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10 Signs You Are in a Toxic Relationship

Karli writes as a therapeutic outlet and with the hope that her articles will be useful to others who have suffered psychological abuse.


Is your significant other an emotional vampire? If the following ten behaviors sound eerily familiar, then the answer is most likely 'Yes'.

Some of these red flags may sound like no-brainers to anyone with healthy self-esteem and those who have never been in a toxic relationship. However, when one becomes enmeshed with a personality disordered individual, one begins to rationalize the abuser's behavior and make excuses for it.

Eventually, this defensive posture becomes automatic. The victim feels helpless, anxious and depressed most of the time. They eventually lose sight of what a healthy relationship should look like. In some cases, the victim grew up in an abusive household and may just think that they deserve to be treated badly or that the dysfunctional behavior is normal.

Being in an abusive relationship is a lot like being in a cult. In both cases, victims may feel the effects of Stockholm syndrome. Quite often, the person being abused will defend the actions of the abuser. It is important to be aware that abuse is not always physical. Verbal, psychological, emotional, and financial abuse can be even more damaging than physical beatings.

Please note that I am not a mental health professional. I have been in one of these types of relationships. I have also helped my husband heal from having been in an extremely abusive relationship, and we both have toxic parents. Between the two of us, we've pored through all kinds of literature on the subject, joined forums and shared our experiences and insights. It always pains me when I see or hear of someone in this situation, and I want to help.

1. Whirlwind Romance

Abusers come on strong. The courtship becomes very intense too fast. Examples:

  • Within a matter of days, they tell you that they love you.
  • They spout off about how they've never had such feelings for anyone else before. They make you feel so special and tell you that you are "the one" for them.
  • Before you know it, you are spending all of your free time with them; they insist on smothering you, even if you'd like some room to breathe.
  • They want to move in with you early on in the relationship, sometimes within a matter of days or weeks.
  • They push for marriage or an engagement within the first few weeks or months.

Unhealthy Relationships

2. Verbal Abuse

Some examples of verbal abuse are: putting you down, calling you names, cussing and swearing at you, yelling at you, and generally just making you feel worthless. They may insult your looks, your intelligence, your body, your cooking, your manner of speaking, your voice, anything really that might hurt you or damage your self-esteem.

If you are male, it is not uncommon for an abuser to insult your prowess, accuse you of being gay (if you are straight), or to accuse you of not being a good provider. Abusers will also project their own negative traits onto the victim. For example, they may accuse you of bad parenting, being abusive, acting crazy, trying to control them - whatever it is they do, they will accuse you of doing it.

3. Idealization/Devaluation

In your partner's eyes, you are Godlike one minute, and pond scum the next. When you are submissive and acquiescing to them, they can put you on a pedestal. But any perceived slight will elicit rage and verbal abuse from them. (Dr. Jekyll turns into Mr. Hyde.) These devaluation episodes are sometimes followed by The Silent Treatment. They will give you the cold shoulder until you can no longer stand how uncomfortable and oppressive it feels. The goal of this particular tactic is to compel you to do or say something that elevates them and makes them feel superior, usually at the expense of your own dignity.

4. Isolation

They can't stand for you to spend time with friends or family. They will try to drive a wedge between you and anyone important to you or who they see as a threat. They have to know where you are at all times, they want to have complete control over your time and activities. They will monopolize your free time by keeping you busy with household chores, child care, running errands for them, etc. While you take care of everything, they rarely ever lift a finger to help out or do anything that they don't want to. The goal is to keep you so busy within the relationship that you don't have time for anything outside of it, such as spending time with friends or pursuing personal interests and hobbies. They need to influence your beliefs, thoughts and opinions. Therefore, they do not want you in contact with anyone who might contradict them.

5. Extreme Jealousy

Not just when your eyes stray, although that tends to be a big issue with them, too. These people are jealous of just about everyone. Your friends, family members, pets, anyone who may take some of your time or attention has the potential to evoke jealousy in a toxic partner. Your abuser will likely also be envious of any special talents, skills or traits that you possess. If you are smarter, better looking, have a better job - anything has the potential to cause envy. They will try to convince you that you do not actually have whatever quality or talent it is that they are jealous of.

6. Emotional Blackmail

They will tell you that if you don't do what they want, they will leave you or take something away from you. This instills a sense of fear in you. Two common threats are divorce (or a breakup), and taking your children away from you. They will tell you that they will leave you, and that you will be all alone, and that no one else will ever want you. They will threaten that they'll win sole custody in court and that you'll never see your children again.

They may also threaten to get you fired from your job, either by telling your boss something that they know will get you fired, or by starting rumors, thus taking from you your ability to provide for and support yourself and your family. Females, especially, like to call the cops and falsely accuse you of physical or sexual abuse, thus taking away your freedom, your rights, if only temporarily.

7. Lack of Accountability

They will never accept responsibility for their own actions. They blame others for everything wrong in their lives. If there's a problem in the relationship, the fault lies squarely on you. When they rage at you, call you names, or otherwise mistreat you, they blame you for it. They tell you that you "make" them act that way, that you brought it on yourself. They make themselves out to be the victim in almost any situation.

5 Signs You're Dating A Toxic Person

8. Control/Dominance

They will try to control every aspect of your life. Finances are one of the biggest ones. Even the ones who don't earn anything will want to be responsible for paying the bills and having free reign over the household budget.

Any friends you have must be approved by them, and they get to control when you hang out with them and for how long. You no longer have time for hobbies you once enjoyed, because you are too busy trying to keep your abuser happy. They may try to control what type of books you read, what type of movies you watch, your religion, what you eat, how you dress, etc.

9. Double Standards

Basically, they can do or say whatever they want, but you do not have that same freedom. An example would be if your partner goes out with friends one evening, but when you express a desire to get together with your friends, your partner gets upset. Or, you have to confer with your partner about making any major purchases, but your partner can buy whatever they want from joint finances without even running it by you first.

10. Rage Episodes

These may be frequent and are usually caused by any minor transgression on your part. You feel like you are walking on eggshells, always waiting for the other shoe to drop. You never know what is going to set them off.

Then, when they do go off, it usually involves yelling, screaming, shrieking, swearing, breaking things and hurling insults. They may even become physically aggressive. Their emotional instability can involve frequent mood swings. They may be up and down several times in a single day.

Emotional Vampires

Just like fictional vampires need to be invited into your home, emotional vampires need to be invited into your head. In either case, it renders you powerless. If your relationship is sucking the life out of you, you might want to think about ending it. If being around your significant other frequently has you feeling helpless, fearful, apprehensive, anxious, hopeless and ashamed, it's not healthy. Healthy partners are supportive, understanding, empathetic, and they want their loved ones to feel safe, happy and appreciated.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2015 Karli McClane