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

Jac

A powerful piece that resonated strongly with me. As a grown woman, I had to make the choice as to whether I stayed in the lives of the two people who should have loved me unconditionally, but were too toxic to ever be able to do so. The pain and grief in the early stages of my letting go of the “known” were overwhelming. The hope I offer to others to whom this may be familiar, is find the courage and walk away. For the ‘unknown’ when you are no longer being diminished and routinely hurt, is a wonderful and wondrous place where you find yourself again. I pat my own back regularly for choosing to run my own race and value myself. It has made me a better mother, better wife, and quite simply, happy !!

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Hey Sigmund

Jac, thank you very much for sharing your experience of walking away from toxic relationships. Your decisions would have taken strength and courage and the life you are now living and the person you are will, I’m sure, give hope and courage to others who are in similarly difficult relationships. It is the power of the ‘me too’, and it’s immeasurable.

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Marie

I felt like you read my mind…. great article. Currently trying to leave a toxic relationship, and it is so hard. I know it’s toxic, but I constantly question myself and if it really is toxic or if it’s just me… I keep telling myself it will change, and I’m constantly disappointed.

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Sandra

Wow very interesting. sometimes you dont know you are in a toxic relationship until someione points out or talk about something your really experiencing, thanks for this article, really appreciate it.

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Sue F

Karen, I have read a lot about toxic relationships over the years but this just brings it all together. A great article which I will keep referring to in my journey to the life I deserve to live, away from the people who want to keep me small. The door will always be open but my life will be lived on my terms not theirs. Thank you.

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Hey Sigmund

Yes Sue you absolutely deserve to be with people who enrich you and appreciate you for everything that you are. I am always grateful for your voice and the wonderful insights and wisdom you share here. Thank you!

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Sheila

I have printed this out to show my youngest daughter (nearly 11) later. I have also forwarded to my oldest daughter (25).

I’ve done this because it is such a powerful & important summary of why it is important to draw & maintain boundaries for yourself in all relationships.

Thank you for this piece. I did not take these steps myself until I was in my 30s & 40s (with different relationships, romantic & familial), and my hope for my daughters is that if they lay these foundations and learn to draw appropriate boundaries early in life they’ll be spared the painful, but necessary, step of severing toxic relationships.

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Hey Sigmund

You are doing a wonderful thing for your daughters in teaching them the importance of having boundaries and letting them know that it is always okay to leave the relationships that don’t feel right for them. Though it is important to be kind, that kindness has to be towards ourselves first and the truth is that not everyone who comes into our lives will deserve to be there.

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Anonymous

This could not have been more timely for me. Reading it felt as though my eyes were the window to which someone was there looking thru and understanding. Someone there being the voice to pain of my heart. Today, I’m going to breathe. Thank you.

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Kelly

Very good article, sadly it is my grown daughter who is a toxic person. I worry about how she treats our 14 year old granddaughter. I am hoping with time and love my granddaughter can learn to set boundaries with her mother and live a happy life.

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Hey Sigmund

Keep being a stable, loving force in your grandaughter’s life. Don’t underestimate the important influence over the young woman she is growing up to be. She is very lucky to have you.

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Kelly Olbekson

Thank you for your kind words. I do try to be there for my granddaughter, I try to be a soft place to land for her, we Skype together almost everyday, we live to far from her so, I trust in the Lord, prayer goes a long way in this situation, and she knows that papa, and grandma love her unconditionally, it is still painful to see what she goes through, but I keep reminding myself that she will survive this. Life can be painful for everyone, but learning how to deal with difficult situations is the key to a happier life.

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Jason B

When the toxicity is coupled with an otherworldly attraction to said toxic person, that’s when the decisions get so difficult for me…it’s like a balance beam where on one side is me understanding I should move on for my own good, but the other side is me thinking the pain caused by losing her is a millions times worse than the toxicity. Being human…sigh.
Amazing article.

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Hey Sigmund

Being human can be tough. Love is like an addiction. Sometimes it’s healthy and sometimes not so much. Like any addiction, just because we can’t imagine living without it, doesn’t mean we can’t do exactly that. You will always be stronger than you think you are.

