Where the Science of Psychology Meets the Art of Being Human

When Someone You Love is Toxic – How to Let Go, Without Guilt

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When Someone You Love is Toxic How to Let Go of a Toxic Relationship, Without Guilt

If toxic people were an ingestible substance, they would come with a high-powered warning and secure packaging to prevent any chance of accidental contact. Sadly, families are not immune to the poisonous lashings of a toxic relationship.

Though families and relationships can feel impossibly tough at times, they were never meant to ruin. All relationships have their flaws and none of them come packaged with the permanent glow of sunlight and goodness and beautiful things. In any normal relationship there will be fights from time to time. Things will be said and done and forgiven, and occasionally rehashed at strategic moments. For the most part though, they will feel nurturing and life-giving to be in. At the very least, they won’t hurt.

Why do toxic people do toxic things?

Toxic people thrive on control. Not the loving, healthy control that tries to keep everyone safe and happy – buckle your seatbelt, be kind, wear sunscreen – but the type that keeps people small and diminished. 

Everything they do is to keep people small and manageable. This will play out through criticism, judgement, oppression – whatever it takes to keep someone in their place. The more you try to step out of ‘your place’, the more a toxic person will call on toxic behaviour to bring you back and squash you into the tiny box they believe you belong in.

It is likely that toxic people learned their behaviour during their own childhood, either by being exposed to the toxic behaviour of others or by being overpraised without being taught the key quality of empathy. In any toxic relationship there will be other qualities missing too, such as respect, kindness and compassion, but at the heart of a toxic person’s behaviour is the lack of concern around their impact on others. They come with a critical failure to see past their own needs and wants.

Toxic people have a way of choosing open, kind people with beautiful, lavish hearts because these are the ones who will be more likely to fight for the relationship and less likely to abandon.

Even the strongest people can find themselves in a toxic relationship but the longer they stay, the more they are likely to evolve into someone who is a smaller, less confident, more wounded version of the person they used to be.

Non-toxic people who stay in a toxic relationship will never stop trying to make the relationship better, and toxic people know this. They count on it. Non-toxic people will strive to make the relationship work and when they do, the toxic person has exactly what he or she wants – control. 

Toxic Families – A Special Kind of Toxic

Families are a witness to our lives – our best, our worst, our catastrophes, our frailties and flaws. All families come with lessons that we need to learn along the way to being a decent, thriving human. The lessons begin early and they don’t stop, but not everything a family teaches will come with an afterglow. Sometimes the lessons they teach are deeply painful ones that shudder against our core.

Rather than being lessons on how to love and safely open up to the world, the lessons some families teach are about closing down, staying small and burying needs – but for every disempowering lesson, there is one of empowerment, strength and growth that exists with it. In toxic families, these are around how to walk away from the ones we love, how to let go with strength and love, and how to let go of guilt and any fantasy that things could ever be different. And here’s the rub – the pain of a toxic relationship won’t soften until the lesson has been learned.

Love and loyalty don’t always exist together.

Love has a fierce way of keeping us tied to people who wound us. The problem with family is that we grow up in the fold, believing that the way they do things is the way the world works. We trust them, listen to them and absorb what they say. There would have been a time for all of us that regardless of how mind-blowingly destructive the messages from our family were, we would have received them all with a beautiful, wide-eyed innocence, grabbing every detail and letting them shape who we were growing up to be.

Our survival would have once depended on believing in everything they said and did, and resisting the need to challenge or question that we might deserve better. The things we believe when we are young are powerful. They fix themselves upon us and they stay, at least until we realise one day how wrong and small-hearted those messages have been.

At some point, the environment changes – we grow up – but our beliefs don’t always change with it. We stop depending on our family for survival but we hang on to the belief that we have to stay connected and loyal, even though being with them hurts.

The obligation to love and stay loyal to a family member can be immense, but love and loyalty are two separate things and they don’t always belong together.

Loyalty can be a confusing, loaded term and is often the reason that people stay stuck in toxic relationships. What you need to know is this: When loyalty comes with a diminishing of the self, it’s not loyalty, it’s submission.

We stop having to answer to family when we become adults and capable of our own minds.

Why are toxic relationships so destructive?

In any healthy relationship, love is circular – when you give love, it comes back. When what comes back is scrappy, stingy intent under the guise of love, it will eventually leave you small and depleted, which falls wildly, terrifyingly short of where anyone is meant to be.

Healthy people welcome the support and growth of the people they love, even if it means having to change a little to accommodate. When one person in a system changes, whether it’s a relationship of two or a family of many, it can be challenging. Even the strongest and most loving relationships can be touched by feelings of jealousy, inadequacy and insecurity at times in response to somebody’s growth or happiness. We are all vulnerable to feeling the very normal, messy emotions that come with being human.

The difference is that healthy families and relationships will work through the tough stuff. Unhealthy ones will blame, manipulate and lie – whatever they have to do to return things to the way they’ve always been, with the toxic person in control.

Why a Toxic Relationship Will never change.

Reasonable people, however strong and independently minded they are, can easily be drawn into thinking that if they could find the switch, do less, do more, manage it, tweak it, that the relationship will be okay. The cold truth is that if anything was going to be different it would have happened by now. 

Toxic people can change, but it’s highly unlikely. What is certain is that nothing anyone else does can change them. It is likely there will be broken people, broken hearts and broken relationships around them – but the carnage will always be explained away as someone else’s fault. There will be no remorse, regret or insight. What is more likely is that any broken relationship will amplify their toxic behaviour.

