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Student Question: How do I identify a toxic relationship; how do I leave one?

What is a toxic relationship?

Dr. Lillian Glass, a communication and psychology expert who says she coined the term in her 1995 book Toxic People, indicates the following markers of toxic relationships:

  • a lack of support for each other

  • there’s conflict and one person (or both) seeks to undermine the other

  • there’s disrespect and a lack of unity in your values or goals

  • negative moments outweigh and outnumber the positive ones

  • The relationship is mentally, emotionally and possibly even physically damaging to one or both participants.

Why does someone remain in a toxic relationship?

None of those descriptions sound like fun, so why do some have a hard time leaving these relationships?

  • One may recognize their own role in the problems, and therefore does not want to give up on the relationship, hoping they can make it improve.

  • A co-dependence has developed - one partner’s self-esteem and self-worth comes from sacrificing themselves for their partner, who is only too glad to receive their sacrifices.

  • Fear of change and therefore accepting what is familiar (perhaps because this kind of relationship was also displayed in their family of origin).

  • Fear of being alone.

How do I leave?

  • Identify what’s holding you back - fear, guilt, co-dependence, threats?

  • Talk to someone who can support you through the change. If you are being threatened, this may include intervention through legal means.

  • Identify the healthy relationships in your life and shift more time and focus on those - feeling care and support within these relationships may increase your motivation and provide the help you need to make the break.

  • Identify and begin to focus on your own personal goals and values, and then make relationship decisions based on these, rather than on fear or guilt.

  • Spend time in activities that give you joy and build up your confidence.

If you are being threatened, you can reach out to these resources:

Carizon Counselling : 519-743-6333

Legal Aid Ontario : 1-800-668-8258

Waterloo Region Police Services- emergency 911

Domestic Violence Branch 519-579-9668

Victim Services Unit 519-743-7243

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