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CJ

Every word of this article resonated with me. Having toxic parents, it took me until well into adulthood to see and understand this. After many toxic relationships with men I’m now (in middle age) in a relationship with a wondetful, non-toxic man. Although my same old negative thought patterns of thinking often pop in my head, its a daily battle dealing with them in my quest for a healthy and loving relationship. This article is something I will hsng on to! Something that explains and validates my life long struggle with relationships. Thank you so much!

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Hey Sigmund

You’re so welcome. It sounds as though you have drawn great insights and wisdom from your experiences and I’m so pleased this article was able to validate that for you.

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Flygirl

WOW! It’s like someone lifted the veil and I could see what was always right in front of me clearly! Your ability to communicate this message is so beautiful, simple and honest that I find it is more like an, Aha moment than a terrible secret revealed. Thank you. What you describe is exactly what happens and understanding makes many things a lot more bearable. On my journey as a newly single mom of two toddlers I will protect myself and my boys and teach them to be gentle strong caring loving men.

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Barb

You are helping me overcome more than you know. Thank you so much for all your encouragement. I’m a work in progress but I know I will be freed of these chains that keep me in this dreary state of thinking. My biggest challenge is getting past the you shouldn’t feel that way, you got it made, so and so has it so much worse. Guilt and trust are my biggest feelings to overcome. I just want to say thank you again.
And I really loved your read on Non-medication ways to heal from depression.

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Hey Sigmund

You’re so welcome Barb. Know that all of your feelings are valid and real, and it is not for anyone else to judge your right to have them. Our feelings are a combination of so many things – our history, our chemistry, our brain, our mind, our memories the thoughts that drive us, our circumstances, the people around us – just to name a few. Keep moving forward. I know that you will free yourself of what it is that pushes you down and find the happier version of your life and yourself that you deserve. Love and strength to you.

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Jack

I found this article very helpful. In my case, my ex Wife is toxic, but subtly so. It took over a decade for me to finally realize I my whole life revolved around her. Subtle manipulations, giving in just enough to keep my from really fighting back, but always wearing me down bit by bit until I didn’t bother having my own thoughts or opinions anymore.

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Hey Sigmund

I’m so pleased this was able to help you. One of the ways toxic people do so much damage is through their subtlety. What you are describing makes so much sense, and is one of the reasons they are able to keep doing what they do for so long. I’m pleased you are no longer there and hope that since then you have been able to claim back your mind and your voice. You will always deserve to be heard.

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Tommy

I just walked away from a toxic woman a couple of weeks ago. Really struggling! I would love to compare notes if you’re interested

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Toni

This article opened my eyes and confirmed what happened in my younger years. Reading through this article described everything that either I didn’t understand (how someone would from your family could be so mean for no cause/reason) or know about. I was always confused, hurt and thought it was me, something I did or said. As I read this article, a deep warm feeling inside began to spread as if to say “see I told you it wasn’t you. Now you can heal”. Thank you so much for this article. I am sharing it as much as possible.

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Hey Sigmund

You are so welcome Toni. I’m pleased this has been able to validate you and what happened to you when you were younger. It is so difficult to understand why someone who is meant to love you and keep you safe can be so mean. Nothing you could have said or done would have deserved that. And yes, you can heal – it sounds as though you already are. Onwards and upwards for you.

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SJ

This article has opened my eyes to a situation that I’ve been in for a few years now. I haven’t had the strength to walk completely away from the toxic people in my life but reading this has shown me that, maybe, the problem isn’t necessarily with me so perhaps I can draw on some inner strength and move forward. The difficulty for me is that I have to have some contact with them whilst I look out for my Mum who is vulnerable and still dealing with the loss of my Dad. At times I have felt as if I was going insane but now recognise that the behaviour that has been directed my way is not conducive to a happy and healthy relationship. It has been tough but I do have some loving support around me. I just feel so sad that I need to let go of the relationships that I’ve had with some people that I’ve grown up with. I know that I will be ok in time. Thank you for making things a little clearer for me.

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Hey Sigmund

If there are toxic people in your life, the probably is definitely NOT with you. I really understand your sadness at the thought of letting go of the people you have grown up with and I wish that things could be different for you. It sounds as though you have a lot of strength in you and a lot of love around you.

