7 timeless lessons to deal with toxic relationships

The cost of toxic relationships

Have you had it with walking on eggshells?

It’s exhausting. You’re constantly on high alert, radar up, scanning for signals to the mood they’re in.

The uncertainty makes you anxious and edgy, unsure of when things will turn sour. It has you mired in a perpetual state of hurt, always choking back emotions like shame and unworthiness.

You’ve put on so many masks to placate their drama you’re numbed out — hollow and void of any personal authenticity.

It makes you miserable, crushing your confidence and self-esteem.

Toxic relationships are like that. It isn’t a partnership of equals. It’s more like servitude; they command, and you jump.

They’re unfair, one-sided, with no reciprocity — you give while they take, take, take. And nothing you do seems good enough.

Maybe it’s a romantic relationship that’s gone bitter. Or it could be a family member, a friend, or someone at work.

I know exactly how hard it can be to stand up for yourself — full of doubt and afraid of the consequences. Afraid of loss.

But the situation will never improve until you do so.

And in truth, the only loss you’ll incur are those things that make you unhappy.

What you’ll gain is beyond measure, encompassing all aspects of your life from confidence to finances to spiritual growth.

Now, venomous people are nothing new. But you don’t have to put up with the bullies and manipulators.

And you can have relations that are loving, respectful, and supportive.

Sounds good, right? Then start applying these seven timeless lessons today and bust free of toxicity for good.

1. Calculate the cost

“Make no friendship with a man given to anger, nor go with a wrathful man, lest you learn his ways and entangle yourself in a snare.” – Proverbs 22:24-25

Toxic relationships are full of discrepancies, with inequality between what we give and what we receive. A common complaint I hear on this front is that one person gives and the other takes.

The snare is in the price tag of maintaining this inequality. It decimates our resources and entangles us in dark emotions. We suffer financial burdens, deteriorating health, isolation, loss of healthy relationships, missed opportunities, time-poverty, and much more.

If you struggle to leave toxic relationships, calculating the cost is an important first step. It’s a crucial step in finding the resolve to move on. Facing this can be frightening, but an honest look is vital for making a decision you can stick to.

Take time to outline the price you’re paying. Cover all the bases and include career, confidence and esteem, faith, finances, health, mindset, and social support. When tempted to backslide, check your list of costs to bolster your choice for freedom.

2. Determine what’s holding you back

“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.” – Lao Tzu

We all have reasons for becoming entangled in toxic relationships. For many, it’s familiar territory, a continuation of abusive standards we learned as children. Others may cling to the belief that we can magically change the other person.

Some cite emotional manipulation and the specter of physical violence. And many lack confidence or doubt their ability to leave. Investment in a relationship is another factor, as is low comparison levels – what I have is what I deserve.

Often, our reasons are so ingrained in our beliefs they can be difficult to spot. If you’re unsure, look to your results and inner narrative for clues. Watch how you make excuses for their bad behaviour or focus only on their positives.

Why do you deny, justify, or rationalize in their conduct? Where and when do you undermine yourself with blame, doubt, or guilt?  Be honest and dig deep, because it’s only after you own your part that you can grow into a stronger self.

3. Stop playing the victim

“Reject your sense of injury and the injury itself disappears.” – Marcus Aurelius

This can be a hard lesson, but if you’re holding onto an abusive or toxic relationships, at some level you’re playing the victim. And regardless of how much you want someone else to be responsible for your problems, it’s your job to solve them.

Holding a victim mentally relies upon limiting beliefs. Such as “bad things always happen to me,” “others are to blame,” and “nothing changes, so why bother trying.” These ideas create a loop. They develop feelings of insecurity and vulnerability. This feeds dense emotions like anger, frustration, and resentment, reinforcing the original idea.

Sadly, this loop prevents us from learning from our experiences and we often find ourselves repeating the same mistakes. This fuels a downward spiral into negativity. It undermines our confidence while fanning negative self talk, self sabotage, and dark emotions.

To break this cycle, avoid comparisons, judgements, or labeling. Learn to set healthy boundaries. And create an inner narrative that develops personal honesty and responsibility. Look for the lessons you’ve missed, then reframe your perspective to see opportunities for growth.

4. Communicate honestly, without judgement

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” – Matthew 7:1-2

Healthy relationships cannot exist without open, honest communication. But in toxic ones, communication can often turn ugly, with both parties trading accusations, blame, and guilt.

