Where the Science of Psychology Meets the Art of Being Human

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


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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I think lack of empathy and desire to communicate may be high functioning autism in my husband since our son has been officially diagnosed. For over 20 years of marriage I have enjoyed an amazingly attentive, affectionate spouse but who pretends to listen, checks out emotionally or criticizes if I try to communicate a problem. After years of counseling to change how, what, when I feel hurt or share I still can’t express frustration without either being patronized, hurt or embarrassed. My recent diagnosis of Parkinson’s has played into this because now I am seen as needy and over-emotional if I to ask for issues to be attended to. Now I am ignored until I am fun and encouraging. The trouble is it can take weeks now for the warmth to return if I frustrate…and any mention of issues is seen as criticism…there is such silence and polite indifference that cannot be broken especially if I mention again the original problem. I don’t think he means to be cruel but I can’t figure out what would be best since he refuses to recognize or desire to communicate. I thought I would be strong enough to live without emotional support but it is making me into and giving me a reputation for being someone I am not.

Hey Sigmund

Jane, we all have our limits and we all have important needs that need to be met. It sounds as though you are exhausted from not getting what you need. Everyone has important needs – emotional support, connection, understanding, validation etc. When they consistently aren’t met, it has an impact. This doesn’t mean your husband is a bad person, or that your relationship is doomed, but there is clearly something you need that you aren’t getting from your relationship. It sounds as though you have both worked hard to try to resolve this. Everyone needs to feel emotionally supported, and it is understandable that it would change you when this doesn’t happen. Your response sounds very normal. If there is no chance from getting the emotional support you need from your marriage, are you able to get it from friends or other family? I completely understand that it won’t feel the same but it might help you to feel less frustrated or depleted.


Thank you for this article. I see my own relationship in this story. I’m the giver and I will now take the time to look at my marriage for what it is. Not what it was or could be. I’ve given myself till September to give it my all and then make my decision to stay or go. I’ve not been perfect. But I have tried to make it better


Judith, I am truly sorry if your relationship mirrors what you see in this article. My only question to you is, it appears from your statement you have already given it your all so why wait until September. Narcissistic people don’t change and become better, they are the toxic people they are. You can try to please him till hell freeze over, and you will be spinning your wheels. If you know the truth, why wait? Oh, you just want to suffer a bit longer? We understand. Shake yourself, than let go.


I’ve been in a relationship now for almost three years; he was my first everything. When we first met we were so happy; on such a high that anything that he did couldn’t be wrong.

Several months after we got together though he started changing. He was so judgmental, critical, abusive towards me – and still is. He’d scream at me for trying to ‘control him’ when I would only just send a message asking how his day was; he’d call me ‘stupid’ if I made one mistake. By the first year of the relationship I’d had a breakdown because of his constant criticism; I was anxious all the time, I was so miserable. I was only eighteen. He made me give up my friends because they were male. When I had that breakdown I tried to leave him – it lasted a month – but I went back because I felt so GUILTY. He turned it onto me; blaming me for his behaviour after I’d basically given up my free time to look after his young child.
Now he talks of us making a life together but then he’ll go and mess around with other girls when he’s drunk and say that its ‘no big deal’ and continue on thinking that we’re fine.

He’s still physically and emotionally abusive; he’s made me do things that I never wanted to do and he constantly compares me to other people and plays all these mind games with me. I feel like I’m drowning half the time; I have to constantly let him know what I’m doing during the day but when I ask how he’s going apparently I’m trying to control him. His latest thing now is trying to get me not to see any of my friends that he doesn’t ‘approve of’.

I don’t know what to do…sometimes I think that I should just leave him, but then I think about the collateral damage…I know what he’s doing isn’t right but some days he makes progress and then he’ll take ten steps backwards. I’m scared that what he’s said to me is true; that I’ll never find someone else again or that no one will ever deal with my ‘s***’.

I’m so miserable so days that it’s hard to breathe…I don’t know what to do. I have this constant ache in my chest.

The worst part is is that he has no respect for me; he makes jokes out of the most inappropriate things. For example; when my grandmother passed he thought it was hilarious to ask if I’d gotten any inheritance. And that’s not even the worst of them.

