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Navigating Toxic Relationships
Anyone can find themselves trapped in a toxic relationship. Here’s how to deal
Ah yes, the good old toxic relationship. You know the ones. A weak person who doesn’t possess the strength to break free from their overpowering counterpart, living as a helpless puppet, right? Well no actually, that’s a common and, for the most part, bullshit perception.
In fact, it’s the strong, forward-thinking and empathetic folk among us who are usually targeted by people with toxic traits. If you find yourself in situations where you have to pedantically tip toe around someone, are afraid to challenge them or have to curtail your glorious personality, chances are they are trying to keep you down – in every sense of the word. These relationships come in many forms – platonic, family, romantic and otherwise. The key is recognising them.
I’d like to clarify from the jumping off point, I am not a psychologist, sociologist or any of the other ‘gists’ that have degrees in human behaviour. I would, however, consider myself to be a self-educated and self-proclaimed ‘lifeologist’. And as someone once wrote, “Who needs a degree when you’re schoolin’ life?” Why yes, I did just quote Beyoncé. The woman knows how to write a pick me up…
Anyway, I digress. Personally, I’m an optimistic, ‘one love’ kind of gal. I believe that you should not wish harm on others, that you should come from a place of empathy and love where possible, and that if your intentions are good, you are good. But due to experience, I have my third eye wide open, and I trust my gut when I come into contact with people whose vibes are off. And by that, I don’t just mean ‘that loner dude who adds anchovies to his porridge’. I try not to judge in general, but instead take heed of how a person directly relates to me. Do they come across as genuine? Are they respectful? How do they make me feel when I’m around them? Everyone is different, but some people have behaviours, either learned or otherwise, that are damaging to others, and this should be the focus when choosing your tribe.
In my eyes, a toxic relationship is one that regularly compromises you physically or emotionally, or impacts negatively on your time, energy or mental wellbeing. It’s someone who feeds off you, leaving little behind to keep your own hunger at bay. More often than not, these people will do this in private, but rest assured their true colours can spill out into public situations too. Both are unacceptable. Toxic traits in people include:
- Someone who does not respect your right to have an opinion different from theirs
- Who tries to control how you spend your time, or who with
- Who tries to control how you manage your finances or decisions
- Who does not respect you when you say no
- Who gets angry, aggressive or violent when you do not comply with their wishes/needs/advice
- Who uses you as a proverbial punching bag, to rant and rave to, with no interest in how you are doing, or any regard for your mental state
- Who makes you feel bad about yourself in any way, intentionally
- Who attacks your character when you express yourself
- Who calls you names or behaves in a way that offends you, when you have previously asked them not to
- Who gaslights you
- Who is negative about important people in your life
- Who dampens your spirits instead of lifting them
- Who tells you to be anything other than yourself
The list goes on for days, but you know it when you feel it. Basically, people who seem to always summon the negative in you, or who drown you with their own baggage, are to be avoided like a contagious disease. I know it isn’t easy to avoid some people who are toxic – what if they are family? What if you’re in love with one? Well, it was a hard-learned lesson for me, and it took countless tears to learn it, but here’s the reality; just because someone is ‘supposed’ to treat you well based on their position in your life (be it parent, sibling, spouse or BFF) does not mean that they will. It seems that we excuse abuse. We want that perfect relationship to be a reality for us, and can’t accept when it isn’t. So, we hope for the best, tell ourselves that we either deserve to be mistreated or that the abuser doesn’t mean it. Reality check 2.0 – the only way that we will see nurturing and loving relationships in our lives, is if we consciously choose them and disregard anything else to the contrary. You cannot control others, but you can control who you allow into your life.
We must protect ourselves by implementing boundaries, without feeling guilty about it. You have every right to say no to someone, to spend less time in certain situations or to completely exit out of a relationship with whoever you want. It’s called freedom.
If someone is draining you, the connection needs to be reassessed, and potentially severed, depending on severity. For this, you have to be strong in the commitment to yourself that you will not be taken advantage of, abused or bullied, and then refuse to look back.
This quote is thought to have been a tweet, from a clearly fabulous individual behind the twitter handle @debihope, and it woke me up on my journey to self-love –
“Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self-esteem, first make sure you are not, in fact, surrounded by assholes.”
You deserve happiness and love. Tell yourself that. Our self-talk is learned from others at a very young age, and programmed deep inside of us, interwoven with all of the framework of who we are to become. You are a product of your environment, until you gain perspective and realise that you can choose not to be.
As humans, we crave love. If you are reading this piece, you are probably a natural care giver. You want to heal the wounds of your nearest and dearest, but alas, my darlings, this is not your job. Your job is to take care of YOU. To receive love, you must first love yourself, and only accept constructive behaviour from others. If you are upset, stressed or in pain regularly as a result of someone else, it’s time to create some distance. If you continue to sacrifice your peace of mind to pander to others, you will lose yourself, and honestly, it’s hard to come back. Create a safe space for yourself, even if it’s just a corner of your room. Meet yourself there, befriend her, ask her what she wants, how she feels and be there for her. Take yourself by the hand, as if you were your own daughter, and guide yourself towards love and away from pain.
Stay woke and accept only what makes you flourish. This is how to navigate toxic relationships.