Why are toxic people so hard to leave?

If you try to leave a toxic person, things might get worse before they get better – but they will always get better. Always.

Few things will ramp up feelings of insecurity or a need for control more than when someone questions familiar, old behaviour, or tries to break away from old, established patterns in a relationship. For a person whose signature moves involve manipulation, lies, criticism or any other toxic behaviour, when something feels as though it’s changing, they will use even more of their typical toxic behaviour to bring the relationship (or the person) back to a state that feels acceptable.

When things don’t seem to be working, people will always do more of what used to work, even if that behaviour is at the heart of the problem. It’s what we all do. If you are someone who is naturally open and giving, when things don’t feel right in a relationship you will likely give more of yourself, offer more support, be more loving, to get things back on track. 

Breaking away from a toxic relationship can feel like tearing at barbed wire with bare hands. The more you do it, the more it hurts, so for a while, you stop tearing, until you realise that it’s not the tearing that hurts, it’s the barbed wire – the relationship – and whether you tear at it or not, it won’t stop cutting into you.

Think of it like this. Imagine that all relationships and families occupy a space. In healthy ones, the shape of that space will be fluid and open to change, with a lot of space for people to grow. People will move to accommodate the growth and flight of each other. 

For a toxic family or a toxic relationship, that shape is rigid and unyielding. There is no flexibility, no bending, and no room for growth. Everyone has a clearly defined space and for some, that space will be small and heavily boxed. When one person starts to break out of the shape, the whole family feels their own individual sections change. The shape might wobble and things might feel vulnerable, weakened or scary. This is normal, but toxic people will do whatever it takes to restore the space to the way it was. Often, that will mean crumpling the ones who are changing so they fit their space again.

Sometimes out of a sense of love and terribly misplaced loyalty, people caught in a toxic relationship might sacrifice growth and change and step back into the rigid tiny space a toxic person manipulates them towards. It will be clear when this has happened because of the soul-sucking grief at being back there in the mess with people (or person) who feel so bad to be with.

But they do it because they love me. They said so.

Sometimes toxic people will hide behind the defence that they are doing what they do because they love you, or that what they do is ‘no big deal’ and that you’re the one causing the trouble because you’re just too sensitive, too serious, too – weak, stupid, useless, needy, insecure, jealous – too ‘whatever’ to get it. You will have heard the word plenty of times before. 

The only truth you need to know is this: If it hurts, it’s hurtful. Fullstop.

Love never holds people back from growing. It doesn’t diminish, and it doesn’t contaminate. If someone loves you, it feels like love. It feels supportive and nurturing and life-giving. If it doesn’t do this, it’s not love. It’s self-serving crap designed to keep you tethered and bound to someone else’s idea of how you should be.

There is no such thing as a perfect relationship, but a healthy one is a tolerant, loving, accepting, responsive one.

The one truth that matters.

If it feels like growth or something that will nourish you, follow that. It might mean walking away from people you care about – parents, sisters, brothers, friends – but this can be done with love and the door left open for when they are able to meet you closer to your terms – ones that don’t break you.

Set the boundaries with grace and love and leave it to the toxic person to decide which side of that boundary they want to stand on. Boundaries aren’t about spite or manipulation and they don’t have to be about ending the relationship. They are something drawn in strength and courage to let people see with great clarity where the doorway is to you. If the relationship ends, it’s not because of your lack of love or loyalty, but because the toxic person chose not to treat you in the way you deserve. Their choice. 

Though it is up to you to decide the conditions on which you will let someone close to you, whether or not somebody wants to be close to you enough to respect those conditions is up to them. The choice to trample over what you need means they are choosing not to be with you. It doesn’t mean you are excluding them from your life.

Toxic people also have their conditions of relationship and though they might not be explicit, they are likely to include an expectation that you will tolerate ridicule, judgement, criticism, oppression, lying, manipulation – whatever they do. No relationship is worth that and it is always okay to say ‘no’ to anything that diminishes you.

The world and those who genuinely love you want you to be as whole as you can be. Sometimes choosing health and wholeness means stepping bravely away from that which would see your spirit broken and malnourished.

When you were young and vulnerable and dependent for survival on the adults in your life, you had no say in the conditions on which you let people close to you. But your life isn’t like that now. You get to say. You get to choose the terms of your relationships and the people you get close to.

There is absolutely no obligation to choose people who are toxic just because they are family. If they are toxic, the simple truth is that they have not chosen you. The version of you that they have chosen is the one that is less than the person you would be without them.

The growth.

Walking away from a toxic relationship isn’t easy, but it is always brave and always strong. It is always okay. And it is always – always – worth it. This is the learning and the growth that is hidden in the toxic mess.

Letting go will likely come with guilt, anger and grief for the family or person you thought you had. They might fight harder for you to stay. They will probably be crueller, more manipulative and more toxic than ever. They will do what they’ve always done because it has always worked. Keep moving forward and let every hurtful, small-hearted thing they say or do fuel your step.

You can’t pretend toxic behaviour away or love it away or eat it, drink it, smoke it, depress it or gamble it away. You can’t avoid the impact by being smaller, by crouching or bending or flexing around it. But you can walk away from it – so far away that the most guided toxic fuelled missile that’s thrown at you won’t find you.

One day they might catch up to you – not catch you, catch up to you – with their growth and their healing but until then, choose your own health and happiness over their need to control you. 

You can love people, let go of them and keep the door open on your terms, for whenever they are ready to treat you with love, respect and kindness. This is one of the hardest lessons but one of the most life-giving and courageous ones.

