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5 Ways Toxic Relationships Change You

Recognizing the harmful effects of toxic relationships can be a lifesaver.

Source: Pixabay

Toxic relationships have long-lasting, life-changing impacts. The greater the duration of a toxic relationship, the higher the chance of future relationships being altered, underscoring the importance of removing yourself from unhealthy relationships as soon as possible.

Toxicity in relationships runs the gamut of controlling behaviors, emotional mind games, and abuse in different forms. Many people associate toxic relationships in a linear fashion with domestic violence, but in reality, there are numerous other interactions, both short-term and long-term, that can be classified as perpetuating different levels of toxicity.

The severity and duration of these interactions can vastly influence future relationships, internal well-being, and even physical health:

1. Paranoia

Toxic relationships excel at creating paranoia and mistrust in their victims. In connections that consistently use gaslighting (where one person causes the other to question their sense of reality or sanity, in order to gain power over them) as a basis of interacting, individuals often develop anxiety, depression, stop trusting others, and lose hope in the possibility of healthy relationships.

Victims find themselves with a very real sense that everyone is out to get them—kindness is an illusion and done only for personal gain, being on guard against manipulation is a constant, and everyone is out for themselves. This, in turn, leads to paranoia centered on any type of relationship moving forward, be it professional, intimate, etc.

Paranoid individuals find it challenging to experience intimacy with others, often have a nagging voice in the back of their mind that they are missing something, and habitually read more into others’ actions than is realistic. Though these characteristics can create failures in future relationships, they serve as protective mechanisms in toxic relationships, making manipulation and exploitation less likely to occur.

If you are always on guard against the malintent of others, it is less of a surprise and devastation when it transpires. Unfortunately, this paranoia sticks around for extended periods of time, even after escaping unhealthy situations, and wreaks havoc on any hope for future, valuable relationships.

2. Avoidance of Intimacy

Nothing sends out warning signals about intimacy more than being the victim of a toxic relationship. Intimacy becomes a mechanism by which trust is destroyed, exploitation ensues, and hurt abounds.

Toxicity has a way of permeating every memory, or every “good” time, and twists it until only remnants of broken, painful interactions remain. Humans are amazing in their intuitiveness and complex nature—but this can become a detriment when you combine toxicity with intimate relationships. Intuition becomes skewed, and intimacy becomes a vehicle of tragedy to be avoided at all costs.

Most individuals who have been exposed to toxic relationships for extended periods of time will avoid intimacy for a while—sometimes forever. This is not just a form of mistrust, but a survival mechanism that allows healing and respite from extreme manipulation and pain. In the minds of these victims, the only truly safe space is themselves, and the vulnerability that comes along with intimacy can feel like a death sentence.

3. Self-Doubt

Toxic relationships preach self-doubt on a daily basis: You aren’t good enough, you’ve made so many mistakes, you’ve ruined it all, everything is your fault. Most abusive relationships excel at making victims feel responsible in some way for having “caused” the cruelty—and this mindset becomes ingrained. It transfers easily to other areas, such as parenting, career, even something as seemingly minor as physical appearance. Not all self-doubt born from toxic relationships is monumental, but it is equally paralyzing.

Toxicity sufferers frequently feel they don’t measure up; they don’t look good enough to merit that new relationship, they don’t make sound decisions all of the time, they are “damaged goods.” These thoughts interfere with even the drudgery of daily tasks. “I’m lazy because I didn’t cook dinner tonight, it’s just another example of how I don’t work hard enough to earn the little things, much less the important stuff.”

In other ways, self-doubt becomes crippling and creates a desire to run and hide: “If only I hadn’t made that mistake yesterday at work, the consequences to this one could be horrible, it’s better for me to quit and find something new.” Self-doubt can become the “new you” if it is not recognized and rooted out before transforming into a solid pattern.

4. Sense of Doom

Most individuals who have been exposed to long-term toxic relationships will find themselves experiencing a sense that the worst is yet to come. Initially a survival technique (and instinctive when someone is actively seeking ways to hurt and destroy you), this sense of doom only gets in the way after escaping unhealthy connections. It contributes to depression, hopelessness, and can become so overwhelmingly painful that individuals consider suicide as a way out.

Humans have an innate ability to keep looking forward, even in tremendously painful situations. This skill often falls by the wayside after enduring a toxic relationship—individuals become jaded, see only the negative in every situation, and expect the axe to fall at any time.

When combined with self-doubt, it becomes a surety for internal torment: “I have made so many mistakes and am so worthless, I don’t deserve to have the life I do … it’s only a matter of time before it all comes crashing down.” Similar thoughts can easily plague toxicity victims and are some of the most organically difficult to challenge—after all, toxic relationships train them to believe that they will lose everything important to them if they don’t perform according to the standards of whoever is in control.

5. Cynicism

Relentless mind games, gaslighting, and abuse are the perfect storm for cynicism to develop, and it can quickly become a way of life that interferes with any hope of attracting healthy situations in the future. Constant cynicism—integrity no longer exists, disillusionment is the new norm, self-interest is the only motive of others—initially forms as a protective shell to avoid being manipulated, but it becomes a roadblock in healthier relationships.

Toxicity victims are prone to believing the worst about the world around them—a world that has, in fact, exploited and battered them. Unfortunately, cynicism may form a defensive barrier in unhealthy relationships, but with more wholesome connections, it can be a destroyer. It causes us to misread others’ intentions, create conflict where there is none, and eliminate the chances of innocent and enjoyable exchanges.

Source: Pixabay

Toxic relationships should not be minimized—there should not be an attitude of “once you escape, all returns to normal.” This kind of perspective plays into the abuse cycle and perpetually trivializes the long-lasting impacts of these types of interactions. However, neither should toxic relationships be viewed as the end to all good things or as a life sentence. In fact, with heightened awareness and gentle healing, many victims of toxic relationships overcome these ramifications and go on to lead fulfilling lives (bursting with healthy and validating attachments). The initial key to starting a more positive journey always lies in being able to first recognize the myriad of ways that toxic relationships can alter our inner core and the perspectives we hold about the world around us—only with this recognition can one begin healing.

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