Toxic Connections

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Based on experience in his therapy practice, Riaan Swiegelaar gives us a clear understanding of relationship dynamics in our romantic, family & professional connections. This is his regular relationship feature…


Toxic Relationships

Toxic relationships can be defined as any kind of connections that are unhealthy and disempowering. Rather than enriching and supporting us, these kinds of relationships drag us down, drain us of energy and/or surround us with negative energy. They play havoc with our self esteem, and can contribute to physical and emotional problems. As the word ‘toxic’ implies, being in this type of relationship can literally poison us, both mentally and physically. There are many different types of toxic relationships, even in business and in certain parent-child dynamics and they vary in the degree of harm they cause, but most tend to fall into the following general categories:


~ Unbalanced relationships. An unbalanced relationship is one where there is more give than take in one direction. This is a harmful relationship pattern, as one person will feel taken advantage of which also leads to feelings of resentment. It is also toxic for the person doing the ‘taking,’ as they are preventing themselves from becoming balanced and whole as an individual. They are choosing to behave as a ‘spoilt child,’ and their partner is assisting them in doing so.


~ Controlling relationships. A controlling relationship is where one person behaves in a manner that tries to keep the other within their power, often as a result of abandonment issues. This can take the form of smothering, forceful, and invasiveness. An excessive need to try and control the behavior of others is usually a sign of feeling deeply insecure, and out-of-control of one’s own life and self. An attempt to control a person’s behavior will almost certainly create bitterness, and ultimately rebellion.


~ Obsessive relationships are where the relationship takes on an overstated sense of importance for one or both partners. I have many times heard people say that they ‘can’t live’ without their partner and or child meaning that they are not really living their lives, but are looking to the particular relationship as their total reason for being. This type of relationship tends to be highly toxic, and if the obsessive person doesn’t start learning to exist as an individual within the relationship, the relationship is destined to implode. It is a tremendous pressure for anyone to be made another person’s ‘whole world,’ and even though it may be flattering initially, the intensity can start to wear thin very quickly.


While the above types of relationships could be described as fundamentally dysfunctional, even healthy relationships can develop problems which left untended can become toxic.


We know it is not possible to change the behavior of anyone other than ourselves; however it is possible, and important to become very clear on what we are and are not prepared to accept in terms of another’s behavior, I also like to call this type of clarity boundaries. If you are in a situation where another person is behaving very irrationally or threateningly you should not accept or justify this. There are other times that these toxic relationships are clearly based on long-standing mental, physical, or emotional abuse, and the person inflicting the abuse is not ready, willing, or able to change their behavior. In the latter case, it is so important for you recognise that you should not, and do not have to be treated this way. You deserve to be treated with gentleness and respect, and you need to find the courage within you to believe this. With this belief you can seek the courage to break away from this type of relationship, however trapped you may feel at this point.


10 Ways to Tell if Your Relationship is Toxic :
1) The person puts you down verbally, in private or in front of others.
2) The person doesn’t want you to see or talk to friends or family.
3) The person calls you often to see what you are doing.
4) The person says you would have the perfect relationship if only you would change.
5) The person does things for you and then uses them to make you feel obligated.
6) You don’t know who you are anymore without him/her, or how you would survive.
7) You have changed things about yourself to suit the other person, even when it is not your taste.
8) The person has made you feel afraid or unsafe, and you have been afraid to speak the truth at times for fear of upsetting him/her (walking on eggshells).
9) You keep secrets about your relationship from others who love you because they wouldn’t understand.
10) The person seems really sweet/loving to you when he/she thinks you are about to leave the relationship, or after he/she has been mean to you.


The reasons that people find themselves in toxic relationships vary, but very often the root cause is that they do not believe they deserve to be happy and to be treated well. Poor self esteem and negative beliefs about themselves and what is possible for them to have is what stops many people from breaking free from a pattern of unhealthy and toxic relationships. Identifying the beliefs and behaviors that lead to toxic relationships and deciding to work at replacing these beliefs is one of the most important steps in ending misery and creating the foundation for future happiness. Also clarity on what you want and expect in any relationship is vital, as well as developing the conviction that it is your right to have these things, and that it is possible for you to have them.

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