Sometimes there are not two sides. There is only one. Toxic people will have you believing that the one truthful side is theirs. It’s not. It never was. Don’t believe their highly diseased, stingy version of love. It’s been drawing your breath, suffocating you and it will slowly kill you if you let it, and the way you ‘let it’ is by standing still while it spirals around you, takes aim and shoots. 

If you want to stay, that’s completely okay, but see their toxic behaviour for what it is – a desperate attempt to keep you little and controlled. Be bigger, stronger, braver than anything that would lessen you. Be authentic and real and give yourself whatever you need to let that be. Be her. Be him. Be whoever you can be if the small minds and tiny hearts of others couldn’t stop you.

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793 Comments

KP

Thank you so much for taking the time to write this article. I am in the process of leaving a toxic relationship and it’s taking a very hard toll on me. I feel so horrible because this has been the person I loved for 14 years but I honestly can’t do it anymore. It has ravaged both my heart and soul. This man was my first everything, I thought I would marry him and have kids with him. Nothing is ever his fault everything he’s done to me, is because of something I did to him, and I refuse to accept this, because we all have choices and we all decide when and how to commit certain actions. He takes no ownership for the pain he’s put me through because he’s constantly telling me that if I hadn’t done something he wouldn’t have done something. My heart hurts, and I spend my days fighting back tears, so that people won’t look at me funny. I keep telling myself that better days are coming. I came across your article and I am truly grateful. Your words have given me hope.

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zina

You stay strong spirit-friend – don’t doubt your heart & please know that people who you have not even met care. Namaste

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Ashontia Carter

I feel the same exalt way you feel Lord knows i’m trying to make it threw this situration ur words i felt them to the heart” I’m trying to keep my head up also “thanks for your kind words

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Alice

I don’t know what to do anymore. I’ve been in a toxic relationship for almost ten years. It started great, like any healthy relationship should. Then, immediately after he moved in with me, I began to see his true colors. He’s a manically depressed, emotionally abusive alcoholic that has been gaslighting me this entire time. I’m no longer the strong confident woman I used to be. I’m constantly walking on egg shells trying to be perfect. I’ve been manipulated to believe that I am crazy, and that I deserve to be treated like shit. I should be greatful for everything he “does” for me. Like that one time he did the dishes, or the one time he walked my dog, or cooked dinner. Also, It’s like our relationship is a financial transaction to him. He just short of keeps an excel spreadsheet to make sure I always pay my share. He makes a lot more money than I do and I am over my head in credit card debt trying to make sure I can keep him happy by paying for enough things he want me to. I’ve wanted to leave so many times, but have always been manipulated back into staying. He quit the drinking a couple times, but has always started up again. He’s back on again and things couldn’t be worse. I’ve been trying to be more independent and hang out with friends and family now that I finally have a car (which he tried to keep me from having for years in order to control me even more). So now whenever I leave him alone be it for an afternoon or a weekend, he takes it out on me by getting completely wasted while he’s alone and trashing the house, leaving me to clean up the mess. If I am unlucky enough to return home while he’s still trashed, he gets very verbally abusive. I see it as my punishment for leaving. He makes me feel super guilty for ever leaving to do anything without him. So now I automatically feel bad for wanting to hang out with my family that I love, because I know how I will be treated when I get home. These are the moments that make me want to leave. No one deserves this. I never end up leaving because he always manipulates me into staying. I don’t know what to do anymore. It’s clear that he will never change, and I can never make him happy. Why do I stay? He’s completely isolated me from my family and I would have to move back home with my mom and quit the pretty amazing job I’ve found in this city. I would feel like a failure doing that. And I think that’s part of why I stay. I love my job, and I love that we finally have a home versus the crappy apartment we used to share. Also, when he’s sober things are better. I think I try to just block out his drunken abusive moments. Maybe I am crazy for staying in this relationship so long. I just don’t know what to do anymore…

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Punalei

Your not crazy. Your in a toxic relationship like me. I left him finally as of yesterday completely . I came upon this reading looking how to let go of the anger. I too been in a relationship for ten years with a man that has every level of abuse. I feel bottled in and anger. He cheated, put his hands on me, manipulated, lie, very sneaky, blame me for everything, use me, and verbally abusive every day. Blames me for everything and he doesn’t help me with our kids. Not married to him nor does he live with me because I know he would put his hands on me break everything I own in this house. Even when he cheats he blames me. He makes these fantasies up in his head as if I go out doing my own thing and then when I catch him he tells me I stepped out first. It disgust me. He makes me sick to my stomach. You can let go, you HAVE TOO. He’ll never get better itll always get worst. Believe it. Believe me. Believe yourself. You dont deserve that at all to be treated like scum. As if your nothing. You are a woman of nature, beauty, empowerment, daughter, love one. He does not love you like mine dont love me. Choose you first. Its hard but believe me its going to get better and better. If we as woman dont leave scum we empower these aholes. No. Im sending you this thru love and strength and believe. You can do this. We can do this. You need you he dont need you. You can do Greater without him. We both can do better without them. Believe in yourself and love yourself more. You just have to let go it’ll change. And start believing he wont. So you change. Let go like me and keep going. Dont look back. Itll get better i promise. One day at a time.

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David Exendine

I always see and read stories like this until one day I realised I loving one too. I am stepping away now because one thing I noticed inthis article- if itfeels like love it is. I know that I don’t feel the love any more. I hope you realize it too.

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Heather

Alice’s story sounds more like mine than I could put into words. My advice for her is to love yourself enough to leave.

