By: Anele Siswana
Photo by: Pablo Merchan Montes
All relationships fulfill various needs in our lives but when they become toxic they no longer serve us. It is important to know when a relationship has become toxic, so we can cut it before it does some serious damage.
We need to consider that any form of toxic relationship is triggered and maintained by a number of internal and external factors. These factors could range from many factors, and may stem from psychological issues.
These could be individual psychological problems, like substance abuse, past abuse, low self esteem, trauma, mental illness, infidelity, trust issues, co-dependency, abandonment issues, financial difficulties or contesting interests and worldviews etc.
I have come to realise that as people we consciously or unconsciously tend to project our unmet needs and expectations onto our partners. This means that we become a burden to one another – until one becomes overwhelmed by the expectations.
However, when those needs clash, but there is an effort from both parties to work on them then the relationship may be promising, because blame and resentment can sometimes be used as a mechanism to hold one another accountable.
Moreover, one common factor in relationships is we often have a misconstrued understanding between attachment and love. We have different attachment styles which help us to relate with the world and those around us in particular ways.
You may observe that in relationships, there is often one who is more attached to the other; some people call it being obsessed, demanding or clingy. This is different from love.
Love is what the parties involved share as a gift of life. Love is the coming together of two people, including their faults and good qualities, with the aim of growing together.
It is a collaborative journey of exploring ways of improving one another and the quality of the relationship. There is a common understanding, which suggests that true love does not hurt, it is respectful and empathetic.
When one is in a toxic relationship, sometimes it becomes hard to step out of it. One of the reasons is that couples tend very close and fear of abandonment or being alone is sometimes a factor that makes people maintain the toxic cycle.
As a therapist, working with couples, in couple’s therapy and marriage counselling, my experience has made me come to realise that any toxic relationship is destructive.
Another reason why we may find ourselves in toxic relations is that we tend to confuses intimacy with desire.
Intimacy involves close attachment and a bond that exists between people – it could be couples, friends and even family. However, desire is a feeling of wanting something, most of the time it may be spontaneous and unsustainable.
When one is in a toxic relationship, sometimes it becomes hard to step out of it. One of the reasons is that couples tend to be co-dependent on one another and fear of abandonment or being alone is sometimes a factor that makes people maintain the toxic cycle.
As difficult as it may be to leave a toxic relationship, I encourage you to get out of it before there are any dire consequences.
Potential signs that you are in a toxic relationship:
It is likely that your partner may use his or her own insecurities against you. There are fears of abandonment and rejection, or intentional avoidance by giving one a cold shoulder.
There is a need to control the relationship. A sense of possessiveness and being obsessed coupled with jealousy. These behaviours are not always overt. Indeed, the more subtle the abuse, the more they can deny it if you dare to ask questions.
How to manage a toxic relationship:
Earlier I highlighted, if it were that easy for people to walk away from a toxic relationship then they would not pose a threat.
One needs to be careful and tactful when considering or planning to exit a toxic relationship.
When dealing with different kinds of addictions, I often encourage that the first step is to acknowledge and realise that you have a problem. It is also advisable to step out from the victim mentality, forgive yourself and take charge of the situation.
When we turn a blind eye in the name of love, the tendency is to find comfort in the hope that things will get better. In the end, the relationship gets stuck and by the time things get worse, it becomes difficult to end the relationship.
When one is in a toxic relationship I encourage that one should seek professional assistance from a psychologist, a social worker or even their minister Family and friends also serve as a good source for moral support and empathy.
The information shared is from my clinical observations and only offers you a surface idea of how relationships work.
Each person is unique, and as such, signs and solutions may vary for some relationships.
Clinical Psychologist & Consultant
Indigo Wellness and Consulting Services
He is also a lecturer in the psychology department at the University of Johannesburg.
Areas of specialty: Sexuality studies, men and masculinity and decolonisation of psychology in South Africa.
To seek professional help contact SADAG (The South African Group and Anxiety) on: 0800 567 567
24hr Helpline: 0800 12 13 14
SMS 31393 (and they will call you back)