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5 signs you're in a toxic relationship and what to do about it

by Bela Gandhi /  / Updated  / Source: TODAY

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It's the start of a new year, and while a lot of us have probably set resolutions around losing weight, eating healthier or getting organized, now might also be a good time to evaluate the relationships in your life.

Toxic is a word that never has a positive connotation — especially when it comes to relationships. Toxic marriages can wreak havoc on people's lives, both short term and long term.

But there are other types of toxic relationships that can have great affect on us — including toxic friendships. Do you think you have friends that may be chronically toxic? Here are some critical signs that you're in a toxic friendship that you may need to end.

Toxic relationships are imbalanced, unfulfilling, unsupportive and draining — they are what I like to call energy vampires. Here are a few red flags you shouldn't ignore:

1. She makes you feel badly about yourself.

This person loves to find everything that is wrong with you AND tell you — what you're wearing, your weight, what you say, what you do — their goal is to bring you down.

Or she competes with you. She wants you to know her kids are more successful than your kids, or that she has a bigger house than you. All of this negativity means absolutely nothing about you — it tells you that she is feeling really badly about herself.

2. She brings lots of drama.

She needs you for everything, and right away, too — calling and texting you multiple times a day. And, if you don't answer or can't answer— she texts you 57 times. She gets angry over tiny things and often has some terrible situation that she needs to be bailed out of. She moans and groans and complains about everyone and everything — and it's always someone else's fault.

3. She betrays your trust — and usually, not just once.

This is often a deal breaker. You trust her with your personal truths, vulnerabilities, thoughts — and she tells someone else about them and you find out. This is a serious violation. A good friend should be like a vault — you put things in, and they never come out.

4. You dread seeing her.

When you do, she drains you, and you're relieved when she leaves. You find yourself getting knots in your stomach, sometimes a headache when you know you have to see her, or afterward. And when she leaves, you breathe a sign of relief. Or, you never return her calls, or find reasons to keep canceling on the lunch you scheduled.

5. She is self-centered.

Everything is about her — you meet her on her schedule, on her terms. She only offers to help you when you don't need it, but demands your help at anytime. She has no empathy, and doesn't understand your feelings, because she can't.

OK, if you checked off more than two of the character traits listed above, you're in a toxic friendship or relationship. Now what do you do?

If this person is not in your inner circle, just stop spending time with them, or slowly start to create some distance. If they are in your inner circle, start to speak up when they are mean or hurt your feelings, and tell them to stop. If they mock you and make you feel like it's your fault — it's time to cut them off.

If they get angry and cut you off, they've done the work for you. As a relationship expert who helps people find happy relationships, I promise you that getting rid of energy vampires will give you energy to focus on the people in your life that elevate you, and the time to find new friends too!

What to do about toxic people

All things being equal, consider yourself lucky if you've managed to sidestep toxic relationships. But most of us have been there. Dr. Sue Varma, a board-certified psychiatrist and a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at the NYU Langone Medical Center, has some effective tips for dealing with those people in your life.

In-laws

Find their redeeming qualities and use them to your advantage for a win-win. Let over-involved grandparents babysit. If kindness doesn't work, then accept that some relationships are dead ends. This means you have polite, superficial banter during family gatherings and move on. Limit your emotional engagement and manage your own expectations.

Bosses

Recognize them as flawed humans, with their own set of needs and dilemmas, and realize that they are not omnipotent. Give them positive feedback, tell them what you find helpful in their approach and ask for what you need. Learn how to take criticism well. Ask co-workers for help. And most of all, don't take their behavior personally!

Co-workers

Find common ground and relate to them. Send them an email, or compliment them if they performed well. Thank them when they have complimented you or done something nice. Have lunch with them. Share benign personal information about yourself, because this levels the playing field and helps them also relate to you and see you as human. Be empathetic. And help them, and ask for help.

Friends

If you have a friend who is going through a tough time, be there for them. If they are suffering, do your best to connect them with the right resources. If it's a one-way friendship, and you are constantly drained, then let them know how you feel and that you want to see them happy.

Ex-boyfriends

This is a clear one to avoid. There is no need to keep in touch. Minimize contact as much as possible. Closure is a necessary part of anxiety relief. Humans fare better with clear beginnings and endings.

Ex-spouses

If you are co-parenting with a former spouse, then keep it as professional as possible. Use email, follow mediators' rules, and use an app that allows for shared calendars. Keep it neutral, and don't inflame. Remember that no matter how complicated or traumatic the separation is, it's over now and it's not about the two of you. It's about the kids.

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