Hey Sigmund

Why are you there!? This isn’t love from this man. It’s not even close. He has no reason to change because you are staying through everything he does. What collateral damage is worse than the damage that is happening to you? Where will you be in five years if you wake up every day to this – because this is what you are looking at. He is in your head, and now he is saying what he needs to say to make you stay. The classic is that you’ll never find anyone else. If you stay with this man, you will be a shell. He will have done so much damage. What he means is that you’ll never find someone else like him. Hopefully he is right. You will find someone who loves you, lifts you and supports you. Someone who accepts you and adores you. That man is out there. There are plenty and they will be looking for someone exactly like you, but you will have to get the man you are with out of the way so they can find you. There is nothing for you in this relationship but heartache. If he can change, let him do it away from you. If he is doing as you say, he is too destructive for you to be near. Let go of the fantasy that things will be the way they were. As for never dealing with your shit, how much of that is coming from the way you are treated? Abuse, jugement, criticism, infidelity – that will bring the strongest person down. The strength comes in walking away from it, not learning how to live with it. Nobody can live with that. The only person telling you that you won’t get better is him. While you are with him, he is right. It sounds like it’s time to take back your life and prove him wrong. If he wants you back, he can come and find you when he more to meet you on your terms. You have the strength in you to do this. You really do.


Wow. This is one of the most hard hitting descriptions of an abusive relatuonahip I’ve ever heard. You’re definitely in the world of personality disorders with this guy. Get help. Find some expert support-a therapist or a shelter if need be. And make a beeline out of there ASAP. This man will destroy you. Even now count on a long recovery, though you’re young and you will bounce back. Just give yourself time-once you are out. It hurts me to read this-really. Please, get out of this crazy, soul crushing relationship with this terrible man.


Please get out of this relationship. I was in the almost exact same boat over 5 years ago, I had the same problems with guilt, and I’m still working on fixing what such a toxic relationship did to my self-esteem.


My toxic relationship lasted 16 months. I am a male and was the giver in the relationship. She gave little to the relationship. Everything was on her terms…when I came over, what we did and the control was all hers. She never said I love you. She was a party girl and didn’t have empathy for others. She was always a “lady” but was secretive about what she did without me. I could never stay on weeknights. I couldn’t stop by without her knowing I was coming. It was unrequited love and it was time to cut the ties. It’s been six weeks and I’m still hurting. I have to find myself again. I’m going to continue to heal and not look back. I couldn’t go thru anymore wondering if I’m going to see her or whether she is going out with her friends. I couldn’t make plans for the upcoming weekend. It was like I was a small part of her life. No one should be manipulated like that. Be brave my friends and cut the toxic ties. I’ll be better someday! I will love myself again.

Lost; not so much anymore

Thank you for the advice…but I’ve already cut ties with him! It’s been week two without him in my life anymore and my goodness…I feel so light and happy. It was so painful when it ended; but this feeling that I have now, complete freedom and endless opportunity is unbelievable!

He has attempted to ‘mend things’ in his own warp way but I’m never going back. This feeling of freedom and completeness I have now is too good to waste on someone like that. I spent two and a half years dealing with his garbage; I owe it to myself to not go back to him ever again.

I’m me again and I hope anyone else that’s in a similar situation as to what I was takes their first steps towards their freedom because it’s such a great feeling on the other side of the fence.

Admittedly I still miss him at times, but it’s more of the idea I had of him rather than what he truly is. I know now that what he was doing was far from right; and that I deserved a lot better treatment than what he ever gave me.

I’m free and happy again. Never again will I deal or tolerate another toxic situation or person like that ever again.


This is very timely write up for me. I have a sister who exhibits every characteristic mentioned in the article. She is so destructive that she has taken her children out of school and has separated them from their paternal and maternal support system. Her husband has left her. How can such a person be helped to see they are wrong. She is on an island alone.

Hey Sigmund

It’s so difficult watching this happen in your family isn’t it. One of the hardest things about toxic behaviour is that you just can’t change the toxic mindset until the person is ready to acknowledge it for themselves. The risk is that every time you try, your words and your actions will be taken by her through a negative filter, leaving you looking like the one in the wrong. Her kids might need someone who understands their experience one day, and you can be really valuable for them in that way.


I thought I had let my parents go – as they are very toxic people- but now my mother wants to “move forward” while still denying her behaviour is nasty and she won’t take responsibility for it. I saw her yesterday for the first time in a year and it was very raw and we were both angry at times- now she wants to meet again- I am not ready- and neither is my husband- he has been so supportive and understanding and has watched my relationship with my parents and how they have treated me for 25 years- and now he says- no more. He doesn’t want them near our children and he now says cut all ties permanently. I know he is seeing it from the rational side- and I think this would be best- but I am really struggling to work it out.. This is the journey that we take I guess when we are removing toxic people from our lives. We just have to stay strong- which is hard sometimes.


