It’s an understatement to say that every relationship has its ups and downs. People have disagreements over an endless variety of reasons. However, when does a relationship become toxic?
First, let’s clarify that when we speak of a relationship that this isn’t limited to couples and life partners. For example, at the beginning of our lives, we’re entitled to a relationship with our parents. Of course, not everyone has the opportunity to have this experience i.e., orphans, but that’s neither here nor there.
Therefore, a relationship happens with someone who takes up space in your life and dramatically affects the way you feel over a long period. It includes not just life partners and parents; they also include relationships with siblings, friends, coworkers, etc.
So with that being said, let’s get into what makes a relationship toxic.
As a means of trying to capture the essence of toxicity in relationships descriptively, I will be citing “toxic behaviors.” For these, it is essential to define that what we’ll be referring to are habitual behaviors.
Every person has a bad day and can lash out in some form or another. Still, toxic behaviors are a recurring theme that’s unlikely to change without a focused effort (or in extreme cases, help from a mental professional). It is because these traits have already been ingrained into someone’s personality.
Also, I will be citing these behaviors in the context of situations from those I’ve personally known. So it goes without saying that I will be using made-up names of not-so-made-up people.
Perpetually Low Self-Esteem and Manipulation
Catherine is a “popular kid” who has always fit into whatever social circle she’s chosen. She’s smart, beautiful, and kind-hearted. On the surface, Catherine seems like the last person on earth to suffer from low self-esteem, but unwittingly does so at a very obsessive level. Why? It’s because she has mentally allowed her positive qualities to imprison her, thereby turning what should have been strengths into debilitating weaknesses.
Using her beauty to “charm her way to life,” Catherine has become fearful that she was always being manipulated. Ironically, her kind-hearted nature lets her vacillate from a hyper-vigilance state to getting her guard down when it comes to being manipulated.
As a result, business partners have systematically taken advantage of her. At one point, she was in debt to the tune of half a million dollars. Finally, she decided that enough was enough and liquidated all of her assets. Catherine now travels the world as the director and host of a very successful online travel and food review vlog.
Deep-Seated Anger and Self-Centeredness
Samuel is the eldest son of two very successful and career-oriented parents. Coming from low-middle class backgrounds, both the father and the mother earned university and post-graduate scholarships. Through their efforts, they rose to the top of their profession as respected persons in their field of expertise. Sadly, this inspiring rags-to-riches story also came with the caveat of giving Samuel a latchkey childhood filled with overly punitive discipline, scathing sarcasm, and disparaging criticism.
Along with inheriting, most of these traits and utilizing them to terrorize his colleagues and subordinates at work, (Samuel was quite brilliant and successful himself) were lifelong anger issues. His deep-seated anger affected nearly all aspects of Sam’s life, from his marriage, relationship with his children, and with his siblings. Almost everyone near and dear to Samuel had to walk on eggshells. If they didn’t? Good old Sam would get back at them because “They shouldn’t have pushed my buttons.”
One day, Samuel decided to let his anger go. On the surface, he didn’t make any significant changes to his life apart from ruling his anger instead of letting it rule him. He was able to shift his mindset with a new mantra “life will always be about something bigger than anything that bothers me.” Samuel maintains a 36 square meter greenhouse growing a variety of chemical-free produce as a tribute to his newfound perspective. He donates his excess harvest to underfed families to a nearby community.
Earl is an accountant who was promoted to partner, after a decade -long retainers, for a highly respected venture capitalist firm. He was tasked to manage and develop properties focused on hotels and events venues in a tourist-based area. Since this was his first experience of getting a responsibility where “he’s not allowed to fail,” Earl’s usually easygoing demeanor unearthed a dormant controlling nature. “The cold efficiency represented by numbers became a solace of comfort for me.”
His new position required Earl to move away from the city he’s lived in, along with uprooting his newly born daughter and wife of three years. A physician, Earl’s wife, was forced to give up her practice.
Besides the fact that moving to a different location is one of the most stressful events in a person’s life, Earl and his wife also had the additional pressure of establishing new careers and raising their first child. Things eventually came to ahead, and the couple ended up having a messy divorce.
“I could only blame myself for what happened to us,” says Earl. “ Every big decision was mine, and I felt that I had to make it work. It bled into little details when things weren’t working out, and these tiny little cuts took the life out of our marriage.”
Should I Stay or Should I Go?
Keep in mind that we enter relationships for a reason, and even those we value the most are not immune to becoming toxic. Take time to reflect on the reasons for staying, and how much the relationship is worth to you on an emotional level. Don’t be afraid to seek out professional help. If necessary, give yourself and the person you’re having a toxic relationship with some space to heal. Identify what’s your part in perpetuating toxicity. Often we overlook our flaws and succumb to a rigid thought process. At the very least, you owe yourself the measure of not being a negative influence, not just for others, but more importantly, your own.
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