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Christa

If you know that the relationship is over and you want to get out of it, you need to tell him to leave and give him a 30-day written notice so legally, you can kick him out if he is not gone prior to the 30-days. If you believe telling him he needs to leave will lead to abusive behavior, then you may want to consider getting a restraining order which will get him out of your home safely because a police officer would accompany you back to the home to make sure you are safe.

I’ve had to do this before. It is scary but must be done for your safety, peace and sanity.

I hope this helps.

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111

Please! This is my exact life! Holy crap. How odd to read your words and know that all of this has happened to me…. except for one major difference: I’m pregnant and left him. My counselor finally shed light on me when I felt like a failure for moving back home, pregnant and stressed…. she said. “ let me challenge your thinking : you will feel like a failure for moving back home? Well, if you stay with this man, and have your baby early from all the stress, and then bring her into a toxic home, you WILL be a failure.” That woke me right up. We have a choice. Listen to the messages around you. This is not the life meant for you. It’s a challenge so you can show yourself your own worth. Love yourself enough to say you deserve more. You got this! Much love to you <3

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Satine L

Dear Alice,

First of all, I really need to addressed that you are a very supportive , loyal , responsive and responsible life partner, who ever earns you on their side it’s a bonus.

This guy dosent appreciate because you didn’t set the boundaries because he makes you feel guilty about letting him out of his comfort zone and make him change.

You don’t need to quit your job, you don’t need to listen and influence by him, remember , you and him are different and independent entity , it seems like he drag you into a correspondent relationship.

My suggestion ;
Get a nice flatting place and move out of the house that u r staying with, still keep your job and tell the HR what the consequences after u move out from him before it happens, then people will support you to get a new life, you are not isololated , the feeling is a illusion, as long as you are realising you want to change, then u already break through .
Plz google how to leave a toxic person in 10 steps, it really helps, also by the meantime plz seek professional help weekly to make you get through the harsh time , it might take a year , or longer to make you feel empowered of your inner child,
But remember, you are growing , learning, changing everyday day.

The world is your oysters:

I can’t wait to hear your amazing changes happen in your own amazing life .

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zina

Alice – put you as number one. It’s horribly difficult, but once you do & see the real you in the mirror – you will see and become YOU! again. I have repeatedly done this to myself & finally saw it. Best of all to you.

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Jo

Wow, what you’ve shared is almost carbon-copy of my situation.
I’m planning to leave my husband before Christmas, & have told him – He’s not happy, & trying to manipulate….
After 32 years (dating at 18, then married at 23), separated 10 mths when chld was 6 & promising he’d change, I too have accepted he will never change
My family & friends are supportive, honestly happy I’ve finally decided to leave for good, as they’ve basically seen how he behaves/reaction.
Meanwhile, I’ve sought advice re solicitor & Centrelink.
Take care, don’t give up…

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Lena

You are so wrong! Toxic people can and have changed . I know a few who gave their life to god and became a blessing to others. People are susceptible to change. Who are you to say these people will never change. With god, all things are possible. God bless you !

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Niki

You are right; with God, all things are possible. That doesn’t mean that a person should stay tethered to something who emotionally draining them. Also, the person has to want to change. God isn’t going to impose himself on anyone. That person needs to seek Christ first to enable godly change.

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Christa

I agree with you Lena. Toxic people can change but it takes the toxic person to acknowledge that they have a problem and they must get help to learn healthy behaviors and possibly what is causing these toxic behaviors. Most toxic people aren’t self aware enough or knowledgeable enough to make the change on their own. Even with help, it takes time to change so it is best that the individual who may be in a toxic relationship to get out unless and until the toxic person changes.

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Shelly K

It may change for some toxic people. I am sorry to say for some toxic people in my family, even death and serious illness within the immediate family didn’t get better. I am very happy that you have witnessed toxic people transform and become better people.

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Angela

This. This is basically my relationship in a nutshell. To know that i am not the only one who know how it feels makes me know that i’m not crazy.

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Rose

Same for me. I guess I figured there was only a small percentage of people who have the same type of relationship as me. It makes me feel less alone.

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Laura

She didn’t say they couldn’t change, she said we can t change them. The change has to come from within the person.

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Linda

I’m so depressed. I’ve been with this man 12 years. It started nice. He was an attorney, and I did marketing in the medical field. He would go MIA for weeks at a time. Then show up and start back up again. He was divorced after 18 years. His wife left him for a young stud at the gym. This went on for years the back and forth MIA and back. Finally, he calmed down. He got into or I now believe, Always was in finically over his head. He took money from his clients escrow accounts and got caught. He was fined and disbarred. I found out through outside street talk. We were living separate but he got kicked out of his apartment and came running to me saying he was ready to live together! Committed! Right? Well, I said you’re lying but I will allow you to stay and help with the cost of my house. This rocked on. He went a year before he found a job and I kept everything going. After many heated discussions I demanded he pay half of the bills. He has helped but has never really dedicated himself to anything except him. Recently, I demanded he quit playing golf because we needed the money for upkeep on my house that has seriously been neglected. I said he had to leave otherwise. So he agreed and started painting the house and trying to do minor repairs. I appreciate that, but he should have paid for it or done this all along. I have a serious illness and haven’t been able to work. I’m on disability. I feel he is free loading because he has no place to go. He owes so much to IRS and others. They took his drivers license for non payment of taxes. I feel completely used. He shows no affection and no sexual involvement at all. Once in two years. It was an accident because I simply got drunk from depression. I’m not attracted to him anymore and I lost all respect. Every Time I ask him to leave he says NO! He is so in love with me and he just can’t live without me. I said your a liar and you need me and my home for your security. He works a Cush job for these rich Realestate people. They use him for all his legal knowledge at a much lower fee. I’m at my end with this and need him to go. How do I get him out of my home without using force? I’m in this abusive situation that has me losing my health. I truly believe he is the reason it started deteriorating because of all the inconsistencies. I fell in love with who I thought he was. I didn’t know his financial situation and he didn’t let me know. He borrowed from me claiming it was just due to rough times and he would pay it back. He has no drive, no ambition. He is now 65 and I’m 61. I have no time to lose. I’m lonely and depressed. He doesn’t care. He pretends he does especially in front of others. He cleans and loves to cook. That’s just who he is. His apartment was always spotless. He is a neat freak. He is never comfortable in his own skin. He has got to be going places or doing things. He is trying to work back into my good graces to stay here. I don’t trust him or what he says. I don’t believe he loves me or ever did. I’m praying that I’m not overthinking this entire ordeal. I never want to hurt anyone but I feel nothing. If he loved me I would know it and feel it. I need help. Please advise me ASAP. With respect, Linda

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Meegan

I honestly believe that all these articles that appear on Google and other social media platforms should come with a clause that they ‘do not diagnose – see a professional’. I am in the throws of a divorce because my husband ‘diagnosed me’ due to online articles on how ‘he felt’. He felt abused and therefore decided I was ’emotionally abusive’. Distraught I went for counseling and therapy just to find out that although there are places for growth for me and improvement, for which I recognize and don’t shy away – admit my part in the relationship – I am NOT emotionally abusive.

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Karen Young

Meegan there is no ‘diagnosis’ for toxic people. It’s about the way the other person in the relationship feels. Whether you call it toxic, abusive, bullying – whatever word you want to use, the point is that everyone has a right to choose the point at which behaviours and relationships feel acceptable and tolerable.

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Jojo

Possibly your husband is toxic if he tells you this about yourself due to an online article and you end up in therapy. Or, the therapist is telling you what you want to hear. Find a couples counselor and go together. Nip this thing in the bud.

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Mary

I appreciate this article and all of the comments. It helps having reassurance from others that your not a lone.

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Kayla

The toxic people I am dealing with are my parents. Its been 9 years since I’ve lived with them I now live clear across the country from them, but I still can’t seem to get out of my own head. All the years of being compared to my older brother and always falling short. Every emotional breakdown or anxiety attack being labeled as me being jealous of my brother. I’ve been punched in the stomach for playfully poking my dad in the side. He nearly cracked my skull open one day when he came home from work in a bad mood and I, being a teenager, screamed at him when he jumped on the tv remote until the batteries exploded because I had the tv on when I was grounded.

I joined the military as soon as I graduated high school and am still treated like a child that can’t do a thing on their own. Berated and put down for every decision I make. All ‘failures’ and choices they don’t agree with is constantly thrown in my face as they shake me by my shoulders. Constantly guilt tripped for not calling or visiting as much as they liked. I started a family of my own and when I got out the military we moved closer to my husband’s family rather than my own.

They berated my taste in men saying I should have married a military officer, rather than the man I love who loves me for me. I’m worried they are going to try to warp my baby boy’s mind into trying to help them force me to move back home. They have fully admitted that they don’t believe I can survive without them and constantly demand that I and my son move back home. They want nothing to do with my husband.

They are so deep in my head that I’m guilt tripping myself for even thinking of cutting them out. I’m scared the rest of the family will side with them and cut me out completely andI’m talking over 30 people on my mother’s side alone. My anxiety is through the roof and I am beyond stressed out. My husband is letting the decision to cut them out be mine and mine alone as well as how we go about it. I have no idea what to do or how to do it, but I know my sanity can’t take much more. I have anxiety attacks just from the thought of calling them let along visiting them. My husband and mother-in-law are doing what they can to help me with the anxiety, but even they can only do so much.

And I know there are so many people who are in worse situations than me.

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Monica

Free yourself. Love should feel like love and the most important family you have is the one you make. So free yourself, you are entitled to a happy and healthy family

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Cheryl P

Kayla, the one thing I learnt a while back is: there are no rules in these situations. We have to do what is best for us – and this is most important when we have children to care for. Metaphorically speaking: we need to be a healthy tree to have healthy branches.
I withdrew contact from my entire family 10 years ago. It has not been easy. Unfortunately, people who haven’t been in a heavily abusive relationship are often not that supportive of ‘leaving a family’. It is an unwritten law to be Loyal to your family/parents. But that law has the fine print of: this is only for good parents who respect their kid’s safety and well-being. Parents who inflict pain and torture on their kids – physically, mentally, etc – do not have the right to loyalty. Your anxiety is very normal. Stopping contact with your parents is new and new behaviour is always scary. My advice is to do it. Do that new behaviour. Ride through the guilt by writing and reading mantras that spell out why you are doing this. Know that you did not deserve how your parents treat you and you are putting an end to it. You are an adult now. You can speak up and you can walk away. Last bit of advice: seek counselling to help you through this change. A good counsellor will support and validate you. Something good parents are meant to do. Good luck!

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T.

I was in a similar situation. Terrified, but had to do what was best for my health, sanity and well-being, so, ultimately, I can be the best person and parent I can be for my children. It is really scary, hard and overwhelming. It is still on my mind often, and I feel guilty, sad, and grieving for what couldn’t be despite my best efforts, but I never regret the decision. It was brave, safe, and the right choice for myself and my family. Sending you so much support!

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Gretchen

Kayla,
I totally relate. I waited much longer than you to realize that I had to get out of the relationship with my parents. I was away from home, on my own, for 20 years before I understood how much my parents were hurting me.
It is very hard to walk away from your family, especially your parents.

Find the people in your life who uplift you, your husband and children. Cling to them.

If your parents treat anyone in your home differently and it is clear that it is intentional, don’t tolerate it. I don’t accept packages or anything from my parents anymore. I just send them back. If your parents want to visit, and you can emotionally stay happy in allowing it, find a place to meet them (not your home). That way, you are free to leave if anything gets toxic or uncomfortable.

Finally, define how you need things to be if you are to have a relationship with your parents. If you want a relationship with you enough, they will decide to change things. Leave them the opportunity to improve things.

Otherwise, even though it won’t stop coming to your mind, you need to give yourself a better life and be happy. You will be able to be a better wife and mother if you don’t seek your parents approval.

I have several ladies who I look to as mothers because of the way my birth rite mother treats me. You can find women like that too.

Stay strong! You are worth it. You are loved. You are a good and deserving person!

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Kenly

We met in a meeting. After that she just started showing up. Setting meetings to walk and talk. Kind conversations. Very caring girl. After about a month I made a move. That’s when I found out she’s in a 10-year relationship. Shortly thereafter, I found out I’m male friend #4. I think her boyfriend moved her away from the others. One of them may have involved some level of infidelity. She has refused to marry him, and I suspect her relationship with his is one-sided in his favor. Unfortunately, she has always repressed her feelings. She knows I love her, and I believe she wants to leave a relationship that was over long before we met. I think she has a real confidence problem because of what he has put her through. A man knows when a woman loves him. He can feel it. She loves me, but she’s too honorable to make a mistake. I don’t want to hurt anyone, but the truth is we are such a powerful match on so many levels. We have so little time together. I know she would be the loving, caring person I’ve always wanted if she was just free of him. It destroys her whenever I speak of stepping away from it. I’m not sure how much longer I can wait. I have no power in the relationship. We talk when she can, and only when she can. This is not what I expected when I decided to put myself out there again.

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Steve

I’m in a toxic relationship and I am a male. I get physically abused, I never hit back, I know what I’d be capable of doing if I did, but I always get threatened to have the cops called on me. I get bullied and bossed around. Tonight I had a cigarette put out on my neck. My other half is an alcoholic and the last few months, I know is on drugs. She quit her job 2 months ago and doesn’t do anything, no housework, cooking, laundry, or anything. I been in a relationship for 11 years, have 2 great children, but every month it keeps getting worse. She wrecked her car leaving the bar and 2 nights later was back at the bar doing the same bullshit. She won’t leave and won’t let me leave either. I live in a small town in a small state. I have a great job I love and it pays better than 95% of the jobs in my county. Only problem is, I’m responsible for 1/4 of the state with my job and it would be tough to get another job like the one I have and wouldn’t be able to walk away leaving the organization in disarray. I notice there is not much advice online for men in my situation. The last month or so, I been opening up to my parents about what I go through, and Im the type of person to keep my problems to myself. I’m embarrassed to talk about my problems with people. I know they are there for me and I would gladly sacrifice everything I have to just leave this relationship/situation, move in with my folks till I got back on my feet and start over, but I worry about my children. I’m white male, kids and mom are enrolled in a Native American tribe, so there is absolutely no way I would get custody of the kids and I feel My influence is the only way they can make something of their lives. If I left, I fear they would turn out like their mom. I’m lost, wasting my life, being unhappy, waiting for the kids to be old enough to not have to live with her by themselves. Only thing in my favor is I never got married, not that I didn’t want to at some point, but I’ve always knew marriage with us would be a mistake. I don’t know if anyone has any suggestions or advice for me, but it felt good to write this out anyways. Times are changing, I don’t think I’m the only male in this country being abused or in a toxic relationship and I feel it is only going to get worse with the current generation.

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Tracey

I’m here as looking up toxic relationships. I’ve been with mine for 7 yrs, I’m nearly 50 now and fell in love, most of time together is like best friends the best intimacy still now,he has lived with me all this time and contributed nothing financially leaves jobs, had 2 strokes, I’m his world, but he is fueled with porn and looking at girls on his Facebook and girls we have just met, my jealousy’s had grown , but was always told it’s in my head, I lost my career too breaking down when I discovered he was trying to hook up on a dateing site, but he was just looking, that’s all , so there has been a few splits and always is big deal what he looks at , he isn’t fucking anybody, so I cried a lot payed the bills always helping. He went in too a deep depression and started too smoke synthetic weed , for the last year, have tried everything to make him stop, been too the dr,s antidepressants and seeing a councillor that I pay. Threaten him so many times that if he keeps it up he has too go, forgotten how many times I’ve said that,as also I’m a fifo worker who then comes home too clean the mess as his day it sitting on you tube, redtube , Facebook.im at work and my sisters best friend hung her self , the funeral was mon and tues she got a call her ex hung him self my brother in law of 20 yrs, so being in another state and remote is extreme. So my other half is whacked out fallen over cracked his head , slurring etc , very worried as seen this many times but unsure if he has had a stroke, I called a ambo to go and check but refused too go too the hospital. My work is getting me home so I can go too my sister , and I’m buying him a ticket for him too fly back too his state , but he has no money no we’re too go his family aren’t willing too help him , but it’s time for me to be happy because I love him so much but I’m sad all the time

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Tamyra Carpenter

Toxic family is difficult. They all say I am the toxic one but I am the one that moved across the country to get away from the toxins. So my question is would a toxic person ever leave the relationship (my guess is no unless they were no longer able to discourage the non-toxic)?? My leaving the family drama should speak to my situation to say I’m the non- toxic. Please help I’m so confused. I have many specific examples of the lying and manipulating and don’t know if any examples of me lying and manipulating and trying to control any of them.

