How to Free Yourself From Toxic Relationships

by | Updated: December 4th, 2016 | Read time: 4 minutes

We have all had toxic relationships—maybe with friends, family members, neighbors or bosses. These relationships deplete you of energy, infuse you with negativity, bring unnecessary drama or conflict to your life and trigger feelings of low self-esteem, insecurity, resentment, frustration or irritability. It is important to realize that toxic people are often unconsciously making you feel how they feel about themselves; in other words, it’s more about them than it is about you. It is important for all of us to routinely take an inventory of our support systems and care enough about ourselves to free ourselves from toxic relationships so that we can establish and nurture positive ones.

How to Free Yourself From Toxic Relationships

As human beings, we are all attracted to what is familiar. We may have unconsciously recreated old dysfunctional relationship patterns from our roles in our families-of-origin in our current personal and professional lives. As we become more conscious and move forward in our lives, we need to reevaluate these relationships, empower ourselves to shift our boundaries or even end these relationships altogether. It’s been said, “We teach others how to treat us.” If we care about ourselves and have positive self-esteem, we are going to set healthy and appropriate expectations, limits and boundaries in our relationships.

Here are three factors to consider when assessing and confronting toxic relationships:

1) Is the person/relationship temporarily or chronically toxic?

If you’re in a relationship with someone who is going through a difficult life challenge, such as a divorce, an illness or the death of a loved one, they may be in a bad space and temporarily toxic. With these relationships, it is important to set healthy limits and boundaries for yourself in terms of how much contact and support is healthy for you to offer. You can also encourage them to get additional support by reaching out to others in their support network (such as their friends and family), or seek professional support from a therapist, doctor or spiritual advisor. Remember the toxicity of this relationship is probably temporary and will pass. However, if the person’s toxicity is more of a chronic personality style or relationship pattern, it is not likely going to pass and will need to be addressed more seriously.

2) How close and important is the relationship?

The closer a toxic relationship is to you, the more important—and more difficult—it may be to address. For example, a toxic relationship with your partner or mother is a more challenging and delicate situation than a toxic relationship with a neighbor or coworker. It is important to run a cost/benefit analysis of your toxic relationships to assess if what you gain from the relationship outweighs the emotional cost.

If a toxic relationship is with somebody in your outer circles, consider moving toward clearing your life of this relationship as best as you can, if not altogether. For example, if it’s a neighbor that brings you down, shift your boundaries from having closer contact to having little or no contact by simply waving hello rather than engaging in gossip over the fence.

If a toxic relationship is with somebody who is very close to you or you benefit from the relationship, communicate honestly and assertively with them to best promote a healthier dynamic. For example, you may need to speak honestly with your mother about your concerns and give her the opportunity to learn and change. If she cannot, then you have the choice to change your boundaries in that relationship by possibly decreasing the amount, type or frequency of contact you have in an effort to make the relationship more manageable and less toxic in your life.

3) Which factors can you control and which can you not?

You can control your own boundaries, your communication, your behaviors and your responses. You cannot control the other person.

You can do your part by speaking honestly, assertively, diplomatically and using “I statements” to express your feelings and set healthy boundaries. Then it is up to them to change or not. You get to decide if you can still have them in your life. If you find yourself repeatedly expressing the same needs and setting the same limits over and over in the same relationship to no avail, seriously consider relationship counseling or ending the relationship altogether.

Ending relationships is hard. Many people want to avoid the pain of processing the termination of a relationship and may choose to avoid dealing with it altogether. But problems do not go away unless they are addressed. You must care enough about yourself to free yourself of negative relationships. You must have the courage to find your voice and address these relationships honestly and directly. You must also have faith that by letting go of these people, you are freeing up your energy for new and positive people to come into your life. Letting go of toxic relationships and wishing the other person well can bring you to a place of forgiveness and healing that will free you from the resentment that negatively impacts you, even after they are no longer an active part of your life.

It’s important to note that toxic relationships are on a continuum from somewhat toxic relationships to abusive relationships. Abuse (physical, verbal, emotional or sexual) is never OK, and abusive relationships must be ended if the abuser does not seek help and change his or her behaviors. If you suspect you are in an abusive relationship, please contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline.