What is a toxic or abusive relationship?

A toxic or abusive relationship can be defined as a relationship characterised by behaviours on the part of one or both partners that are emotionally and/or physically harmful. These relationships are often destructive and can have long-term adverse effects on both individuals.

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Am I in a toxic or abusive relationship?

Toxic relationships are those in which one or both parties continuously harm each other emotionally, mentally, and/or physically. They can be incredibly damaging to both parties involved and often lead to intense feelings of frustration, anger, sadness, and despair, to name but a few. Toxic relationships can take many forms: romantic, familial, platonic, or professional.

People often forget that toxic relationships are not uncommon in the workplace, with more than half (53%) of employees reporting that they had a co-worker whom they felt was toxic in one way or another (Bussing, Rosenthal, and Witzel, 2002).


Signs that you may be in a toxic or abusive relationship

Some signs that a relationship may be toxic include but are not limited to: constant arguing, verbal abuse, physical violence or threats thereof, manipulation, neglecting or excluding the other person from activities or social circles, and gaslighting.

Toxic relationships are often characterised by a victim-perpetrator dynamic, in that the perpetrator's behaviour reflects an imbalance of power between the two parties. It is important to note that toxic relationships can be reciprocal and not just one-sided. Toxic relationships often result in serious emotional, mental, and sometimes physical issues. These include but are not limited to depression, anxiety disorders, self-esteem or low self-esteem issues, and personality disorders.

Signs you're in a toxic relationship

No one enters into a relationship thinking it will be toxic, but sometimes we can be in denial about the red flags. Here are some signs that you might be in a toxic relationship:

  1. You feel like you're constantly walking on eggshells.
  2. You're constantly apologising for things that aren't your fault.
  3. Your partner is overly critical or dismissive of you.
  4. You don't feel like yourself around your partner.
  5. Your partner is manipulative or emotionally abusive.
  6. Your partner is overly controlling about your behaviour, e.g. what you wear or who you see.
  7. Your friends and family have expressed concerns about your relationship.
  8. Gaslighting.
  9. Love bombing.

If you're experiencing any of these things, it may be time to take action or speak to someone.


What is gaslighting?

Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse in which a person manipulates another person's perception of reality to the point where they no longer trust their memories, thoughts, or feelings. The term comes from the 1944 movie Gaslight, in which a woman is slowly driven insane by her husband, who manipulates her environment to make her believe she is losing her mind.

What is love bombing?

Love bombing is a term used in psychology and sociology to describe a type of behaviour in which a person demonstrates an excessive amount of love and affection for another person. American sociologist Ted Schwartz coined the term in the 1970s.

The goal of love bombing is to make the recipient feel loved and important. It can be used as a technique to control or manipulate someone or to win their affection. Love bombing can be manipulative and emotionally abusive, as the recipient may depend on the bomber's constant attention and affection.


What to do if you are in a toxic or abusive relationship?

If you are in a relationship causing you emotional or physical pain, it may be time to get help. A toxic relationship can be emotionally and mentally draining and may even lead to physical abuse. If you think you might be in a toxic relationship, here are some things to keep in mind:

  1. Don't ignore your feelings. If something feels wrong, it is worth looking at.
  2. Get help from a trusted friend or family member. They can offer support and unbiased advice.
  3. Talk to a therapist about what is going on in your relationship. They can offer guidance and support.
  4. Create or join a support group for people in abusive relationships. This can provide much-needed support and resources.
  5. Seek legal help if your partner is physically abusing you.

How can Hope Therapy help if you are in a toxic or abusive relationship?

Hope Therapy & Counselling Services have a team of experienced and fully qualified counsellors with significant experience working with many types of relationship challenges, including people who have particular experience with toxic and abusive relationships.

If you or a loved one is struggling, get in touch to learn more about what we can do to support you.

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Wantage OX12 & Rickmansworth WD3
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Written by Ian Stockbridge, BSc. (CBT), PGCert (Clinical Supervision), BACP (Accred)
Wantage OX12 & Rickmansworth WD3

Ian Stockbridge is the founder and lead counsellor at Hope Therapy and Counselling Services. 

As an experienced Counsellor, Ian recognised a huge societal need for therapeutic services that were often not being met. As such the 'Hope Agency'was born and its counselling team now offers counselling and therapeutic support throughout the UK.

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