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Dylan

This was super helpful! In my case, it is with a sibling, whom I went to visit in a crisis, and was considering being involved in her cancer journey. I now feel like I have a broken heart. I may be open to her calling into therapy sessions. I have worked for 25 years on my recovery and now that I am relatively whole, I can’t tolerate situations that do anything but support this. Odd how the old templates still exist. How it is tempting to plug back in to the ineffective communication and taking on projections of the others own pain. so, so, so sad. Really painful.

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Mirta

I now have been separated from my sons father for almost 2 years, we were young and fought a lot about stupid things, we both knew separation was the only way to resolve our problems, I moved out and have just been living life as best as possible, we still talk and when he ended a relationship with his ex last summer we started hanging out and talking again, It was until yesterday that I decided to cut ties with him, he cheated, lied and never wanted a future with me when we were together and even after I have helped him through every problem he has had, I like to say he likes to keep me on the side for when he needs me because in all reality, he only talks to me when he needs something, I always thought we would one day make it work but he has since been seeing someone else, now that I told him I am going to cut communication (unless its about our child) he seems to not even care while I’m in total heartbreak, is it best that I walk away now and let him be?? I honestly keep thinking I will never find love again but just want to make sure I am doing the right thing, I realized he will never change, well not for me at least, he will only change for the person he wants to be with and I know now that is not me, he never supported me in any way from the beginning. Should I keep contact or move on??

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LaNell

I have been married to my abusive husband for 19 years. He was a wonderful boyfriend so I married him. When I became pregnant after two years of marriage, he started being emotionally and verbally abusive. Over the years, he has said many cruel, demeaning things. I fought back for awhile, but he retaliated by becoming physically abusive. I have become so accustomed to his putdowns that I can now hide the hurt I feel inside. I am clinically depressed and experiencing other health problems, which my doctor says were either caused by stress or exacerbated by it. He says my home life is toxic. I have to leave my husband for my mental and physical wellbeing. Unfortunately, my spouse is also my employer. He pays me very little and I have no money in savings. He keeps only $20 in our joint bank account so I have no access to any other money. I guess I’ll go to a women’s shelter for assistance. I’ve tried to find a job, but in this small community, everyone knows my husband and my situation. Many like my husband and don’t realize what he is like. Those who do know don’t care to get involved. I have no family to help me. My friends are limited as to what they can do for me as well. I am in an unfortunate situation.

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Karen Young

Please reach out to your local women’s shelter. They will be able to give you the guidance you need. You deserve to feel safe. Love and strength to you.

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Daisy 2016

These stories are very similar to mine. I met someone 15 years ago I was very happy. I moved out from my mom’s house and he decided to move in with me. He didn’t pay for anything and I never asked. We decided to move to another home and he finally paid half of his share. We both have 1 child from a previous marriage. My son wanted to live with his grandmother because his friends are close to her. His son lived with his mom but he was there every other week. Things were going very well until he used drugs and alcohol. I would always tell him that he is hurting himself not me. He is very weak. His ex would call and give him heck because his son would not listen to her. I would tell him that this has nothing to do with me. I loved his son but then when he would be with us he would treat me badly. I decided I was going to leave him. So the day he went fishing for a week I called a moving truck and got my things out. I moved back with my mom. When he came back he called me crying. I felt sorry for him but I didn’t want to go back home. We decided to give it another try but it’s been 15 years up to today that nothing has changed. We moved to another home and for the first 4 years it was great until he decided to have his son move in completely this was not good. My son lived with his grandmother and his son was going to move in. His son finally decided to move back with his mom and I haven’t seen him since. But I hear him talking to him everyday always complaining. His ex calls and says she can’t take it anymore he’s driving her nuts. He keeps telling me he wants to move out and he constantly fights with me. He is still using drugs and alcohol. I am so sick of this situation. He puts me down. I am the kind of person who doesn’t care what people say so this doesn’t bother me anymore. It used to. But it’s been so long I just don’t care anymore. I just want him to leave and I am patiently waiting for that day to come so I can move on with my life. So I don’t have to hear or see him anymore. Any suggestions as to what I should do in the mean time..

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Maria

I always knew i was with someone toxic but i kept making excuses even thought my gutt feeling told me otherwise. This person changed me im not the person i was before i met her, i used to be happy, i use to go out and have fun, i use to do things that made me happy, but she made me change completely, from the way i acted to way i dressed. My family knew it but i never listened. I allowed it to happen for the little “love” she showed me, she never apologized for anything she always blamed everything on me and i apologized even knowing it wasnt my fault. She never took responsibility for hurting me. She walked out on me 10 days ago, all of a sudden she tried to contact me with aggressiveness and insults but this time i was strong enough to stay away and this article just gave me more inspiration to get myself out of this. Thank you for taking the time to write this!

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Rob

It just amazes me how relationships can disintegrate into a huge, unmanageable emotional mess. Rather than deal with issues directly, my partner wants to remain blameless and pray away the turmoil caused by their bad behavior. I can wake up the next day and pretend like nothing ever happened. Problem is, the bad behavior just repeats. Pure crazyness!