The trap of judgement often invokes intense feelings that make it impossible to express ourselves in a calm manner. Instead, we run hot. This makes us defensive of our identity, so we attack rather than communicate.

To clearly express your feelings, do it without judgement. Notice how this statement makes you feel. “I don’t want you on the team because you’re a loud-mouthed, grandstanding showboat who always steals the credit.” This is judgmental – it’s about how you perceive the other person as a threat.

Try this on instead. “I didn’t invite you to join this project because when we work together, your presence makes me feel anxious and distracted. Which has a detrimental effect on the quality of my own work.” This way, you’re owning your emotions and behavior. And that puts you the power seat.

5. Set limits

“Do not be led by others, awaken your own mind, amass your own experience, and decide for yourself your own path.” – Atharva Veda

Typically, those who find themselves caught in toxic relationships have loose or non-existent personal boundaries. They’re confused about which beliefs and feelings are truly theirs, and those they take on from others.

But healthy boundaries are needed to know and accept yourself. They create a neutral distance from the negativity and problems of other people. They also create a safe space for your compassion without becoming overwhelmed in circumstances out of your control.

To create effective boundaries, use the twin forces of avoidance and approach motivation. What are the circumstances, events, feelings, outcomes, and people you want to avoid in the future? What are the ones you want more of?

Set limits on interactions with those you want to avoid and cultivate the values you want to approach. With boundaries, it’s helpful to remember the only person you can change is yourself. So focus on what you can do, not what others should do.

6. Don’t confuse love and loyalty

“The only people I owe my loyalty to are those who never made me question theirs.” — Anonymous

Loyalty is an admirable quality. Blind loyalty isn’t. Blind loyalty is often tied to addictive love and points to our own issues of co-dependency. It’s fodder for bad decisions. And an effective hook used by manipulators to cover up or to excuse their own irresponsible behavior.

Loyalty is deeply linked to our survival instincts, when support from a clan or tribe meant the difference between life and death. And it’s most prevalent in tight-knit groups such as family, friendships, or work environments.

Do you often have to ‘prove’ yourself? Are you pressured to lie for ideas like conformity, duty, or obligation? Do they extend the same level of loyalty to you? Or are you left feeling alone, betrayed, and used?

If blind loyalty has you stuck in dysfunction, it’s time to re-examine your values. Remember, objectivity is more important than allegiance, truth more valuable than image. And the only loyalty you owe anyone is to yourself and to those who have earned it.

7. Forgiveness is the key to true freedom

“The wound is the place where the Light enters you.” – Rumi

Yes, I know. Forgiving someone who abuses you is a tall order. But the practice of forgiveness comes with a host of benefits that impact every area of your life. Improvements to your emotional, mental, and physical health are just a start.

Forgiveness does not mean that you agree with or condone the other person’s behavior in any way. In fact, it has little to do with the other person. It’s simply a way for you to be free of the past and to stop the practice of being defined by pain and suffering.

In brief, forgiveness is the letting go of everything except love. It sees through appearances and recognizes our sameness – that we all want to feel safe and loved. It creates a means for healing through acceptance, openness, and non-resistance.

To forgive, let go of your own fears, judgements, and opinions. See the other as you want to be seen and practice the Golden Rule. Pray for their healing, freedom, and well-being. Because what you give is exactly what’s returned to you.

Correct your aim for freedom from toxic relationships

“The archer who misses his mark does not blame the target. He stops, corrects himself and shoots again.” – Confucius

Just imagine how good you’re going to feel when you’re free of toxic relationships and venomous people.

Think of all the things you can accomplish… the goals to be realized, the kindness you spread, your love to be shared.

You may have a long list of reasons why you’ve tolerated negative people in the past.

But if they’re causing you pain and suffering, it’s time to examine those reasons and replace them. Along with the people who use you.

Because when you correct your aim, you’ll feel appreciated and valued, safe and secure. And you have the right to supportive and mutually beneficial relations.

I know it can be frightening to let go of the familiar, but it’s only at the beginning. Once you begin the work, fears are quickly replaced with competence, confidence, and inner strength.

And it’s those qualities the world needs more of – not more bullies and manipulators.

So, stand up for yourself but be smart about it. Work the lessons. Close the door on dysfunction and make room for positive people and favorable experiences.

Start right now.

You’ll love the results – and who you become in the process!

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