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Sandy

I tried many many times to make my mother understand my point of view about our relationship but she always would switch it around and say it was me, not her (can’t be her, right?) that was doing the manipulating, beating down, etc. And, oh my gosh, she said I was too sensitive! She even tried to make me feel that I would have disappointed my grandmother if she had known how weak I was. (She went right to the one person that meant the most to me). I tried maybe 4 or 5 times over the last 4 or more years to leave the relationship but I ALWAYS came back thinking I can help her, help the relationship. Part of my reluctance to leaving was I felt I was letting my siblings down because I was putting more burden on them. I became so confused and depressed. I had to take a stand for ME. I help behind the scenes with things, NEVER in person. I also opened up to my sister, more than I have in the past, about just how “damaged” I am from our mother’s behavior with me. I actually used snippets from one of your posts! My mother is the same with my siblings but I can’t separate it out from her intent to control, or even hurt, me. Why would my mother want to hurt me? So for now, I am feeling wonderful! She is on the back burner, I am carrying my share of responsibility for caring for her, and I am coming out of a hole I have been pushed into many years ago. Thanks for hitting the nail on the head. Great reinforcement that I am doing the right thing.

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Hey Sigmund

You sound as though you have so much clarity and I hope you are able to use this to drive you forwards and out of the way of any toxic behaviour that is around you. You have acted with great courage and strength and in the end, you are the only one who can do what is best for you. Stay strong and keep moving upwards.

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Jane B

So well written and empowering. I only wish I was in the headspace to have found this and realised this so many years ago. I have regrets but no longer see myself as a beating board or an abuse magnet. Also very timely as my “toxic parent’ has decided to abandon ship. Normally I would feel terribly guilty about that but not this time!!!! Thank you deeply!

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Hey Sigmund

Thank you! It sounds as though your toxic parent has done you a huge favour and yes – you deserve to be completely free of any guilt. Keep moving forward and let go of your regrets when you can – your experience has brought you amazing wisdom and clarity that will hold you strong as you move beatifully forward with your toxic-free life.

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Suzyn

Thank you. My ex husband of 22years was so skilled at subtle manipulation, every body thought he was brilliant and something was wrong with me, even our children. I was a wreck, ever striving to “make things better, right, rise to the challenge”; I was worn out from doing too much within a home of secret, constant bating and criticism. Today I live on the other side of the world. Our adult children try to make peace with their confusing childhoods. I am too afraid to have a relationship again as i can not even imagine what a healthy one is like. I have had 3 in the decade since leaving the marriage. All with toxic others whom I continued to try to please. Now I love painting, teaching art, biking, hiking and running and I am very happy alone. Thank you for your gift to the world. Your writing felt like the perfect balance of heart and intellectual understanding.

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Hey Sigmund

Suzyn, thank you so much for your comment. It sounds as though you have built a happier, healthier life for yourself, moving forward with grace and strength from those who thought nothing of hurting you. It’s not easy breaking free from toxic influences, but you have done that. Your story will offer hope to many that happiness and a beautiful life are possible when toxic people are left well behind.

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Verna

This is by far one of the best written articles on toxic people and the relationships with these personality types! I have a father and only sister who are very much alike, very manipulative, controlling, just both toxic and I’m the good, kind-hearted person trying for years to deal with them being extremely difficult, always blamed for everything, verbally abused, etc. I have had to walk away from both of them for my own health trying to avoid the chaos and stress they have brought to me and my own family. Thank you for explaining my own thoughts perfectly but couldn’t put into words exactly. I have felt guilty in trying to let things go with both family members, but since I have tried for many years to be a good daughter and sister it has been extremely hard for me. Thanks for helping me to cope and not feel as if I’m the bad person here for walking away, some close relatives think I’m a terrible terrible daughter and they just don’t understand the situation.

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Hey Sigmund

Thank you Verna. I’m pleased that this article has made sense for you. Your decision to walk away from your father and sister must have been a difficult one, but one made with strength and courage and the greatest self-respect. I hope you are able to let go of the guilt you feel.

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Oddsocks

This was exactly what I needed to read. 18 months into walking away from the toxicity and the grief and hurt is still strong. This was the pep talk I needed . Thank you x

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Hey Sigmund

I’m so pleased that you have been able to find what you need when you needed it. Walking away doesn’t necessarily end the hurt, but it does open a greater way to your happiness. You have acted with great strength, courage and self-respect. Always remember this. When you freed yourself from the toxic mess you did something wonderful for yourself x

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luise

Hey Sigmund,

I wished to print this brilliant article…it answered a q I had for 27years and will change a lot towards growth within me….
Thank You….BUT as I wished to print it it shows a funny code on the left side of the preview and on the print…do you maybe have a clear version of this article to forward to me pls?
So much appreciated.
Love and Light and Growth
Luise

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Hey Sigmund

Luise I’m so pleased the article was helpful for you. I have just printed it and it seems okay. Did you use the green print button? It is in the share functions on the left hand side if you are on a laptop or desktop, or behind the grey ‘Share This’ button on the bottom if you are on a mobile device. If this didn’t work, are you able to try printing it from another device? This should work. If it doesn’t, please let me know.

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Gigi

Thank you for this article it is very comforting. I have kept my toxic parents away for 4 years. I call and see them occasionally. Just recently they came back stronger than ever to insult and create lies. They criticize all my decisions and absolutely despise my non toxic spouse of 15 years because he keeps me leveled and healthy. They say he manipulates me. Which is what they have been doing all my life. They don’t understand that I stay away to avoid conflict. I have now decided that for childs health and my own I will cut all communication. The difficulty is trying to keep others around me (e.i. cousins aunts uncles) without having to explain why or how my parents treat me. Or all the lies they will tell others of why we don’t speak. Thanks again the article is so well written that I felt your were speaking directly to me.

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Elisa

Hi,
Really smart article. The other one that listed traits of toxic people had me mentally ticking off nearly every single one when thinking of my cousin.
I think my family is one big cluster of cluster b type problems – and over generations. I’d diagnose narcissism or asperger’s, with pretty much every individual having excessive self-focus (i.e. selfishness or egocentricity) and hyper sensitivity with difficulty managing emotions.
They say that narcissists feel shame where others feel guilt. My female cousin is an extreme example -she was emotionally abused growing up my my narcissist grndmother, who probably was even slightly sadistic (she was impossible to have a relationship with and was extremely vain and self focused) – and my female cousin, who I suspect was targeted partly because of some inherently strong narcissism (strong enough) became even more warped I think, as a result.

She is like a nine year old in how she is NEVER wrong and NEVER weak and ALWAYS a model of moral behaviour -vomit! Makes me sick even thinking about how much of an emotional cripple she is. And she is like gollum in her schizo change in loyalties – her only true loyalty being to her extremely fragile ego, with its mass of insecurity and pathetic need to one-up everyone – in fact, her and her husband have made a hobby out of ripping apart other people for their weakness …showing no trace of empathy, mercy, or plain intelligence.

And she is only ONE of my family. All of whom are emotional cripples of one form or another. A group of people alike in their animosity for one another, even if it is just lurking under the surface – like the paranoid schizoid position, where people are all good or all bad, and situations are black-and-white, and strong emotions cannot be tolerated, and so difficult feelings must be dumped on someone else- with the person with lower status being the favored scape goat for the dysfunction of all.

And yet, being the scapegoat in such a family can be like a crucifiction that brings ironic freedom – unless it brings suicide or continued sense of victimhood and loss of integrity (i.e. my gollum like cousin). But it still sucks to be in such a family and to share such genes.

Still, it is a blessing to not need outer validation to the blind extent that I observe members of my family seem to need it. They need to control situations so that they mirror how they feel they need to have it in order to properly feel validated – but it’s like an addiction. Like the epitome of spiritual emptiness : having no internal locus of control.

I am still trying to work on my self to find ‘the narrow gate’. I found it in one respect, but could not get there again when it came to other troubles that I had – which my amily and people I attracted with the same dysfunction- brought out of me. I attracted them like a magnet. Had a peak experience because the toxicity was so high I simply could not bare reality anymore.

I read Eckhart Tolle because he is such a genius at describing the troubles of mistaking your ego for who you are. My cousin should read it, maybe hen she’d give up on her absurdly insane quest to prove herself always right – as if she’s cease to exist if reality did nit match her perception of it.

It’s like a serious absence of faith – of slf belief. The individual fears that they are in fact wrong about what matters to them, and that if wrong that they would then be worthless – and therefore deserving of the extreme judgment that they hurl at others – and yet it is this black and white, all or nothing judgment that stops them from accepting the possibility of even being wrong – which in turn makes them forever dpendent upon others treating them in a particular way.