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Kk

Oh my goodness… and breathe…
Thank you. I so needed to read this. To be encouraged to stand up for my aching heart. To stand firm. To remain silent and refuse to engage in their cries for battle. To, for the first time in my life, put me first. To put my desperate need for kindness, truth, gentleness, honesty and love before their need to lash out at me. Thank you for letting me here your words. Thank you.

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Linda N

Trying to leave 12+ yr relationship. Realize he was only interested in my disability check. Have run twice to be caught. NO DV HELP ANYWHERE!!! NOT NATIONAL, STATE, CITY, or COUNTY. We are alone if you want to be free plan carefully!

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RM

I cut my birth family out of my life 30 years ago. The child abuser; the enabler; and the siblings who pretend there was no child abuse and imply to others that I am a liar or crazy. I can testify as to what peace and relief there is from cutting your toxic family out of your life. It was like performing cancer surgery on myself. Oh, of course, over the years, I’ve had to listen to sanctimonious preaching from “religious” types urging me to “forgive” or “reconcile.” Don’t do it. It would be like taking a piece of cancer back into your body.

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Peggy

What a wonderful article!

I do know about toxic families. I was raised in one and ran away at 17. I continued school, got my own apartment a year later and even though I “tried” keeping the door open for my mother a few years later,,,she wouldn’t listen to my terms. She continued trying to control, just as you said! So, I’m VERY familiar with your words and agree with them.

I found your article for a different, although similar reason. I have stage 4 breast cancer and my only sister started ignoring my calls. It was hard enough for any support while I went through surgery, chemo and radiation. She didn’t even want to hold my hand before surgery, but she did end up doing it for whatever reason. I heard she even cried in the waiting room because I had lost so much weight. But, that was the most emotion I’d get.

When she found out I was stage 4, at first she didn’t believe me, then it sunk in. I get that! Took me awhile for it to sink in too. But, she didn’t want to hear my fears on having to face death and the horrible way I’d die,,,,none of it.

With no sig. other,,,I was hoping she’d be there for me, but she wasn’t. I was angry with the cancer diagnosis after such a horrible battle for a year,,and now I was angry at her for not wanting to listen. She actually told me,,,,,,,she didn’t want it being her reality. I told her not to contact me anymore since that’s easiest for her and also not to come around when I’m on my death bed. I haven’t heard from her in 9 months. It hurts, but everything in me KNOWS,,,if we did start talking again,,,it would go back to the same thing it’s been all my life. Her not believing me (even when the drs. told me I had cancer), I was exaggerating. I wasn’t suppose to complain when I was so sick from 5 months of chemo and 2 of radiation! I wasn’t suppose to have my illness bring her down.

Before the cancer,,,she always questioned my truths and I was never a liar and she should know that. I was always exaggerating and oh yeah,,,,,,,,,,I was always too sensitive! “I” was the one that ran away at 17, finished school, had a job, etc. She married to get out of the house and her husband set her life up nice and cozy. I worked hard to start my own business and had it until cancer knocked on my door. I was proud of myself, but she always put me down as if she knew more about business than I did and she never had one. I just couldn’t do anything to make her proud of me!

Not even a year before I cut my ties with her, her ties with her son were cut, because she couldn’t accept his wife. Both my sister and nephews wife would get into fights and it lasted years. Now,,,they’re estranged and that means she can no longer see her 4 grandchildren. You’d think she’d SEE she was doing something wrong by loosing so many of her family, but no,,,,,,she blames her son’s wife and I’m sure she blames me for not being able to buck it up and deal with dying with grace.

This is why I found your article! Because I always loved her and it hurts when I really could use her. But,,,,,,,,,then it hits me! She was never there for me!

I’m dealing with a lot of losses and I haven’t achieved getting through them all. I lost my business, my ability to walk the way I use to (chemo gave me neuropathy), I’m even having to give up future plans. I don’t know what to even do now, because I get in a “why bother?” mood. Why bother doing this if I’m not going to be around to enjoy it? So, yes,,,,,,I’m dealing with a lot and every day it hurts to not have my sister. BUT,,,,I know that the sister I want,,,is not the one I ever had!

If it wasn’t for the cancer, this might not bother me so much since I have left toxic people behind. With tears,,,but I wasn’t letting anyone drag me down. The one that managed to make me feel small the longest was my sister. Because she’s my only sister and family really and I did know somewhere inside her, was the vulnerable side she never wanted the world to see. She comes off with a hard shell and is proud of it. But,,,I know another side of her and that’s the side I love. But, I guess she hid it well from me now too.

I worry about her when I’m gone. I don’t think the soft side of her is going to be able to deal with the guilt. I don’t think we have anyone in common that will even be able to tell her when I’m gone! But, I know her well enough to know when she does hear,,,,,,,she’s going to break and there’s nothing I can do. I can’t let anyone put their toxins in my life right now. Now more than ever! Support me or leave me alone!

I guess I need to go to a support group. I do have a few good friends, but they have their own lives and sig. others. I just have to try to let go of the pain I feel in not having my sister in my life anymore. But,,,I never really did! If I didn’t call,,,I wouldn’t hear from her for months. That kind of says it all. Logically,,,,I understand! The heart however,,,takes a bit longer to stop hurting. And I think the cure for that is finally going to a cancer support group, where people do understand.

Thank you for a wonderful article! I’m sure it will help a lot of people. I know first hand that toxic people really do keep you from living your own life fully. It hurts to let go, but it’s wonderful finding healthy people that really are LOVE! 🙂

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