“When you’re in a toxic relationship, that negative energy overflows into other aspects of your life. If that’s the case, take a step back and define the relationship on your terms.”

-Rose Caiola

How to create positive change in your life

Do you surround yourself with toxic relationships? If so, they are draining you of your valuable time, energy and positivity. People are not necessarily toxic or “bad”, however the relationship between you and the other person may not be empowering or healthy. Both parties have a responsibility to support each other, resolve conflict and have open communication. Sometimes this isn’t possible and can take years to develop. In these cases, changing the situation by taking time apart from one another and doing some self-healing is best. Removing yourself from toxic situations or changing your environment can be a challenge. Sometimes these toxic relationships are with relatives, colleagues or close friends.

Toxic relationships may involve people who:

  • constantly complain
  • are always taking from you
  • disrespect you
  • talk down to you
  • gossip
  • physically, mentally, emotionally or sexually hurt you
  • take advantage of you
  • are always angry
  • pressure you to do things you don’t want to do
  • smother and restrict you from being free

Here are 10 ways to identify toxic relationships and set healthy boundaries:

1.Explore Open Communication

If it is safe and empowering for you to have a conversation with these people, inform them in an empathetic way. They may not realize that how their actions are negatively impacting you. So, let them hear your voice.

Write down the names (or initials) of all these people.

  1. Put a smiley face beside the ones you are able to change into a more positive relationship by bringing about awareness. This will take continued practice and conscious effort on both parties.
  2. Put a check mark beside the toxic relationships you are able to eliminate from daily interactions, or are able to avoid getting triggered by their actions and words.
  3. Put a star beside the ones who you are unable or feel unsafe to distance yourself from.

2. Create Boundaries

If you are the type that is easily or significantly affected by other people’s moods, words and actions, you might have poor boundaries. Empathetic people are often loving, understanding and giving people. However, they also don’t often have healthy boundaries because of their ability to empathize with others.

Creating boundaries will help to create distance from taking on people’s problems, negative moods and physical tensions. Not only will it balance out the emotional roller coaster ride, but it will help you know yourself better – to understand what thoughts, feelings and emotions are yours and what are not. You will still be able to empathize with others and provide even more support because you won’t be draining your own energy by taking on what is not yours.

Start surrounding yourself with positive relationships. Find people you trust and will support you in building your dreams. The healthy habits of those around you will help guide a healthier lifestyle for yourself.

3. Is it Safe and Best to Leave?

Removing yourself from toxic relationships can be a challenge, but not impossible.

If expressing yourself doesn’t help the situation, don’t get down on yourself. Ask yourself, “Is this a relationship I can leave safely?” You need to decide for yourself if it is in your best interest to end the relationship. The other person is responsible for themselves – excluding minors – and you are responsible for yourself. Take back control of your life.

If you are unable to remove that person from your life, for whatever reason, then you need to be more creative. Ask a person who is not directly involved in your negative relationship to be your support. Make sure they are a trusted and stable person. You may want to seek a professional physician to play this role. Problem solve ways to show empathy to the other person without allowing them to take advantage of you and the relationship.

  • Write down some ways to limit your time with them:
  • How can you create healthier boundaries for yourself?
  • What are things you do have control over that bring you joy?
  • How can you take back control of the thing you really enjoy and create freedom for yourself

4. Self-Reflection – Are you the toxic relationship in other people’s lives?

Do you support and create joy in other people’s lives? Do people enjoy your company and feel empowered in your presence?

Sometimes the triggers from other people are signals for you to look inward. What are your triggers? What don’t you like about what is triggering you? How does it make you feel? When do you exhibit those characteristics, reactions and attitudes?

Think openly and honestly. Nobody is perfect. It’s important to identify your triggers because they are often the qualities you don’t like about yourself.

For example, I dislike when people are disrespectful and judgmental. I know that I, too, judge others based on their appearance and my first impressions. I get triggered because I feel that other people are judging me based on how I judge myself. I am very self-critical, and so I have empathy for others if they are being disrespected or criticized.

If you are the type of person who always complains, asks from others without giving, disrespects or talks down to others, gossips, hurts others physically, mentally, emotionally or sexually, takes advantage of others, is always angry, pressures people to do things they don’t want to do or smothers and restricts people from being free, you may be the negative person in other people’s lives.

Think about the relationships in your life. Think about the roles you play from their perspective – not yours. How do your friends and family feel about you?

5. Are you the toxic relationship in your own life?

Do you have constant negative thoughts about the way you look, feel, think or act? Do you put yourself down? Do you focus on the negative events in your life, as opposed to celebrating the positive ones? What are three words you would choose to describe yourself?

The way you speak about yourself impacts your reality. If I say that I have a bad memory and always forget people’s names, then I will be always focusing on all of the things I forget and not paying attention to all the things I do remember. Instead, focus on ways to remember more. For example, place your items back in their allotted spots the minute you remember. Write things down. Repeat names out loud after you are introduced to a person. Focus on the positive to change your reality. Your perception is your reality.

