Toxic relationships – when you are the one causing the drama…

Toxic relationships - when you are the one causing the drama...

What if you are the toxic person in your relationships?

By Jan Niemand

The word “toxic” as it applies to relationships, people and even workspaces or organisations has increased dramatically.  In the 1990s, it seems like everybody has become aware of just how bad some people, relationships or organisations can become…

Take a look at the increase of the use of “toxic person”  in the last two decades in literature by clicking on  this link.

Defining this toxicity is no easy matter either.  Official definitions range from “dysfunctional relational dynamics” to “psychopathy” depending on who’s writing the definition.  For the sake of this article, I will define “toxic” as,

“Any behaviour which affects your relationships negatively and will, given enough time, ultimately kill relationships.”

But this article comes with a bit of a twist…  We frequently engage in our relationships on autopilot (we do stuff without truly realising that we are doing them!).  Toxicity is also not something which just happens overnight.  Toxic behavioural patterns may take months (even years) to develop.  It’s the whole boiling the frog idea all over again.  (Don’t know about the boiling frog?  Click here).  So this article is about determining if YOU display toxic behaviours which are not serving you or your relationships.  Ouch.  Yes.  Necessary?  Always.

  1. You are hypercritical about others (and secretly yourself). This can kill even the strongest of relationships in the long run.  Being hypercritical may have various causes (and might sometimes be accurate).  But in all honesty, people avoid critical individuals for the sake of their own safety and sanity (or more subtly, limit the time they spend with you).
  2. You are easily and frequently disappointed. High hopes and ambitions can be good things.  High expectations, especially if they are not communicated, are not.
  3. Passive-aggression. We have all been on the receiving end of passive-aggression.  It’s not fun and VERY disempowering.  Quite frankly, passive-aggression serves NOBODY since the person who stepped on your toes frequently DOES NOT KNOW they did.  Passive-aggression over long periods of time sap the energy and zest out of relationships and will alienate and isolate you.
  4. You find yourself frequently blaming others. This might be blaming others for situations, how things developed, failures, disappointments (see above)…  you get the picture.  The blame game changes NOTHING and moreover, puts you in a powerless position to affect your situation in a positive way.
  5. You frequently compare your lot to others, and the results aren’t pretty… Although we as human beings can learn through comparison, the moment it has an “I wish I had…” or even “why do THEY always…” it is not helpful and leads to further negativity.  Jealousy is frequently our own insecurity finding a different target than ourselves.
  6. You find it difficult to celebrate others’ achievements and successes. This one can be subtle but will be just as deadly in the long run.  Whatever your reasons, if you find it difficult to celebrate others’ success, there might be worth something exploring there.
  7. You feel that others’ problems are not as important as yours. This one speaks for itself, but can also be very subtle.  For example, we have all met the story-topper – “Oh, you think your situation is bad?  Listen to what happened to me…”
  8. You frequently feel overlooked, unjustly treated or that your true genius is not recognised. We get it.  You’re special.  But here’s the secret, we ALL are.  That’s the point.
  9. You punish people when they misbehave. We are not talking taking active punishment here.  It is rather a punishment of absence – you withdraw your love from the relationship until the other person acts like they are supposed to at least.
  10. You feel the need to let people understand that you are right (and they are not).  Need I say more?


What this article is NOT saying

What I am not saying is that when we exhibit these signs in our lives at times (life can really be tough), it does not make one an automatic toxic person.  It is rather the long-term adoption of these behaviours that damage and degrade your relationships over a lengthy period of time that I describe as “toxic.”  The more these self-sabotaging behaviours determine the overall quality of your relationships, re-assessment might be in order.


What can you do about toxic, self-sabotaging behaviour?

A lot, actually!  Toxic behaviours can be subtle, they will damage relationships and your well-being, but they don’t have to be inevitable.  Such behaviours are usually a result of three things:  1) limiting beliefs about yourself, 2) unaddressed fears, 3) unprocessed negative emotions.  It is perfectly normal to have any of these.  It is, however, not necessary for them to influence your life and relationships.

It can be very difficult to admit the level of toxicity we have contributed to our relationships (let’s be honest, it’s easier to see it in others!).  But we are neither victims of our thought patterns, nor do we need to be trapped by any element of our story.  All it takes are some good conversations (read more by clicking here!), a tad of vulnerability and some courage to stop the cycle of toxicity and begin the up-spiral of the quality of your relationships.

Dare to dream.  Dare to take action.


Jan Niemand


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