Unfortunately, my mother is the toxic person in my family. My brother, sister, and I have recently discovered that she causes friction between us just so we come to her with the problem. We’re very perturbed with this. It’s almost like our mother can only get along with one of us at a time. It’s cause a great deal of strife in my family. The worst part is, my maternal grandmother just passed, which has brought about more conflict. Everything my mother accuses my grandmother of doing, she does. How can we get her to see that she’s the root of the issues?

Hey Sigmund

It’s very difficult to get other people to see the problems they are doing, unless they are the type of people who are open to that. For people who are so set in their ways, it’s unlikely to happen. What’s important is that you put a boundary around yourself and be really aware of what your mother is doing. The more awareness you have, the less likely it is that it will cause you trouble. Your mother will likely keep doing what she is doing, particularly if they are behaviours she learned off her own grandmother, but the control you have is around what you do with that. It’s really important that your brother, sister and you keep talking so the ‘divide and conquer’ doesn’t happen.


after reading different stories, I haven’t read a situation just like mine. I am a male and married for 3 years and we have 2 sons a 2 year old and 11 month old. I t is so hard for me to let go, I don’t know what if my my wife take away my sons if I leave her even though every time she gets upset and angered she told me to leave and tells me what kind of a person and a family I belong. and she kept on saying to me she regret that she marry me all of her ambition are lost because of me so many things bad things said to me. I want to know your advise.

Hey Sigmund

Ricardo this sounds like a really difficult situation for you and I completely understand why you would be hurt by these behaviours. The frustrating thing is that you can’t change other people. If this is a relationship that you aren’t able to leave, it is really important to have your boundaries and to keep yourself protected from her words. It will become increasingly important for your sons that they see how to keep strength and self-love, even when others are trying to knock it down. Here is an article about toxic relationships which may be helpful for you https://www.heysigmund.com/toxic-relationship-how-to-let-go/. I wish you all the very best with this.


My toxic person is my husband. We’ve been together for 14 years and he is verbally abusive and an alcoholic. I’ve tried everything under the sun and finally came to the conclusion that I couldn’t change him about 2 years ago. I have severe guilt about putting my kids through a divorce but gradually understood that staying was more harmful to them than leaving. As I’ve tried to mentally and physically prepare to leave, but husband has alternated between trying to make me feel guilty, raging at me, and promising me the sun and the moon. Most recently he’s slowed down on drinking and is “trying” to be nicer. His weak attempts at this point just make me angry. Why bother now? He had years to treat me with respect and chose not to. But I’m still here, wishing every day that I weren’t, and hoping for the next “BIG THING” to happen so that I could walk out with the kids knowing it’s the right thing to do… rather than walk out during a “sun/moon” moment and have them hate me. To compound things, well after I decided to leave, I started confiding in someone that I’ve known forever… and, you guessed it, started having feelings for that person. Even though that has nothing to do with my wanting to leave in the first place, I have horrible guilt in knowing that talking to someone other than my husband is wrong and not fair and definitely not the best way to handle it. And that guilt makes me waffle in my decision even though they should be two separate things. And now, my friend is finally tired of waiting for me to make a decision and backing away… which makes me even waffle more. I’m hopeless. And feeling stuck and sad and disgusted with myself for being weak in so many ways.

Hey Sigmund

Michelle this sounds like ‘stuckness’, not weakness. It sounds like your reasons to stay in the relationship are as strong as your reasons to leave it. This is a tough situation for anyone to be in. For your own sake though, it will become more and more important to commit to a decision. The stress is clearly causing you a lot of turmoil. It will be difficult to make a decision when you are living with both options. Spend time really getting a feel for what each option would mean for you, your life and your children. It might be that when you let yourself really explore the situation, you’ll realise that it will be healthier for your children if you leave your marriage, if it’s damaging you, than to stay. These are questions that only you can answer. I know it’s not easy. I wish you strength and clarity.


Thank you for this really helpful article. I am going through this having just disconnected from a toxic sister. I find it so difficult to believe my worth after decades of her behaviour but I will keep trying to move forward without her making me miserable when I am already vulnerable. Good luck to her but good luck to me too

Hey Sigmund

I don’t know that there’s more, but perhaps the ones you know stand out. Sometimes it’s easier to notice those with tiny, cold hearts because their impact is so massive, compared to those with warm open generous hearts. Toxic people will often go out of their way to hurt you, whereas the rest of us tend to get on with things without intruding or doing damage.


Truly made me think again. Im in a relationship where im constantly accused of being cheating when i was the one who caught him cheating few times with his so called female friends from school. As soon as i leave the town or go for a trip with my friends he makes suspicious move saying hes in a movie theatre( he never goes out for movie with me) or phone is on silence ( he always picks up his call from other people within two rings) thay it mentally drove me crazy. Every time i ask him where or what or who is he with, i get yelled at for being paranoid or too jealous. I had to ask myself for last couple years if its really me whos crazy. But now im thinking that he might be toxic to me. how he changed me to weak, immature and no self respect to myself.


It’s getting really difficult for me now. I have decided to part way from my two “friends” eventhough they are the only friends i have! Reading your article reinforce my feeling that i should leave them.

We used to get along pretty well.

A is really self-centered and immature. And like to provoke people just so she can feel she is in control.
Everytime we’d have a man around she’d question my sexual life (i suffered sexual abuse starting from my childhood and all throughout my life, and she knows it). And she played a dirty game with me at a party. She watched me dancing with a boy she knew, usually she’d come in between just because she care about me, to make i’m safe. This night, she looked intensely, but no words, until we left, after reporting all she saw, she revealed me things about him that, would i have known, would prevent me from going near him.
He, she said, was underrage. It turned out false.
I didn’t talk to her for a while.
I confronted her and she said she didn’t want to bother me, that she was really bad in maths so she thought he was underrage.

B is a happy-go lucky. But she just left her boyfriend of 10 years. And she was really wild about men, lot of dates, especially lot of sex.
I loved her, as a dear friend.
She introduced me to a male friend Y and he fell for me at first glance. But both were having a difficult time, and often meeting face to face. So i thought that their relationship might evolve, and i didn’t want to get tangled up in between.
He tried to get closer but i refused, he said he would wait. But soon after, he talked to me.

He said that he really liked me, really, but he now has a girlfriend and nothing could happen between us. he looked sad. I asked why. His reply: there is this girl, things happened, it’s not serious, it’s complicated, but i don’t want to mess it ; and there is you, whom i really wanted to get closer and i won’t be able to.
I told him he was a jerk and to leave me out of this.
He did not name her but i knew.
Yet she’d met many men and everytime he’d see me, he would make it obvious that he had feelings for me. He said he wished he met me earlier.
I thought they were just friends with benefits.

They had that secret affair for quite some time. She told me about him without revealing his name. And he had to move out. Did i say that A continuously played her dirty games, even after i told her that nothing would happen with this guy.
So i endured it all, until i couldn’t anymore, besides they would hide in corners not far from me.
I tried to talk with him, but i didn’t want to be the one to expose them and he would not tell me.
So B told me everything.

She said she rejected him many times because she knew i liked him. She felt bad that he was not interrested in me, she told her friends that i was clingy towards him despite his rejection.
It happened and at some point she fell in love, they were in love. They hid so i wouldn’t suffer ( a good reason to refuse to define their relationship).
She was happy that i didn’t take that badly, and that they now could express their love openly.
Since, it’s going downhill.

I met him right before he left, but we didn’t get to talk, he seemed embarassed in front of me.
She traveled to meet him, but their love didn’t last long.
Truth, they never talked about their feelings, she deluded herself into thinking he loved her.

My ” friends” A and B both messed up with me, it got them closer ( they understand each other, and they feel so bad about me!!!) while i drifted apart from them. None of them expressed sympathy when i told them i was having a hard time. They both said the magic word “sorry”, that i’m really important for them.
Yet they pressured me into going out, having sex. Of course, i refused. They said i’m too mysterious, so they want to know everything about me. They have a lot of admiration for me!!

When people refuse to take their responsabilities, they put the blame onto someone else. There is always someone responsible.

Lately, they complained about their bad luck. They accused me of witchcraft, i supposedly cast a spell on them, but it’s just a joke, of course!!!!!!

I won’t let them play witch hunt!!

Sue F

Thanks again Karen for this great article. I may have read it before but it is a great reminder for those going through this difficult time. I have made a decision to have no contact with a family member. Over the past few years there has been spasmodic contact and even attempts at reconciliation but it always ends up the same way. There has been pressure from family members to “forgive and forget” just to keep the peace but it just does not make me happy. I know that I have grown in the past 2 or 3 years and I have even sent articles regarding boundaries etc to my sibling but these have just been met with a “whatever”. Your article describes so accurately the journey I am travelling. Thanks again. It just gives me confirmation that I am on the right path.


Hi Sue,
I am in exactly the same position as you. Your words sound very familiar and your situation sounds a lot like mine. Although I have not sent any articles of “hints” to them- they would only fall on deaf ears anyway as it is never their fault. There is a lot of pressure to “forgive and forget”from other members of my immediate family as well- but this article always reminds me of what is truly important. It is so sad and unfortunate that we have to suffer under these toxic people and that there are many of us out there. But comfort comes from the support of healthy relationships and also knowing that we are not alone.

Sue F

Thanks Lisa. We are definitely not alone that’s for sure. This behaviour has been going on for decades. There were no strong boundaries within the family unit and lots of expectations of how the family members should behave. There was lots of shame as well. But on a positive note I’ve done heaps of reading on these issues which has helped me tremendously. I’ve also got new friends and new interests outside the family unit which I really cherish. Also blogs such as this really help.


One of the most concise, yet beautiful articles I ever read. And it came in the just the nick of time


This article is perfectly comforting. I have been involved with a toxic person for 4 years. We were not always in a boyfriend/ girlfriend situation but never platonic. I’ve cut him off several times but have always left space for him and have always given him an opportunity to present himself and his claims of being improved. He always comes back with sweetness and I always end up having to walk away. He is liar and very manipulative. I am always left feeling hurt and inadequate. He also has a drinking problem. However, we had a great connection and deep intimacy. I called him out on his BS at every turn – tried to make him, guide him to the man he said he always wanted to be. Just in the last week, I had to cut him off – and it will be for the last time. He lied to me when there was no need. He pulled me back into his life when I was enjoying peace of mind – by keeping my distance from him. I allowed myself to get pulled in, because I retained a sliver of hope. Now that is shattered – forever. He made a fool of me by professing eternal love to me, inviting me back to his place twice (which I declined), being affectionate, but he has a girlfriend who was 11 yrs his junior, 15 years mine. I have always told him I didn’t want to be friends, especially if he had someone in his life. He glossed over this completely. I have no other option but to end the pattern that I understand will never change. However, I get stuck on the thought that he will be different, be the man he says, for this new person. And it hurts. But I decided I never wanted to feel the pain, the anxiety, the anger, the complete loss of hope and inadequacy he makes me feel. I have been looking daily for words that remind me of why I made this choice and needed to make this choice; words that would let me work through the pain. This all made sense, the use of manipulation to keep a person and situation within their control. He knows I care for him deeply and plays on that all the time. Our relationship has never been equal; it was always meeting keeping it up, working to make it better. Slowly I have reduced and stopped immediately. I learned to treat him with skepticism which kept me from cheating on his girlfriend with sex – we did do some kissing but nothing more. So I thank you for these words. I will read them daily like a ritual until I can get passed the pain.

Sue F

Unfortunately they never change. For me no contact was the only way to go…and this was a family member. No Facebook, no mobile phone, no emails. All blocked. I finally realised I had to let go and get on with my life. Very difficult as there were family members who didn’t understand or did not want to understand the dynamics of the relationship. Good luck!


