How to Recognize Toxic Relationships

i didn’t leave because
i stopped loving you
i left because the longer
i stayed the less
i loved myself
— rumi kaur

I stood there, outside of the car, waiting to leave. The back door was open and everyone was climbing in. As I was lowering my stance to get into the back seat, she grabbed my chapstick. I grabbed it back. She looked at me with shock. "So you're bold now?" That's what she said to me. It took chapstick for me to realize how little I was loved, in that moment.

Many of us have people in our lives that we love and care for but may not be good for us. Sometimes it is that they aren't good for us where we are and for a moment, but other times, they might've never been good for us in the first place.

Relationships are vital to our growth and development as individuals but how do we decipher whether a relationship is toxic for our well being?

A physiological response can be an indicator of toxicity.
How does this person (or these persons) make you feel? Do you feel a sense of anxiety, panic, or heat? These are internal indicators that tell us that we should explore further.

You consistently feel dismissed, like your thoughts, feelings, and contributions don't matter.
If you regularly hear about how much you need to relax, your feelings and/or thoughts are spoken over or disregarded, this can be an indication of a toxic relationship.

You feel degraded, berated, and insignificant when you're around them.
Being with people you love shouldn't make you feel small and insignificant. If those are things that you feel regularly with people you are in relationship, it may be time for you to take a step back.

Here's the caveat- exploration of what is causing toxic relationships in your life can possibly lead you in a direction that you're not expecting.

Sometimes, exploring the dynamic of a toxic relationship can lead you back to you.

Who we are is the only thing that we have control over. We don't have control over how other people treat us but we can set up boundaries for how their treatment corresponds with us and our lives. 

When I was a kid, beyond the many limitations that were set for me, boundaries were virtually none existent. I didn't have the liberty of saying what can happen to my body, what was deemed inappropriate for me, or the ability to differentiate myself in any way from my family of origin.

At 7 years old, this older guy from my church tried to pick me up. I didn't want to be picked up, so I said "No." Regardless of me denying the action, he picked me up anyway. So naturally, I bit him. After I bit him, I got in trouble with my Dad, who proceeded to send me away from the group to be in isolation in the van until he was ready to leave.

What this communicated to me was:
- Boundaries are mean.
- I am not allowed to set boundaries for how others can treat me.
- I am not allowed to assert myself.
- If I do assert myself, I will be ostracized.


Boundaries are not mean. They are necessary for healthy human interaction and self-love. In setting healthy limitations, we can both permit and be permitted to share life and love with the people in our lives. There are cases in which setting boundaries can feel abrasive or difficult, but that is okay. If the goal is ultimately to strive for health and healthy, non-toxic relationships, boundary setting must be a part of the equation. Sometimes, having boundaries means that someone can no longer be in your life because they aren't willing to respect you and honor the relationship. In these cases, you're not only setting a healthy boundary but you are also respecting yourself.

Boundaries are a grace to your future self and to the people in your life that you wish to maintain healthy relationships with. In order to have authentic connection with ourselves and others, we must practice setting limitations by becoming the gatekeepers of our lives, allowing or disallowing behaviours and people from infringing upon our space and our peace.