1) You feel exhausted or drained after spending time with them.
Someone who is toxic is typically demanding and self-centered, which can understandably deplete your energy, causing fatigue. Spending quality time with someone you are close with should make you feel energized and leave you looking forward to your next meeting.
2.) You are not able to be vulnerable or authentic in your relationship.
Always being concerned with how your actions will affect the toxic person's mood or behaviors inhibits authenticity and the ability to open up in the relationship. You may not feel like you are free to express your own thoughts and feelings without backlash.
3.) You find yourself playing the role of a therapist or a parent.
You often find yourself being responsible to care for the toxic person instead of being their partner or companion.
4.) You find yourself setting boundaries that are never respected.
The toxic person may struggle with adhering to clear physical, emotional, and spiritual boundaries which you have expressed cause you discomfort or pain. This leaves you feeling disrespected, unheard, and distrustful.
5.) You feel isolated from friends and family.
The toxic person may take steps to seclude or isolate you from friends or family members, especially those who may challenge their control over your time and energy. This level of control is abusive and leaves people feeling alone, depressed, and hopeless at times.
All relationships have their highs and lows. However, a toxic relationship feels like a constant battle. It can be mentally and emotionally damaging. Toxic relationships are defined by attributes of control, fear, and deception. If you feel you may be in a toxic relationship, it may be time to re-evaluate whether the relationship is worth saving. Outside support from someone you can trust can be helpful. Individual or couples counseling can help explore patterns of poor communication and emotional immaturity for which new skills and patterns of behavior can be developed.
Couples counseling can be an opportunity to learn more about your partner, to explore relationship issues together, and to adopt mutual strategies for healthy growth. However, it will not be easy. Relationship building requires one to be emotionally prepared, self-aware, and open to change. Dedicating time for personal reflection and goal setting can be beneficial. Change is hard, but know that you are worth it!
Audrey Keeton is a licensed clinical social worker working with children, teens, and adults in Wilmington, NC. Audrey is passionate about celebrating diversity and strengths in her office. People describe her as compassionate, empathetic, and authentic in creating a welcoming environment for each client she meets. You can find out more about her by visiting her bio.
What's "NO" got to do with it?
Boundaries. Such a small word for such a large task. I often wonder why there wasn’t a class in school or
a manual handed out? In a world that urges us to say “yes”, “no” has become a four-letter word. When
did boundaries become passe’ instead of necessary?
Boundaries teach people how they are allowed to treat us and how they are not. They are about
protecting our space, energy and person. Sometimes they are hard to set. Have you ever said yes to a favor and
then think later, “Why did I do that?” Enter that gut feeling, that lets you know your boundaries were
So, here is a tip: when someone asks you for something next time, instead of immediately
saying yes, allow yourself time to think about what you want and what works for you. Tell them, “I’ll
think about it and let you know if that’s feasible.” Don’t allow the pressure of an immediate answer to
coerce you into to giving more than you are able. I often hear people say, “But, it’s mean!" Here is another way to look at it - when you say no, it also gives the other people in your life permission to say no too. Saying “no” can make “yes” more meaningful.
So, here is the manual we never got in the hopes that boundaries become easier to navigate.
Step 1: Know what your boundaries are and listen to your gut. Take some time to figure out how you want other people to speak to you, interact with you emotionally and even touch you. Think about how much time you have
available to give to others and how much energy you need for yourself. Pay attention to what your body
is telling you. If your gut says no, listen to it.
Step 2: Communicate your boundaries. Try to educate the people in your life about what actually works
for you. This can save you from awkward conversation later because, essentially, they already know
what you are going to say.
Step 3: Give yourself permission. Sometimes people need to be reminded of our boundaries but this
shouldn’t happen more than once. If it does, there is manipulation at play. A person that respects your
boundaries is not going to ask why you have them. And you don’t need to explain. Read that again.
Boundaries need no explanation. If you find yourself justifying why you have said “no”, stop. And “no”
doesn’t require an apology either. Save the apologies for when you have actually done something
Step 4: Enforce them. This is the hard part. If you have set a boundary, you have drawn an invisible line
in the sand and people need to know what happens if they cross it and you have to follow through. This
is a good time to let your behaviors speak for you. End conversations that are unhealthy. Walk away
from toxic situations. Put your energy into the things and the people that respect your limits.
And remember, boundaries, are the best form of self-care available to us. They are a proactive way to
prevent later crisis or misunderstandings. Boundaries are necessary for healthy relationships and don’t
let anyone tell you otherwise.