The person who I’ve allowed to break me is still in my life. He was the one who actually broke it off almost a year ago, after 5.5 years of pure hell. We still hang out as friends but he knows how I feel about him, I have told him to stop hurting me. He never admitted it to anyone but maybe once or twice that I was his girlfriend, never introduced me to people when we rarely went somewhere, I’d just stand behind him like a lost puppy and wait. I still catch him in lies ALL THE TIME. He always made me feel I’m crazy, as if I was creating these lies in my head. I have always suffered anxiety and depression and of course since him it has progressed tremendously. He tells me he is somewhere and multiple times I find out he isn’t there. He told me he was at home years ago (we were still together) and his car wasn’t there. When he called me, finally late at night, he made his voice sound all sleepy and said “what!? I told you I’m trying to sleep!” I asked “sleeping at home or where?” He said “home” I told him I was there and his car was gone. He still insisted it was parked in the yard as I was looking right at the yard. I asked him to come outside then and he said “No!” Then hung up the phone and called me 9 hours later and just acted like nothing had happened, and when I asked what he had been doing he said “riding around” and didn’t want to tell me because I’d worry, which is ridiculous. I worried the 9 hours after he hung up on me. He tells me he is somewhere doing this and that and can NEVER respond to me at all through even a text but when he is around me he is glued to his phone. I lost 3 people all 2 months apart one died from kidney failure, one died from being hit by a truck, and the other a car accident. Then he broke up with me but is still around when it’s convenient (I feel like) then my dog passed away of 10 years which broke my heart and the only other friend I really had just stopped talking to me for months and now just comes around when it’s convenient for them. So the point of all this description is that I am afraid to completely cut him out of my life. I don’t want to be alone. I don’t have friends and it’s hard to make new ones because I don’t trust anyone. I lost 2 friends because of him and their own choices as well, but they were doing things behind my back. I don’t have enough space to even write the worst parts of this man but I am drowning in fear, loneliness, and I have been so let down so many times in the past 6 years that I don’t even know how to start clean or fresh, I trust no one and fear because of my trust issues I won’t allow anyone in. I have met people but I always disappear quickly because I don’t want to give people a chance to be involved in my life. I don’t want people to destroy me even more. I use to be very sociable and can be at times, but mostly I just stay secluded. The fears I’ve developed from this trama (and other situations) has sucked the life from me. It’s like he is all I have as far as a friend and I love him so much. I know he won’t change. How in 5.5 years someone “doesn’t know” what they want. When he broke up with me I asked “so it’s just over, and you don’t want me anymore?” He said “well I don’t know, I just have to focus on other things and I don’t have time for a relationship.” He claimed all this school he needs to focus on but he hasn’t done anything with school yet. I feel like he deprives me and then puts enough in his hand for me to chase. It’s as though he enjoys seeing me this upset over him. Anyway…I guess my point and inquiry is I am scared to let him go, and don’t know how. I am scared to be alone. I don’t like to be alone and I have no good friends to really be with and turn to when I struggle, I believe the one friend I do have is rather toxic as well, it’s seems as though I am only good for them when they need or want something but my needs and wants are never tended too. I am seeking therapy which hopefully will help. If you have any advice or if there is someone who has had a similar situation and has overcome I would love your advice, opinion, and/or help. People like my ex do not see the actual damage they do to someone’s spirit and mind. It’s very sad. I am thankful I am not that person though. That’s one thing to be grateful for!

Hey Sigmund

This relationship sounds like a lonely place to be. It is scary leaving a relationship, but what you’re giving up is a habit that has been hurting you, not a love that has supported you. As long as this man is in your life, you will not find the love you deserve. There will be a relationship that can be more loving, more supportive, more gentle and kind but first you will have to let go of this one so something better can find you. You can do this. You are strong and you will get through. If you don’t believe this, look at what you have been through already.


I dated a guy for 5 years. I met him through a mutual friend. He’s been to jail 3 times over the course of our relationship. This last time was 2 and a half years. I found out that he had another girlfriend on the side. She would call my phone from different numbers and everything. His excuse would always be that she’s paying for the lawyer or she’s paying for this cell for him to use. He gets out and he’s living with her. She breaks my iPad, Keyes my car and then of course I’m upset that she did that, so I go to his house and she’s there. He dragges me or of his house and then told me leave him alone: I found out that she’s pregnant and he proposed to her all the while denying it when she sent an email to my phone. It hurts so bad. He proposed to her so obviously I wasn’t nothing, it was something for him to use until he was ready to leave me alone. He’s going to be everything for new child and his fiancée. I went on her page and she’s talking about how she’s a wife, a mommy and she loves her life and family while I’m sitting here crying every night.

Hey Sigmund

This man has done you a favour by getting out of your life! Don’t let him back in. He has shown you that he is unable to give you the love you deserve. Find your strength in the pain he has caused you, and move forward without him. There is a better life waiting for you.


I had been married to a toxic man for 38 years. He drank and at the end he did drugs. Run with woman and made me feel like it was my fault. I loved him with all my heart but had lost respect for him. We have been divorced six years now and he just remarried his first wife and I was hurt because we had been married longer than there first 1 year. Why can I not move on I do not like the way I feel

Hey Sigmund

Tina relationships become a habit. This is healthy and normal and it’s what makes us fight for the relationship during the hard times, which are inevitable in any relationship. In healthy relationships, this is a good thing but in unhealthy relationships, the attachment can be more to the relationship than to the person in it. Leaving a relationship activates the same areas of the brain as withdrawal from a drug – it’s an awful thing to go through. This will explain more about that https://www.heysigmund.com/your-body-during-a-breakup/. Six years is a long time to be still hurting. It may be that you need extra support, and therapy can help with this. It is also really important that you start to shift your focus to things other than the pain this breakup has caused you. I know how hard this is, and at first, it will feel as though you’re faking it. This is completely okay – keep going and in time it will become real. Spend time with people who care about you, find other interests, preferably ones with other people, exercise, even if it’s a 30 minute walk each day (to get the feel-good chemicals in your brain doing their job). Keep moving forward – this man has done you a favour by getting out of your life. Now you need to clear the path emotionally so something better can find you.


