How Do Toxic Relationships Occur?
Let’s face it, toxic relationships are the norm. We were all raised by people (either by our parents or a caregiver) who lacked many of the communication skills we would have liked to have in a guardian. This is really what leads people not only to attract toxic relationships into their lives, but also to contribute to the toxicity without even knowing it.
Growing up, I could tell that my parents had a very toxic relationship. My father owned a small construction business and my mom had quit her job to become his secretary. My mom actually thrived in that sort of position because it was part of her personality to be organized. My dad was good at making sales, and so they both did what they were good at. My parents seemed to work well in the context of business, but not interpersonally. I found myself in between their yelling matches as young as 4 or 5 years old. It was traumatic, to say the least.
Eventually the fighting became too intense and the relationship ended. Before my mom left, there was an epic battle, where they ended up ripping each other’s shirts in a fit of rage. My parents got divorced shortly after this incident; I was 6 years old. I was very confused as to what happened. I blamed myself, as many children do at the time. Later I realized after studying human development, relationships, and the subconscious mind, it was definitely about their own issues.
My mom and dad both came from backgrounds that would be considered highly dysfunctional nowadays. There are three major things I have observed in toxic relationships that make them toxic. I want to share these with you, as well as give you an actionable way to prevent them from happening to you and your relationship (or prevent it in future relationships).
How Our Negative Beliefs About Relationships Can Lead To Toxic Relationships
Toxic relationships often begin with past negative experiences (usually concerning relationships). These experiences that remain etched in our mind create beliefs. I call these types of belief-creating events sensitizing events.
These are events that have one or all the following characteristics:
1. They involve authority figures, like parents, teachers, etc.
2. They involve high levels of positive or negative
3. They involve a peer group, like your friends.
4. They involve repetition (example: being told you’re
worthless over and over).
5. They involve a “non-ordinary” state of consciousness,
like meditation, psychedelic experiences, shamanic
When these beliefs are formed, they can be either empowering or disempowering. Neutral experiences rarely prompt the mind to bookmark that event as important to either avoid or move toward in the future. These beliefs are formed to help you avoid pain or gain pleasure. It is important to realize, though, that our beliefs are not based on reality; they are based on our past perception of reality.
I remember sitting in my office helping a client on her weight loss goals. I started asking her some questions to find her blocks around losing weight. Eventually she admitted that she didn’t want to lose weight because if she did, she would get a boyfriend and he would cheat on her…“like they always do.”
It turns out this pattern happened to her several times, and she had hardwired beliefs around relationships that not only kept her from meeting the right man for her, but they also prevented her from losing weight. Once our beliefs are formed around the way relationships are, the way men or women are supposed to act, we often repeat these patterns unconsciously. In many instances we repeat the same relationship patterns we observed as a child, which were rarely healthy.
These beliefs and patterns most often result in a subconscious manifestation of codependent and abusive relationships.
The first step to discovering some of these beliefs about relationships is to use sentence stems.
Finish the following sentence ten to twenty times. Don’t edit. Just make it quick. Write the first thing that comes to your mind. In this exercise, list of your disempowering beliefs around relationships.
The bad thing about having a healthy relationship
If I had a relationship partner who loved and supported me, ______________________would happen.
If I had the ideal relationship for me, other people would think___________________________.
Now that you have revealed some of these blocking beliefs, we need to condition your mind with new, more empowering beliefs. How do we go about doing that? We need to reverse the old belief into a new, more empowering belief in your subconscious mind.
For example, if you said, “The bad part of having a loving relationship is that I am afraid that he/she will leave me,” when you reverse it, the sentence becomes: “The best part about having a loving relationship is I am grateful for the magic moments I spend with my partner.”
If the sentence you want to reverse uncovers fears, reverse it like this:
I am afraid that… becomes I am confident that…
Write these new beliefs down and polish them. Once you have three or so new beliefs, look at yourself in the mirror daily and recite them with emotion and passion. As you look into the mirror, you are literally programming your own self-image and healing it. It will only work if you do it daily for two to three months, so be consistent. It only takes minutes a day to change your life.
