Throughout life, we encounter people who, were they permitted to enter the inner circle of our lives, would undoubtedly impact us in a profoundly negative way. Fortunately for us, most of the time we have the intuitive foresight to cast these human leeches back into the miserable swamp from which they came before they are in a position to cause any real, lasting damage.
Every so often, however, one of these individuals will fail to trigger any red flags and expertly wear down our defensive barriers so that we are vulnerable to emotional manipulation at their behest.
Although typically associated with the realm of romance, toxic relationships can come in practically any shape or form; from the 'Condescending Grandfather', to the 'Manipulative Friend'. Whatever the case, if you find yourself relating to the following experiences, it is time to face the hard truth that you're in the relationship equivalent of nuclear waste.
1. You "Understand"... A Lot
Oh, look at you. You're so reasonable, so rational, so... understanding. Newsflash: you're not "understanding". Your normal standards of respectful behaviour, punctuality, etc. have been progressively undermined to such an extent that you are willing to put up with almost anything.
Didn't reply to my text for a week? That's cool. Four hours late to dinner? No problem! You forgot our anniversary? No biggie. Here's my present that I got four months ago...
2. Your Feelings Are Contingent Upon How They Respond to You
Do you often find yourself sending sincere messages, waiting with hopeful anticipation for a correspondingly earnest response, only to receive a 'k', 'lol', or 'stfu' (tongue-in-cheek, of course)? Is this exchange generally followed by a sinking sensation in your stomach that is awfully similar to the experience of being rejected outright?
If the answer to both of these questions is a resounding 'yes', then you are -- unequivocally -- in a toxic relationship.
The worst part is they know exactly what they're doing. That random text you get when you're trying to move on with your life is not so random after all. They're a manipulative puppeteer, and you better believe they know which strings to pull to get the reaction they want out of you.
3. You're Full of Excuses (For Them)
When your friends or family questions their objectively questionable behaviour, you immediately rise to their defence:
- "It's not their fault. They've been really stressed with work lately."
- "Fair enough that they didn't show up. They didn't know anyone else there."
- "They do this to everyone. They can't help it."
The excuses vary, but they all betray the same harsh reality: you are much more invested in them than they are in you, and you will do virtually anything to ensure that the pitifully dull flames of your "relationship" remain alive.
4. You Often Hold Back Your True Feelings
Have you ever found yourself deeply offended or hurt by someone's actions, only to employ every defence mechanism under the sun as a means of avoiding a volatile confrontation (and the likely emotional fall out that follows)?
If this mechanism of avoidance has become a standard, but one-sided, feature in your relationship(s) with your friend/partner/family member, it's safe to assume that you have entered the d̶a̶n̶g̶e̶r toxic zone.
5. You Frequently Compromise Your Values
The transition from childhood to adulthood is marked by the development of a sophisticated moral compass which we use to navigate our respective socio-cultural landscapes and judge our own, as well as other's, behaviour.
If you are in a toxic relationship, your values can be severely compromised, if not entirely violated. Perhaps you're a staunch feminist but frequently find yourself laughing off casually sexist "jokes", or maybe you've enabled someone to cheat on their partner despite holding the belief that cheating is morally reprehensible.
Whatever it is, when push comes to shove, you will inevitably compromise the values you hold most dear during your day-to-day interactions with this person.
6. Nothing Is On Your Own Terms
All interactions you have with this person are almost exclusively on their terms.
If you meet up, when you meet up, where you go and what you do is, generally speaking, independently determined by them. You are more or less rendered a passive participant in your own life, with little to no personal agency.
7. You Prioritise Them Over And Above Everyone Else
When they do want your attention, you will go out of your way to give it to them -- even if it comes at the expense of your other relationships.
This disproportionate prioritisation can translate into a series of anti-social behaviours, including flaking out on pre-arranged plans, ignoring other people when you're with them, or even indulging in inappropriate sexual touching in the company of others.
Despite the variation, the aforementioned anti-social behaviours inevitably lead to the same outcome; namely, social isolation, which in extreme cases can escalate a mildly toxic relationship into a severely abusive one.