I am in a toxic marriage and it’s hard to admit this. I am often told that I am too sensitive, that I just need to “get over” his emotional affair because they were “just friends”. I find I am building A LOT of resentment and I can’t flush it out because when I try to work through issues I am often met with “This isn’t a good time to talk” or “okay, what are we going to fight about now” kinds of comments. So real issues and hurts that I experience are swept under the rug and I am afraid to bring them up because it just doesn’t feel worth the fight. And I know this is how the controller wants it….Again I am just really getting angry and resentful! I feel so sad and unfulfilled most the time, and my partner approaches it as “they are your feelings, not my problem”
I also want to have a child … but now with him I am not so sure, but I am 35 and scared I am running out of time.
I think I know what I need to do but this is hard and scary.


You have jumped over the first hurdle and by admitting you have an issue with your husband…and recognize the fact he is indeed a toxic individual. Leave, live your life. Realize if it does become too late to have a child naturally by the time you find that man of your dreams than consider other options like adoption or foster care. So many kids need love. Most importantly, you need love. Staying in a toxic relationship will not provide you any and will only give the child you have in it no stability. Love yourself, allow GOD to love you. Just walk away. Don’t make any fun fair. Don’t tell him, be like Nike, JUST DO IT!

Sue F

Hi Tina, change is hard and scary and confusing and messy and it takes a lot of courage to do this. You think of what you are losing after being together for so long. Think about what you will gain. Focus on what the future can bring you. I lost a relationship that I had for most of my life and with that relationship there was others that fell by the way. It was very difficult and has taken a couple of years to really get back on track. But I found new interests, new friends. It was really rebuilding my life again. It was something that I needed to do for ME, for my sanity, for my peace of mind. I read lots of books to help me understand the issues involved and that helped as well. I wish you good luck.


I’ve dated a man for 3 or 4 months in the course of 7 years now. He would always come and go, i haven’t seen him for 2 years now and i’m still suffering. Last time he broke up with me because he is religious and i am not. 9 months ago he sended me a message after 2 years of not hearing from him, and he said he was sorry and realise that was stupid what he did to me, he told me that he changed. So i decided to give him another change and then he said he didn’t want me back because he would hurt me again. He told me he’s not suffering anymore but whishes that someday we can get married or be friends. I struggle to understand what he means and why he keeps coming back for me. Now he’s dating a girl from church, that happened only 1 month after we talked last.


Dear Tina,

Do know that letting go is hard. You are worth so very much. However, you must realize it. That woman he was first married to feels she got a prize because she probably attract toxic men and he may not been as bad as the others she had through the years. You were with him for 38 years. You are full aware of what she is getting. keep that at the fore front of your mind……and than pray for his new wife that she does not have to deal with all the hurt disappointment and pain he caused you. Accept the truth of who he is…….and begin to thank GOD each day that you no longer have to deal with his toxic behavior. If you start each day by stating the truth and praying for his new wife, you will eventually feel so much better. LET GOD’S TRUTH SET YOU FREE!


This sounds a bit like my relationship of 8 years. My partner has an issue with drink and has done a lot of very hurtful things to me in the past ( never physical). I have broken up with him in the past but when he wasn’t there I had massive anxiety and I did miss him. After he has done something bad usually involving drink he is always sorry but not before blaming me for his actions first and us having a massive argument. I do not trust him at all where drink is concerned as with our little boy who unfortunately despite my best efforts has seen his dad in some states. He is not supportive and is very jekyll and Hyde it’s like his way or no way. At Xmas he lost his grandma and while at the wake I became very ill and ended up in the hospital and despite my best effort to get him to come with me he ended up shouting and balling at me and stayed in the pub while I was laid in a hospital bed. I have had countless argument with not just him but his family members who are all like him and he has never stood by me i have had to fight my corner. I love this man but as times gone on I realise it isn’t normal how he acts and he has killed a lot of love I have for him I want there to be a future for us and our family but I don’t no where to turn anymore I can see my life been like this forever as he changes for a couple of weeks and then changes back to his old self. I no I have let him get away with a lot but I’ve mostly done it for my son I don’t feel he will have much of a future with his dad without me. My partner had a bit of a crappy childhood and feel it has caused a lot of issues in his adulthood. We never talk about our feelings or relationship as I think he is embarrassed about his actions n the past he gets angry and shuts down so I never feel anything is resolved. I feel lost.

