We throw the word “toxic” around lightly, using it to describe everything from a huge workload to a drama queen friend to that night you couldn’t get an Uber or a Grab, like WTF is wrong with the world?! But for people who are trapped in distressing, dysfunctional, and ultimately unhealthy relationships, “toxic” has become not just a word, but a way of life.
We spoke to relationship coach Suzy Roxas to find out what a toxic relationship really does to you besides bring you frequent LQs. Read on to find out, and if these things sound like what your own relationship has come to, let this be a sign that it’s time to walk away.
You lose yourself.
Roxas lists five things that indicate a toxic relationship, and they all involve diminishing yourself in some way: “First is you cannot individuate, meaning you’re not allowed to be yourself. Second is you lose your personal freedom. Third is you’re not allowed to own your thoughts and decisions. Fourth is you’re not allowed to own your uniqueness. Fifth is you are secluded or segregated from the rest of your life.”
You don’t grow as a person.
As a result of the above, a person trapped in a poisonous connection is unable to develop into the best that she can be. “Her perspectives are reduced, and her sense of self-esteem and sense of self-efficacy also deplete,” Roxas describes. “And because she is unable to develop and flourish, she shrinks and shrinks into her own world.”
In contrast, a person in a strong relationship grows, even when conflict rears its ugly head. Roxas refers to the opportunities for development that come up in the face of challenges as “stretches,” which are possible in a healthy relationship because both partners do not tear each other down; instead, they make space in their lives and accommodate each other out of mutual admiration and respect.
Your health—both physical and mental—could take a hit.
Roxas says that the dip in self-esteem that a toxic relationship brings could lead to anxiety, depression, and eating disorders. Furthermore, the constant stress and lack of sleep you suffer in a toxic relationship may affect your immune system, and let’s not even get into how much likelier you are to smoke, binge-drink, do drugs, and throw yourself into other risky activities the more miserable you are in love.
An oppressive bond can also hurt your heart—literally.
A long-term study conducted on more than 10,000 subjects over an average of 12.2 years has concluded that “adverse close relationships may increase the risk of heart disease.” Yikes.
Your work performance suffers.
Roxas says that sinking self-esteem also drags down your self-efficacy, which she defines as “the belief in your ability to do things and reach your goals.” Low self-esteem can poison you with thoughts that nobody appreciates you and what you bring to the table, robbing you of the confidence to work well with colleagues and slay in your career.
You relationships with other people might also take a beating.
If you’ve been suffering from low self-esteem and a persistently dark outlook, “your ability to see the good in other people and to see them as worthwhile or as good opportunities for friendship is also reduced,” Roxas continues.
This is a far cry from the way healthy relationships go, where both partners have a better understanding of not just their strengths but also their limitations, which gives them the desire to welcome other people in to complement their lives.
Your resilience weakens.
In a toxic relationship, one partner becomes the other partner’s world. Sounds romantic—NOT.
In such a bond, “you feel you are nothing or you are unable to cope without him, you continue to cling to him, and your sense of self is developed or predicted by the way he perceives you,” Roxas says. And since your toxic ties have made you so fragile and dependent on him, “when problems happen or when things don’t go your way, your ability to live through them is reduced.”
The longer you stay, the harder it will be for you to leave.
Roxas says that when the boundaries between two people are weak enough, they can merge to form a codependent relationship in which each partner’s sense of being is dependent upon the other—and which is harder to break free from. Ditto for abusive relationships that involve physical violence, which are just as difficult to ditch because the victim’s sense of self and personal boundaries have been so shattered.
This may all sound depressing AF, but if you or anyone you know is in a similar situation, know that you can get out, and you can get better.
Once you’ve escaped your partner’s oppressive hold, it is important to nurture your sense of self and rebuild the boundaries you once surrendered.
And if the way back to healing seems too steep a climb, there’s no shame in seeking professional help. “The word ‘toxic’ itself presupposes that the relationship has already deteriorated a person’s confidence, self-image, self-worth, self-esteem, and self-determination,” Roxas says. “Those are very difficult concepts to turn around, that is why you need a specialist to help you do that.”
And once you’ve nursed yourself back to emotional health, how do you keep yourself from spiraling down such toxic traps again? “In my practice, I’ve noticed that people who befriend themselves, like themselves, and are aware of themselves, what drives them, and what brings them down are able to form more positive and stronger relationships,” Roxas reveals.
Mama Ru of RuPaul’s Drag Race got it right: If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?
For more insights on relationships and how they can work better, contact relationship coach Suzy Roxas at www.talktosuzyroxas.com.