You Must Heal Your Own Self Esteem To Avoid Toxic Relationships
If there is anything that I have observed from helping hundreds of men and women heal their self-esteem, it is that they are largely unaware of how their self-esteem affects the type of partner they attract. Men and women who like to abuse, violate, and toy with people tend to be attracted to partners with low self-esteem. Why? They are much easier to abuse, because people with low-self-esteem don’t believe they deserve better. Therefore, they rarely leave, and if they do, they eventually get another partner who mistreats them.
The solution is to heal your self-image and self-esteem so that you love yourself and attract others who will value you instead of abuse you. Your self-esteem is like a beacon in the night—it is always attracting or repelling potential relationship partners. You have to make sure you heal your negative self-esteem so that you attract the right partner.
One of the most powerful methods you can use at home to heal your self-esteem/self-image is to do “mirror work,” like I mentioned earlier. Mirror work for your self-esteem must include some special affirmations. Adding affirmations, like “I love and respect myself more and more now,” helps you incrementally change the way that you feel about yourself. Be sure to look yourself in the eye and say these affirmations daily for 90 days or longer. Choose three and start to do them daily.
“I love and respect myself more and more now.”
“I like myself.”
“I am completely independent of the good or bad opinions of others.”
“I choose to see myself as worthy of love and success.”
“I am worthy of love and respect.”
To Avoid Toxic Relationships You Must Also Have Personal Boundaries
If I could pinpoint the two major causes of all toxic relationships, I would say it would be self-esteem (which I spoke about) and personal boundaries. Boundaries are the specific decisions you make about what you are unwilling to accept in your life. These could also be called standards for how you will be treated, how your time will be used, and how other people will behave around you.
For example, a boundary could be with yourself or with another person. I have had a client who set a boundary with his negative brother who constantly called him and dumped all of his drama from the day on him. This threw my client completely off after he took the call, and he could barely get anything done the rest of the day.
He decided to limit the time he talked to his brother to 15 minutes and tell him upfront that was his boundary. This client (like almost all the people I see) was a people pleaser and had been conditioned to be that way for decades. The remedy is simple, but is not always easy.
- You must begin setting boundaries in small ways.
- You must use a new way of communicating to give your new boundaries the highest likelihood of getting respected
1. Draw three columns on a piece of paper. In the far-left
column, write down a list of things you will no longer
tolerate from others. These are “boundaries.”
Examples of boundaries my clients have made with others:
- One client stopped talking to her mother completely because every encounter was abusive.
- Another client asked her husband to help with the house cleaning to reduce her feeling of being overwhelmed by her to-do list.
2. In the middle column, write what you would like to
experience instead. Be specific.
Now we need to learn how to communicate these new boundaries…
4-Step Process To Ask For What You Need (Overview Of Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg)
1. Describe what you observe the person doing (objectively
without judgment) that does not contribute to your well-being.
State facts, not opinions.
Example: “When you_______.”
2. Communicate how you feel about what you observe them
doing. Avoid the words “it makes me feel.” No one makes
you feel anything, and they don’t make you do anything,
either. You are in control of your feelings. Omit the words
Example: “I feel _________.”
3. Describe what you need or value that is causing your
For example: “Because I need/value________.”
4. Describe the action you would like the other person to
take. This should be stated in the form of a specific request
in positive terms.
For example: “Would you be willing to________?”
What does this look like in action?
Imagine that your partner and you are at a social gathering and he/she makes a joke that you believe to be very embarrassing and inappropriate. Instead of waiting till later to confront him/her, or suppressing your anger, assertive people address the problem right then.
Nonviolent communication—NVC— in action would look something like this: You pull your partner aside politely and say, “John, when you make jokes about our sex life I feel embarrassed because I value my privacy and I need a partner that can separate our private lives from what we tell others… Would you be willing to remove any mention of our sexual relationship from jokes that you tell to others in the future?”
At first, this method of communicating is quite foreign to most people because it is likely you have never met someone who communicates like this. The reason this type of communication is important to follow is because it is most likely to result in someone complying, but there is no guarantee. If someone repeatedly defies your boundaries after using NVC to communicate to them, it is your call whether you want to be with someone who cannot respect your needs.
For the last step in your action steps be sure to write in the third column of the piece of paper, an NVC statement for each new boundary you created (using the four-step method outlined above). Your mission is to use these new statements over the next few weeks.
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