Hey Sigmund

Aimee there is nothing about this relationship that is normal. I can hear what a beautiful, strong, open heart you have and this man has trampled on it. I understand that he may have his own pain that contributes to his behaviour, but none of that pain makes it okay to treat you and your son the way he is treating you both. None of this means that you can’t work towards a healthy relationship, but it will take a strong and honest commitment from your partner to work on his relationship with alcohol, if that is where you see a lot of the problems coming from. The choice seems to be a clear one – he can have you and your son and stop drinking, or he can keep drinking and lose you and your son.

The fact that you miss him when he isn’t there isn’t necessarily a sign of love, but a sign of habit. Relationships are addictive and when you leave those relationships, the effect on the brain and the body is like withdrawal from a drug. This article will explain that https://www.heysigmund.com/your-body-during-a-breakup/. That is not to say that you don’t feel love for him, but those feelings of love don’t make the loneliness and pain worthwhile – for you or your son.

As the relationship is at the moment, and what it is doing to you, it sounds as though it is not a healthy environment for your son. Your little man is relying on you as his mother to keep him safe, and free from having to witness unecessarily awful things.

Please Aimee, believe that you and your son deserve better, because you do. That doesn’t mean that you can’t get this with your partner. What it means is that you have to expect it, and act as though you deserve it. Your partner will live up to your expectations or down to them. It won’t be easy for your partner to change as it will probably invove him dealing with a lot of his own pain, but if he wants you and his son enough, he will find a way. You and your son are worth fighting for.



I’m 19 and this article fit every aspect of my current relationship. I know we’re young so a lot of people dismiss my problems of me just being “a stupid teenager” but I’m definitely in a toxic relationship that I’ve been struggling to leave for years. We’ve been together for 3 1/2 years and I’ve tried to leave multiple times and I always get pulled back in. He’s cheated multiple times, he lies compulsively about everything and he’s very emotionally manipulative and extremely verbally abusive and I’m scared it’s going to start developing into physical abuse. He treats me like crap and walks all over me, I’m fully aware of this and I know 100% I need leave but every time I try I just go back a little while after. I’m so afraid of not being able to find someone new and being alone because I’ve isolated myself and lost my friends by sticking with him. He’s constantly doing things that hurt me and things that are so inconsiderate, his anger issues are terrifying and he’s such a big hypocrite he constantly says that if I treated him the way he treats me he’d leave me. I know I’m stupid for staying with him but he’s my first everytjing and I’m so in love with him or maybe just extremely dependent on him now I find it so hard to walk away!!! I need coping mechanisms to stay away from him when I find the courage to leave. I’ve currently begun my journey to leaving him again but I can feel myself getting weak and gravitating towards him again. I don’t want to fall back I don’t want to be his doormat anymore I want to be happy again and confident again I truly believe I’m never going to find someone better now and I hate that. I’m going crazy I am fighting so hard to stay away but I have a feeling I’m going to give in again I hate being this weak I never take crap like this from anyone else but him I used to be so happy and confident and strong. I don’t know how to stay away when I’ve been with him for so long. Please help I want to change!

Hey Sigmund

Elina, this is not love. You have said why you stay, ‘I’m so afraid of not being able to find someone new and being alone because I’ve isolated myself and lost my friends …’ Leaving any relationship is always difficult, however bad the relationship is. But you need to know this: Things will not get better for you if you stay. You have already proven this to yourself. It will take a big push from you and a huge amount of strength and courage but you have truckloads of that. Staying this long couldn’t have been easy either. Reach out to the people who care about you, do things that make you feel good. Let the day you leave is the day things start to get better, but know that if you stay in this sort of relationship, it can certainly get much worse. Make your plan and keep moving forward. Print out your comment and keep reading it to remind yourself of why you left. Something good will find you, but first you have to clear the way. You are brave and strong and capable of anything. You can do this.


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