Out of toxic relationships at last
Toxic relationships seem to be on everyone’s lips right now. Some people feel trapped in a toxic relationship and want to break free. Then they feel hurt by the other person. Others need to realize that it is they who are hurting their partner. They feel ashamed and want to change to protect the relationship. Finally, some people are simply interested in the topic, out of sympathy because they have affected people in their circle of friends, out of concern that something like this could happen to them, or – let’s not kid ourselves – out of sensationalism when the media and social platforms describe celebrity lapses.
Yet, it is often difficult to help people who have fallen into a toxic relationship. Couples often cannot agree on what is actually wrong. Harmful relationships in the family, at work or in the online world, on the other hand, are difficult to access because, firstly, those affected feel ashamed and, secondly, have difficulty acknowledging when they themselves contribute to the relationship.
Often enough, in the case of intransigence, resistance from a “perpetrator” or an unbearable level of slights and injuries, the only option left to put things right is the separation of the couple’s relationship, abandonment of the friendship or termination of the employment relationship.
So what are the “toxic relationships” that can have such fatal consequences? We often think that only certain people are involved in toxic relationships. In the media, the image of a couple’s relationship with a narcissistic male partner and a female victim almost always appears in connection with toxic relationships. But this is not true. Any of us can get into a toxic relationship that is not good for us and that we cannot or will not leave. However, some people are actually more at risk because they doubt themselves or bad things have already happened to them.
In this book, we will discuss toxic relationships in general, where people are not doing themselves any good and yet cannot or will not end the relationship. This can be any kind of relationship: couple relationships, friendships and family relationships, or bullying situations at work and online. In all of these situations, people’s feelings are hurt, their self-esteem is damaged, and sometimes even physical damage occurs. What makes it different from relationship stress, what is actually “toxic”, is the entanglement of those involved, which makes it difficult or impossible to get out – precisely regardless of the nature of the interpersonal relationship.
It used to be thought that only women were victims of toxic relationships, but that is not true either. If you take the general definition of toxic relationships as a basis, anyone, regardless of gender or sexuality, can get into a toxic relationship. However, since pathological relationships are not a diagnosis, they are not recorded anywhere. Consequently, there are no precise figures on this. Relationship stress is widespread and occurs in about 20% of young couple relationships. Couples experience stress from their relationship, whether married or unmarried, in heterosexual or same-sex partnerships. Fortunately, the figures in the crime statistics only represent a small proportion of unhealthy relationship dynamics. The World Health Organization estimates that more than one in three women worldwide will experience physical or sexual violence by a relationship partner in their lifetime.
In the United States, nearly 20 people are physically abused by a relationship partner every minute. Over the course of a year, that equates to more than 10 million women and men. On a typical day, therefore, more than 20,000 calls are received by domestic violence hotlines nationwide.
One in four women and one in nine men experience severe physical, or sexual violence or stalking in their partnership, with consequences such as injuries, fear, post-traumatic stress disorder, recourse to victim support services, infection with sexually transmitted diseases etc.
One in three women and one in four men have experienced some form of physical violence by a relationship partner. (This includes a range of behaviours, e.g. hitting, pushing, shoving, and in some cases, is not even considered “domestic violence”). Women aged 18 to 24 are most likely to be abused by a relationship partner.
One in seven women and one in twenty-five men have been hurt by a relationship partner.
One in ten women has been raped by a relationship partner. (No data is available on male victims).
One in four women and one in seven men have been victims of serious physical violence (e.g. beating, burning, strangling) by a relationship partner in their lifetime.
One in seven women and one in eighteen men have been stalked by a relationship partner during their lives in such a way that they were very afraid or believed that they or someone close to them might be hurt or killed.
Intimate partner violence accounts for 15% of all violent crimes. A weapon is used in 19% of domestic violence. The presence of a weapon in a domestic violence situation increases the risk of homicide by 500%.
Domestic violence is associated with higher rates of depression and suicide.
Only 34% of people who are injured by their relationship partners receive medical treatment for their injuries.
Domestic violence is, therefore, fundamentally not gender-based, and violence also exists in same-sex relationships. Domestic violence often goes undetected and unreported because victims remain silent or blame themselves out of fear or shame. Therefore, the actual incidence of domestic violence is difficult to determine and varies by country, culture and society.
Certainly, social media has a part to play in the perceived prevalence of toxic interpersonal patterns, providing a platform, even anonymous if desired, for victims to describe the abuse they have experienced. Finally, films and television programmes also paint a sometimes unrealistic picture of conflict-free romantic relationships, so any relationship disturbance is experienced as toxic. But either way, toxic relationships are not okay and must be transformed or ended.
Toxic relationships put a huge strain on our well-being and our health. They undermine our self-respect and self-esteem and trap us in constant pain and despair. Yet, they can be hard to recognize and even harder to leave.
This book grew out of a guidebook for patients in my practice and provides a comprehensive look at toxic relationships. It shows how to end and heal them. To achieve this, it aims to give you a practical guide.
We start with a definition of toxic relationships and show how to recognize them. We cover gaslighting and emotional blackmail – forms of manipulation often found in toxic relationships. Furthermore, we also look at the effects of toxic relationships and so that how people get into them. Because of the diversity of toxic relationships, we will first look at causes and exit options in general.
Among the causes, we will look at a serious special case: when people with traumatic experiences from their childhood get into toxic relationships, which unfortunately is not that rare.
We will then address the issue of the core beliefs that guide our thoughts and actions as the cause of toxic relationships. We will see how to recognize and change them to build healthier relationships.
Practical advice follows. We explore why breaking out of toxic relationships is often difficult and how to find help and support.
Finally, we look at causes, warning signs and action plans for specific forms of toxic relationships. And because toxic couple relationships have such serious consequences, we will look at them first, followed by emotional blackmail, addiction problems, co-dependency, narcissism and violence in toxic contexts. Since we have noted that the focus on couple relationships is too narrow in your context, we will, of course, also take a look at toxic family relationships, friendships and workplaces, as well as the toxic interactions that can arise in social media.
I hope this book will be useful to you and help you understand and improve your situation. Let me know should you wish for an English translation in the comments or an e-mail.