Internal toxins are even more poisonous than any physical substance. Internal or intrinsic toxins negatively affect our minds and physical health. How many times a day do you have negative thoughts?

It might be about yourself when you look in the mirror, about your job, the salad you’re eating, a celebrity you see on the cover of a magazine, the weather, or the sound of heavy breathing by the person sitting beside you. Limit these types of internal toxins to create a more positive relationship with yourself.

6. Reduce emotional and mental stress

Use stress management tools or visit a counselor to create successful practices to rely on during difficult times.

  • Journaling your experiences and writing down ways to overcome challenges, or let them go
  • Practice deep breathing during stressful times to calm down your sympathetic nervous system, and allow problem-solving and creative thought processes to surface
  • Seek cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for emotional, mental and physical stress
  • For many more practices, such as meditation and exercise, see The Research Supporting A Healthy State Of Mind

7. Eliminate negative and hateful self-talk and perspectives

We can be quite hard on ourselves much of the time and get stuck in a self-defeated attitude.

8. Limit comparisons, judgments and rumination

Humans are almost always comparing and judging ourselves to others and our past selves. Rumination on things we could have done, should have said, or about future concerns can have us paralyzed in fear.

  • Limit social media use and looking back at old photos. Use an app called SelfControl, setting a timer on your laptop to hide any pages and updates from your social media.
  • Limit your rumination to a maximum of three times; if you find yourself talking about the same situation three times without actionable problem-solving steps, you need to stop and create ideas to resolve the issue, or let it go
  • Stand in front of the mirror, and find at least one characteristic that you love about your body and self
  • Do the “Love Your Body Challenge
  • For many more practices, such as meditation and exercise, see The Research Supporting A Healthy State Of Mind

9. Cultivate More Gratitude

All of these practices take less than ten minutes a day, and will actually save you time, but more importantly energy. Cultivate positivity with gratitude and stop wasting your time on negativity. Read the full article here.

  • Build a Routine– Showing gratitude at the end of your day is my favorite ritual. Each day that I practice showing gratitude I find more and more reasons to love life.
  • Show it with Actions– A hug and a smile can go a long way. If someone looks like they are having a tough day, a smile can relate empathy and encouragement.
  • Use Your Words– Please, thank you and you’re welcome are loaded words. It’s easy to say them in passing, but it can relay so much more when you combine it with eye contact, meaning and genuine acknowledgement.
  • Gratitude Journaling– Writing first thing in the morning and last thing before bed is the perfect time to journal. My favorite journal is the Five Minute Journal by my friends UJ Ramdas and Alex Ikonn.
  • Slow Down Your Pace and Look Around– Start walking to work, the grocery store and the gym. Or just go for a walk in your neighborhood and take in the sights. It’s so easy to rush about and get tunnel vision. Life is not a race. Take your time.
  • Eat Mindfully– Breath, bite, chew, swallow, pause. Before starting any meal, practice taking three slow deep breaths. As you eat, be mindful of where your food has come from and time, process and labor that has gone into your meal. Click here for a “food reflection“.
  • Move– Nothing says gratitude more than using what you have. Move around. Feel your body and be thankful for the ability to use it, in what ever capacity you have.
  • Sit Still– You don’t need to be in a deep meditation, just observant. Listen to the wind, feel the sun on your skin, breath in the scent of the nearby garden, pay attention to the earth beneath you.
  • Don’t gossip– Part of having gratitude is not spreading negativity. Even if you have criticism for someone else, make it constructive and have the decency to tell it to the person directly. If you’re worried they won’t take the new well, you should re-evaluate how you will say it and if it will make a positive impact on them.
  • Create a safe space– Create a physical space that is clean and safe. Choose a room – or part of a room – in your house for meditation, relaxation or reading. Keep that room tidy, clean and fill it with comfortable pillows, blankets, colors and meaningful items. An outdoor garden, park or river can be an uplifting natural space when weather accommodates for it.

10. Know That There is Help

If you are in an unhealthy relationship and cannot find a safe way out, seek help. There are many resources, shelters and phone helplines of trained professionals to assist you:

Children and teen

  • Child Help – The Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453)
  • Teens Helping, Teens Crisis Line: 1877 803 8336
  • Kids Help Line (24 hours): 1800 668 6868

Domestic Violence and Women

Rape, Sexual Abuse and Sexually Transmitted Disease (STI)

Gay and Lesbian

Suicide, Harm Reduction and Emotional Distress

  • Depression Hotline: 1-630-482-9696
  • Grief Support: 1-650-321-5272
  • HIPS HotlineHarm reduction oriented health information for sex workers and their families at 1-800-676-4477
  • Hopeline:  Suicide Hotline at 800-442-4673
  • Lifeline: Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255
  • S.A.F.E – Self-Abuse Finally Ends (Self injury): 800-366-8288
  • Suicide Hotline: 1-800-784-8433 or 1-800-784-2433 (Para obtener asistencia en español llame al 1-888-628-9454.)
  • Suicide Prevention Hotline for Hearing and Speech Impaired with TTY Equipment: 1-800-799-4889


This article originally appeared on DrAlisonChen.com and is republished here with permission.

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