What are toxic relationship patterns? A toxic relationship is one that consistently undermines your sense of well-being, happiness and/or safety. You may find yourself in a pattern of relationships that affect your emotional and mental health.

Signs of toxic relationships are relationships that:

Identify Patterns

It can help to identify toxic relationship patterns by taking stock of all of your relationships. This can include work partnerships, friendships, family relations and romantic partners. Are there any common recurring patterns? Do you notice anything happening in lots of your relationships? Maybe you are someone who wants everyone to have a nice time, or perhaps you don’t feel comfortable asking for things that you need. Are there certain people you feel safe or unsafe with?

In a typical toxic relationship, you’ll see elements of codependency; which could feel like there is a huge need for support, validation or even help with decision-making. This might also look like needing another person’s approval as well as feeling as though you don’t trust yourself, or have incredibly low levels of self-belief.

Another common denominator in toxic relationship patterns is the use of gaslighting. Gaslighting is a term used to describe a form of manipulation that causes you to question yourself. Gaslighting can even leave you questioning your sanity, or rationale. Sometimes it looks like denying something happened, being highly contradictory – even when you know something to be true. It can make you feel like you’re overreacting, and is often followed with accusations of being ‘over-sensitive’ or ‘crazy’. It’s incredibly belittling.

Are you feeling drained? Something that many people notice in their toxic relationship patterns is the feeling of being completely exhausted. You might feel like your relationships are sucking the life out of you. This could be physically, emotionally and mentally tired – does this sound familiar to you?

Understanding the toxic relationship cycle

Toxic relationships tend to follow cycles – if you look at the graphic below, you can see that there are different phases that loop round.

Graphic with title "Recognising The Cycle of toxic relationships" depicts a cycle of four phases: 'The calm', 'Tension Building', 'Honeymoon/Lovebombing' and 'Abusive Incident'

These phases can go around quickly, or slowly – and vary in intensity. They will continue until something changes, or ultimately; one person leaves the toxic relationship pattern dynamic.

They often start out in the honeymoon or lovebombing phase, where a person is overly nice; and this stage can follow a ‘blow-up’ or abusive incident or period of toxic behaviour, and may be filled with promises of changed behaviour, or gifts and grand gestures.

It can be incredibly difficult to recognise the patterns, and a lot of work goes into removing yourself from patterns or doing the work needed to set healthy boundaries, communicate and develop different behaviours.

Breaking free from toxic relationship patterns isn’t unfortunately as easy as turning off a switch. It’s a conscious decision to end the patterns. This is often one of the reasons clients start working with me. Because they have had enough.

Breaking toxic relationship patterns can be done, and with time and compassion for yourself, reading articles like this, doing the work on yourself, turning up to therapy; knowing that you are worthy of having your needs met and feeling free to be yourself, you will get there.

Breaking Free

If you’ve decided that you’ve had enough and want to break free from toxic relationship patterns; there are a number of things that you might be considering.

These could include:

However you choose to move forward in your life, it can be important to focus on yourself, and seeking support where you can.

Embracing healthier habits

If you have noticed toxic relationship patterns – it’s never too late to start introducing healthier relationship habits. Work on being more supportive emotionally, verbalising how you feel and discussing how you can bring about more effective communication – what one person feels is sufficient won’t always be enough for someone else. Working together as a team to improve and grow a healthy, stable relationship that meets everyone’s needs without it being a battleground or competing for ‘a win’.

Working with a counsellor gives you skills to build on your healthier relationship habits; you can look at communication skills, what you need in a healthy relationship. Counselling can also explore conflict resolution, and how power dynamics can be more balanced in your partnerships in the future.

The relationship you build in therapy can often mimic the wider world. Looking at it like a training ground for what a healthy relationship can be like can help. You have a trained professional who will have healthy professional boundaries, who will actively listen to you, and be honest; in a respectful way.

Toxic Relationship Patterns: Conclusion

Toxic relationship patterns are no fun when you’re in them – but they don’t have to last forever. Reflecting on your relationships, noticing where things aren’t right can help you to take action, prioritise your well-being and cultivate healthier relationship habits moving forward.

Self-care is really important, along with seeking support where needed.

Everyone deserves to feel valued, respected and worthy.

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