Should I Stay or Should I Go? 3 Signs You’re in a Toxic Relationship
Have you ever found yourself trying to decide whether you should stay in a relationship for longer, or if it’s time to leave?
It could be an intimate partnership, a career move, a friendship you’ve outgrown or a painful family relationship that you feel stuck in. It could even be a membership or a home.
At some point in our lives, we all face the question about staying or leaving.
This question begins as a subtle gentle tugging in my awareness, and often then grows more insistent over time.
For those of us on a personal growth path, our central dilemma is usually centered around a second series of questions:
- Is it me, or is it them?
- Is there more for me to learn in the relationship, or am I learning the a ct of disengaging from relationship?
- Do I tend to stay too long, or do I tend to bail too quickly?
- Can I change enough to fit this situation? Can the situation/person change enough to fit me?
- How harmful is it for me to stay for longer?
- How do I know when it’s really over?
While the answers to these questions are super complex, and more than I can cover adequately in a forum like this, here are Three Key Signs that it’s probably time to stop working on things and to start moving on.
- Emotional or Physical Abuse:
Name-calling, insults, belittling comments, slapping, hitting, put-downs, pushing, pulling, gaslighting (convincing you that you’re “crazy”).
While many us occasionally get angry and say things we don’t mean, in a healthy relationship we realize that we overreacted, we apologize and take responsibility for our behavior and we express care and concern about the negative impact it had on the other person. None of us is perfect. Here, however, I am referring to an entrenched and repeating pattern that does not shift in significant ways over time.
When everything gets turned around on you, and it’s always you and not them, this is a huge warning sign.
When their behavior is always due to some external circumstance or trigger, and not an internal experience, this is a huge warning sign.
When they see all their own behavior as purely a reaction to something YOU did or didn’t do, this is a huge warning sign.
A pattern of remorseless lies and manipulation, feeling power and satisfaction when others are hurt, enjoying others’ suffering or pain.
Refusing to admit to any problems themselves, zero interest in introspection or their own interior lives, insisting they should be loved and accepted for who they are regardless of the impact this is having on loved ones.
Remember this: The people you love or are invested in are unable to grow, learn or change if they remain unwilling to acknowledge their own conditioning, pain or problems.
Unless someone reaches some version of “I think I am in trouble,” or “I need to get to the bottom of these patterns of mine; they aren’t working for me,” or even, “Why do I do that and how can I change it?” — seriously consider moving on.
If you are in a destructive relationship, you have three tasks ahead of you:
1. Set healthy boundaries. It sounds like this: “I am not comfortable with shouting or criticism. If I hear these, I will leave. I would like to talk to you and connect with you and it is up to you whether or not I stay in the conversation with you.”
2. Stop using self-blame to maintain hope: When we aren’t getting our needs met in a relationship, we feel disappointed. Instead of sitting with the disappointment and recognizing the limitations of the relationship, we often turn on ourselves and make ourselves “wrong” in some way. If sharing your feelings and needs with another person upsets them, angers them or drives them away, you will be unable to find connection, intimacy and happiness in this relationship. You can invite someone to care about your feelings and needs, you can ask for more attention and empathy from them. But, don’t blame yourself if they are unable or unwilling to give this to you.
3. Know the difference between empathy and self-responsibility. If you say something that comes across as critical or judgmental to someone else, and they bristle, you can express empathy and care for the impact you had on them. You can offer a sincere apology and offer a “re-do” of what you meant. However, you are not responsible for their choosing to lash out at you, blame you or override you in some way. They remain responsible for how they are taking it, the meaning they are making, the feelings that are stirring in themselves and how they are treating you as a result of it. That, remains firmly their responsibility, not yours.
If you aren’t moving on after having tried many approaches over time with nothing shifting, you may want to ask yourself some deeper questions to delve into what keeps you in painful situations for longer than may be good for you:
- Are you financially dependent on someone or something in any way?
- Does some part of you believe that you don’t deserve better or that all people/situations are like this?
- Were you taught to sacrifice yourself to stay in a relationship at any cost?
- Are you buying into the false belief that until you are “perfect” you can’t expect more from someone else? Is your self-blame keeping you stuck?
- Something else?
Life-affirming relationships help us expand into our fullest potential.
They fortify us, they support us, they are built on mutuality and shared values. They support us in becoming more vulnerable, not more defensive. They support us in opening up and melting our hearts, not in getting more brittle, more edgy and more hurt. They increase our sense of safety and security with one another, they don’t erode our trust and increase our vigilance and wariness.
Life-affirming relationships also challenge us, break us open, melt our defenses, but they do so in ways that feel healing, safe and generative.
People who are able to create life-affirming relationships together, often share the following traits:
- They take responsibility for themselves and the quality of their lives instead of habitually blaming circumstances and others.
- They are curious about themselves and others and are intrinsically interested in change and growth.
- They are willing to feel their feelings and connect with their deeper needs. They get vulnerable.
- They enjoy learning new skills, gaining new insights and developing deeper connections.
- They can nurture themselves up from shame, and can also walk themselves down from grandiosity.
- They have defenses, but they aren’t identified with their defenses (they don’t see their defenses as “who I am”)
- They have the courage to admit when they screwed up, and accept that mistakes and re-do’s are a fundamental part of closeness.
Every relationship in your life is a potential stimulus for your own growth, just remember, sometimes the growth involves having the courage to leave, knowing when it’s time to disengage, and learning to stand in your own truth and for your own well-being.
Wherever you are at in your own journey, take some time to reflect:
- What stops you from leaving relationships that hurt you?
- What has helped you move on from relationships that were toxic for you?
- Do you tend to bail too soon, and forgo your own work? Or do you tend to stay too long, sacrificing your own well being? How do you know? What helps you change this?
Originally published at https://www.yvetteerasmus.com on June 24, 2019.