Shanna Dickens is licensed clinical social worker in Wilmington, NC. Shanna has been a therapist for over 12 years specializing in the treatment of adolescents and adults who experience trauma, anxiety, depression, chronic pain and secondary trauma in helping professionals.
One of my biggest pet peeves is reading articles on self-care with a strong allegiance to one particular activity or hobby that is supposed to be a miraculous cure-all. If we were all identically wired, that would make sense. But just because something works for one person does not mean it will do the same for everyone.
We tend to give advice from or own reference point. We draw on our own experiences and wisdom to help guide others. I’m often guilty of this myself and it’s not necessarily a bad thing. When something has been proven to be effective, chances are it will help others too. If I find peace through exercise, I’m likely to prescribe it to my clients as an
act of self-care. Sometimes this is helpful for them, but that isn’t always the case.
When it comes to self-care, there is no right answer
The danger in this is that it tends to box us in. We tend to promote our own positive experiences as solutions. When someone vibes with it, that’s great. But when others don’t find the same level of value and meaning, it can often leave them feeling confused and hopeless.
It reminds me of the concept of “The Five Love Languages” by Dr. Gary Chapman. If you haven’t had a chance to read it, I highly recommend it. The basic underlying premise of the book is that we often show love the way that we feel loved. This is a very powerful tool in understanding behaviors in relationships. I’ve also found it to apply in a
similar way as we design and share our self-care practices. As a self-care guru, I’m likely to promote the self-care practices that personally resonate with me the most. Without being intentionally privy to our own self-care bias, we may miss out on finding what makes others tick. That just leads to millions of us “experts” telling you a million
different things that are all supposed to be that one miraculous solution.
So let me apologize on behalf of the whole self-care community of experts. We might have accidentally overwhelmed you. You don’t have to enjoy everything. If, in your mind, “self-care” means you have to go to yoga, take up painting, go to the gym, get a massage, listen to a podcast, take piano lessons, join a book club, start a garden, volunteer, run a 5k AND get eight hours of sleep? Whew, self-care? That sounds more like self-torture. Let me permit you to take a load off.
What makes you tick?
Self-Care must be a personalized experience. We have to identify our likes, values, and personal strengths so that we can craft a self-care plan that works for us. Don’t get me wrong, infographics and popular blog articles can help you cultivate ideas, but at the end of the day, there is no right or wrong way to practice your self-care. Have you ever taken one of those silly personality tests that tell you all about yourself? Or maybe you’ve even done a more legitimate personality assessment in the form of a Myers Brigg or other survey. Either way, you probably have. As humans, we are
designed to be inquisitive and self-analytical- it’s one of the critical characteristics that differentiate us from other species.
Statistically, we are often the most productive and effective when we set goals based on our strengths and desires. The opposite also applies; when we live our lives based on a construct of other people’s “shoulds,” it ultimately leads to self-sabotage. Basically, we are much less likely to stick to something that we don’t succeed in much less enjoy. So
it's important to find what works best for you.
You are the self-care expert
What do you like to do? What fuels your fire? When you think of peace and comfort, what comes to mind? Do that. What kinds of things annoy you? Exhaust you? Make you dread getting out of bed? Don’t do those things. Sure, there are some things that we have to do in life, but when it comes to self-care, you do have choices. Love being outside? The go right ahead and start that beautiful garden. Hate being outside? Stay inside instead. Enjoy journaling? Write your little heart out. Think writing down your thoughts is an awkward waste of time? Then don’t. Love running? Just do it. Dread the idea of putting on gym clothes? Nix it. Not to say that you shouldn’t get regular exercise from a health perspective, but that can be different from what you choose to do for the practice of self-care. Ideally, self-care should bring you peace and smoothly fit into your lifestyle.
If you’re having trouble answering some of those questions, then, by all means, do some research and explore your options. There are tons of excellent ideas out there. And I can guarantee that some of them will be a good fit for you. But, at the end of the day, it’s not about not listening to the experts; it’s about trusting yourself as the expert.
Don’t do what I say; do what you say.
Amanda Smith is a licensed clinical social worker who focuses on identifying and capitalizing on existing inner strengths and using them to help formulate a personalized plan for wellness. Amanda is a school social worker who primarily works with teens and adult who are experiencing anxiety, depression, and general life concerns. You can find out more about her in her bio .
The Therapist Blog
Musings from the other side of the couch