Does it feel you are fighting with knives with your partner rather than pillows? Clients who come to me with unhealthy relationships are often distraught after a conflict or argument with their partner, when a conversation over something mundane like when to meet for dinner turns into something else. It’s not unusual for my clients to say that their partner’s rage turns from 0 to 10 in mere seconds, using hyperbolic language like “you always” or “you never”.
This is what Charlie, one of my long-term clients, often needed to work through after conflict with his partner Andrew. Charlie came to see me once in an agitated state because he’d arranged to meet up with Andrew for dinner after work but had to cancel due to a strict work deadline requiring him to stay behind late.
Rather than his partner accepting that as CFO of a large company Charlie sometimes needs to prioritize his work, Andrew created a ton of drama around the situation telling Charlie that “he always let him down” and “never thinks about what he wants”.
Charlie felt so dreadful that he stayed up late trying to mend things with Andrew rather than focusing on the work that needed to be done quickly that night.
Being in emotionally healthy relationships enhances your personal well-being
It’s not too much of a jump to realize that an unhealthy relationship can have a negative effect on you.
The effects are:
- feelings of being trapped and stuck in a circle of guilt
- shame and struggling to find a way to fix things.
You might feel like it’s your fault that something is wrong with your relationship. You might even have been told that you’re the one to blame. But if there is repeated personal conflict with the same person, and it’s difficult to communicate with them effectively and remedy the situation, there’s a good chance that the relationship itself is toxic and the cause of your relationship struggles.
A toxic partner always seems to create drama
What we’re talking about when we describe someone as “toxic”, is an individual that has been wounded or hurt in the past and cannot take personal responsibility for their feelings and needs. Although their trauma probably wasn’t their fault, these individuals can struggle to get past the role of “victim”. They will focus on this to get what they need by blaming or manipulating others to get what they want. There are a few ways in which they achieve this.
Creating drama and conflict in their lives is a technique used to draw attention to themselves and meet their needs. Just how Andrew created conflict over Charlie needing to stay late to get work done when the reasonable response would have been to accept the situation and rearrange the dinner date.
A toxic person will often ignore your needs while focusing on getting what they want
Another sign that someone is toxic around you is that they lack humility and they always have to be right. They can’t reflect on the harm they may have caused someone. Even when it’s a clear-cut situation and what they have done is wrong, a toxic person will always argue that they are right. Then they will list reason after reason why you’re wrong and the one to blame.
When you hear “you always” and “you never” followed a by a list of all the things you’ve done that your partner doesn’t like or approve of, you’re dealing with toxicity rather than logic and reason.
Toxic relationships can happen at work too
It’s not just your personal relationships that can be affected by a toxic person. It’s not unusual to have a work colleague or boss that seems to constantly undermine your efforts. You may have blame pinned on you when a deadline isn’t met, or when a failed negotiation means a lost contract. Toxic people often become perfectionists to compensate for the way they’ve been made to feel a victim. They need to control every aspect of their lives, and the people within them.
Kaye came to see me because her boss gave her a dressing down at work on a daily basis. Despite being a commercial lawyer working for one of the top law firms in the world and having a first-class record with clients, Kaye’s boss would criticize the quality of her work and focus on her personal qualities too. Kaye’s confidence was severely undermined, and she began to question her ability as a lawyer. Sure enough, over time the constant criticism and conflict did have an effect on the quality of Kaye’s work.
It is possible to escape this toxic behavior and improve difficult relationships
The way in which you experience your personal relationships is programmed into you from a young age. It comes from your early relationships with your parents, family and other prominent people around you. Your responses to these key figures and their reactions to you creates a set of beliefs and values that can have a dramatic impact on how you function in your adult relationships. That’s why toxic people and their behavior can affect you so greatly when negative emotional habits have been established.
Toxic people seldom accept personal responsibility for their psychology and the way it impacts others, and until they do see a psychotherapist or counselor to work on their unhealthy emotional habits, their behavior towards you is unlikely to change.
The best way to cope with the toxic people in your life is to:
- Develop the emotional intelligence to understand their behavior
- Accept that it isn’t your fault their needs aren’t being met or that they feel themselves to be a victim
- Develop the ability to set boundaries in your relationships
I help my clients to set clear boundaries in their relationships
I was able to help Kaye understand that her boss was a serious bully. The constant humiliation tactics towards Kaye every day was a sign of someone highly narcissistic. He was therefore unlikely to ever change. We worked together to chart a course for Kaye that enabled her to get out from under her boss as soon as possible.
Charlie, on the other hand, didn’t want to leave Andrew. So, I helped him to understand that Andrew had an abandonment vulnerability. This made it difficult for him to cope with last minute change and cancelled plans. I worked with Charlie over a long period to request that Andrew avoid hyperbolic language and to set clear boundaries within the relationship.
If you feel that a toxicity in your relationship is making life difficult and want some help to navigate the situation and restore your positive mental health and well-being, get in touch with me today for effective coaching and psychotherapy.