Sorry, I prattled on so much. I have been attempting for many years to be free of all of this and to grow into a stronger and happier person.

Again, I so appreciate your insights because it’s helpful to have things explained in a different way.

Reply
KB

I have read hundreds of articles on the topic of Narcisscism, as I have a covert Narcissicist mother and overt Narcisscist mother-in-law. This is the best article I have read in terms of clarifying their behaviour and motivations, but also clearly describing (and alleviating) the guilt of walking away (when you are the empath who has nearly killed herself trying to make the relationship work but simply cannot unless involves complete submission). I am the scapegoat/target of both families (husband’s and mine). We went no contact with my in laws a year ago (after tolerating the relationship for 28 years, 23 of them married). It has been the happiest 12 months of my life. His mother bad mouthed me to the extended family as soon as she realised the relationship was serious. The control battles- I’d be here all night describing those! The belittling and manipulation- playing the grandchildren off against each other (there were only 4- two of ours, and two from husband’s brother). At one family dinner, it was announced by mother-in-laws brother (husband’s uncle) that only the other two grandchildren were “special” to him and not ours. Shocked and deeply hurt, I expressed these feelings to mother in law and was ticked off. “If he feels that way, he has every right to say it at a family dinner (in front of everyone). You are just a very jealous person and have emotional issues” (the uncle’s favouritism reflected hers, you see, so she 100% agreed with him). It was interesting, because at the end, my husband finally garnered the courage to stand up for me and emailed his parents- “This has to stop. You cannot continue to attack my wife every time you don’t get your own way about an issue. I can’t see this behaviour changing, since you have done it for so long, but you need to respect her and treat her kindly or we can no longer have any contact with you”. The response? “You are choosing to have no contact with your family then”. His younger brother then texted him and told him to “man up” (ie. “Put your wife back in her box- she’s our punching bag and WILL CONTINUE TO BE, get it?”). So they sacrificed their relationship with their son and grandchildren rather than treat me respectfully. Time and distance have given me perspective and my biggest regret is tolerating her unbearable behaviour for so long. She did once admit to me tha she had been very angry at me when we married (at 23) as I “took him away just when he had become interesting”- we still saw them several times a week as newly weds, not move countries! Anyway, to not have to tolegate her need for control, her constant put downs of my children (and unfavourable comparisons with their cousins) and her chronic immaturity and lack of empathy (she hated homeless people, Muslims and doesn’t believe in climate change) is like removing a tooth abscess after years of pain. Articles like this articulate perfectly why it was necessary to walk away and help me to not feel like a failure over the demise of the relationship. Thank you.

Reply
Hey Sigmund

It sounds as though you and your husband both worked really hard to make your relationship with your in-laws work. The problem with toxic people is that it doesn’t matter what you do, it will never be enough. I imagine it was a difficult decision for your husband to walk away from his family. You are certainly NOT a failure – you and your husband have acted with strength, courage and love for each other and your family.

Reply
peggy

What if both people (married) are being toxic but stay for the kids and financial reasons. Misery for stability.

Reply
Hey Sigmund

This is a hard one and obviously a tough situation for you. Just be careful of the impact of the stress on the children. Chronic and ongoing stress can be quite harmful for kids. The way to guard against this is to making sure your relationship with them is loving and supportive, and keep the fallout from your relationship as away from them as possible. Having a loving, attentive relationship will them will help to buffer the effects of any stress that might filter through from your relationship.

Reply
Linda A. Bak-Houser

Thank you for this piece b/c you have widen my eyes opened. My husband of 13 years is extremely TOXIC to me n now becoming toxic to our 11 year old son. I will do everything possible and fight my way out of this relationship so my husband does not affect and poison our son like he has done to me.
I think now I have the strength to do so after reading your article this morning. With tears rolling down my face , I realized that this is not me it is my husband who put me under his thumb for so long in controlling me telling what to say and do and think.
I was a very independent person at one time and I will become that person again.
Thank you for opening my eyes!
Linda A. B-H

Reply
Hey Sigmund

You’re welcome Linda. You have made a brave and strong decision and it is absolutely the right thing to protect yourself and your son. Your strength, clarity and courage will make sure you become that independent person again.

Reply

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