in the process. My first encounter with a toxic relationship has been a difficult learning experience, and I wanted to sketch out a little road map for anyone going through something similar so we can all learn from this together.
1. My First Mistake
My first mistake involves a breakup. It was a long relationship (over 2 years), and I thought I was fine—I had journaled about it, realized it wasn’t something I wanted, and decided to start moving on. I only gave myself about two months before falling in a weird situationship I didn’t need. Lesson learned: don’t be afraid to take a little more time than you think you need.
2. See the Signs
I had found a cute new boy who was going through something similar (a breakup), and neither of us wanted anything serious from the get-go. That’s fine, I thought, we can hang out and help each other through this. Except it didn’t end up being a fun, free, no-strings-attached deal. Here are some red flags to help spot a situation that doesn’t add anything good to your life:
From Nothing to Something All at Once
This new boy’s lease was up soon, and he’d probably be moving out of Flagstaff. Bummer, right? I had found this chill person with really good taste in music who wanted to hang out. Except once his lease was up, he ended up staying the night since he didn’t have a new place...for three weeks. We spent all our free time together.
Do you know how many times my “friend” would say something to make me do a double take? Did he really just say that? What is that supposed to mean? Whenever I commented on something which I found to be hurtful, I was dismissed—I was too sensitive, he didn’t mean it like that, I just didn’t know how to handle him. If you notice small comments having a big impact on your self esteem, run as fast as you can.
Playing Hot and Cold
There would be periods where everything was going well; he seemed interested, we spent a decent amount of time together, and there was a nice level of support between us. These periods would be met with a sudden turn in the tone of our interactions; his answers became short and uninterested, getting to hang out was like pulling teeth, and overall I just didn’t feel wanted. I often sat up in my room wondering what I could have done or what was going on to make him so suddenly distant. This cycle had a huge effect on my mood, making me feel small and needy in the worst of ways. If you suddenly feel like less than you ever did before you started interacting with this person, what you are experiencing is likely toxicity and emotional manipulation, and removing yourself from the situation is necessary to start feeling better.
“Why can’t you just…”
Say it with me; You Can’t Change People Into What You Want Them to Be!! If you’re constantly trying to mold someone into something they are not, neither of you will be happy!
Notice Negative Changes in Yourself
You should feel safe, secure, and respected in any kind of relationship. If you notice your mental health, behavior, or mood change for the worse since welcoming a new person into your life, it is not worth sacrificing your sense of self or well-being to make the relationship work. If you’re unhappy more often than not and feel like you’re losing your mind, do what you know is best and put some distance between yourself and the situation that is causing the stress.
3. How to Deal
So, you’ve noticed you’re unhappy with this person in your life. You won’t leave until you’re ready to better your situation, and it won’t be an easy process once you do decide to do so, but these steps can help:
Get Help & Find Support
If you’re lucky enough to have friends and family who you can rely on for emotional support, reach out to them. They can give you an outside perspective of the relationship and even provide resources for you to get more help from professionals and organizations which specialize in fostering healthy relationships.
Create Distance and Maintain Objectivity
The best strategy for healing from a toxic relationship is establishing distance between yourself and your bad mix. Delete, mute, or block them on social media, change your phone password, and limit time spent with them if you’re unable to avoid being in the same physical space. It will be difficult at first, especially since you may like or even love the person, but the more space you give yourself to grow the better you will feel. This time can be used to gain a more objective view of the relationship, process any emotional or physical abuse which may have occurred, sort through how your own insecurities may have affected how you dealt with the other person’s words and actions, and develop healthier habits to carry into future relationships.
It Takes Two to Tango
Most power struggles in toxic relationships involve an element of control—if someone feels they aren’t treated the way they should be, they want to lash out or control the other person and make them feel as bad as they have been made to feel. The reality is, you can’t control how others treat you—you can only control how you react. Be willing to admit when you’ve done wrong in retaliation or to get a reaction from your person and work to lessen any of your own toxic traits.
How to Recognize a Toxic Relationship:
Knowing When to Let Go:
Trauma Bonding (How people come to care about those who hurt them):
Gaslighting and Manipulation:
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