Toxic relationships can seem impossible to get away from.

Like a leech who has latched onto your brain, refusing to let go but for occasionally — and not until they’ve thoroughly reminded you of how worthless you are, and drained you of all energy you have to do anything but perform simple tasks.

Throughout my life, there has been more than one occasion where I found myself trapped under the same roof or in the workplace of someone who was a downright toxic association, so I can attest to their power and influence on us.

Negative associations can embed themselves so deeply into our life that they seem impossible to escape from. But there is a way, even if you can’t distance yourself from the person now, by rebalancing the mind and shifting the dynamic.

Every bad association offers a different dynamic, but this is how I’ve done it. I hope it can be of use to you.

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Photo Credit: Redd Angelo on Unsplash

What to Do When You’re in a Toxic Relationship (Even if You Can’t Get Out)

We teach people how to treat us.

– Dr. Phil

Toxic relationships come in all shapes and sizes

  • From the family member who seems to have taken issue with our basic existence
  • To the colleague that targets us for belittlement at every opportunity
  • And the spouse that has turned out to be someone other than we originally thought

The issue with bad associations is, sometimes we’re put (or end up) in a situation where we can’t get out. Whether it’s work, at home, or in our social circle filled with long-time friends that we could never imagine abandoning, sometimes the most common advice for toxic relationships (leave them, get out, you get the idea) just won’t work.

There are different ways you can approach the situation, but I’m a firm believer that whether something is someone else’s fault or not, we rarely get anywhere by harping on what someone else has done to us. Especially in a situation such as this, the more you reflect on what they’re doing to you and how much you hate them, you’re only going to bring yourself down further.

What you need to do…is rise up. It’s about doing everything you can do on your end to better yourself and not fantasizing about the idea of changing someone else (because, in most cases, you’ll just waste your time). And there are three main steps to doing that in a toxic relationship, so let’s talk about it.

1. Rebalance

If you break the issue down to its essence, negative associations really distill down what “information” you’re absorbing through your senses, how long it stays there, how deeply it becomes embedded, and whether it’s challenged by any other belief or idea or not.

But this information doesn’t just come from our interactions with other physical people, it also comes from media such as books, movies, T.V., videos online, radio, podcasts, music, and anything else you can think of.

Negative associations have a way of “tipping the scales” of our internal state of being. They take the life out of us because they get into our head and change our self-talk to something nasty and demoralizing (and, for most of us, our self-talk isn’t very healthy to begin). So, if you tip the scales right back with positive media and associations you can begin to negate the very effect they’ve been having on you.

You’ll need to be relentless here. Around them a lot at work or home? Wear your headphones and listen to podcasts, audiobooks, and music that makes you feel empowered. Mix it up. Keep yourself busy learning, doing, and moving yourself forward in general.

This is a great opportunity to start learning something new or taking action on something you’ve wanted to do for some time but have been lacking the confidence. Buy some audiobooks and listen to them constantly, get excited about learning something new. However this works best for you, the idea is that you want to inject yourself with empowering and motivational information.

Try to keep the information beneficial for personal growth in general and not just for base motivation, though, as you want to make sure you’re using the time to move your life forward and not to just jack yourself up with no intention in mind.

2. Shift the dynamic to change the relationship

The reality is, it’s not all up to other people how someone treats us. In any relationship, there’s a dynamic that’s established from the very moment you first meet. In a very real way, we teach people how to treat us by dictating this dynamic (or letting them, to various degrees).

So, while you may or may not being able to get away from every bad association, you can change the dynamic to change the relationship, rising above and letting your new, more confident self take control of that dynamic and change it in your favor.

Dogs often enjoy messing with cats, particularly the first time they meet one. Unless they have the confidence to retaliate. A fluffy dark grey cat once snuck into our backyard when I was younger. I was shooting some baskets on my basketball hoop one Summer afternoon when my old Golden Retriever Charlie noticed him from across the yard jump down the gate and onto the grass.

The thing is, dogs will continually try to play with a cat to their own enjoyment– until the cat pulls out their claws. And that’s exactly what happened. All it took was one good swipe and he went running off into the house through his doggy door, yelping all the while. He generally kept his distance from cats after that. Often, all it takes is one good swipe, a clap back at the other person that stings, to change the dynamic permanently.

To be clear, I’m not advising anyone insult or abuse another, simply that you begin practicing standing up to the other person verbally with the new confidence and certainty you’ve developed when confronted by them. Don’t give them an inch. Obviously, this is easier said than done. However, if you put yourself into a different, more confident state of mind consistently this becomes easier and more natural, which is why that was step one.

3. Be consistent about growth

All that’s left to do now is to commit to consistent growth.

When someone sees you’re really trying to move forward and do something with your life, and you’re living in a way that you’re not asking their permission to do anything, they often end up taking note.

In this way, they’ve developed a kind of respect for you– as shitty a person they might be– because of you standing up to them and not letting them hold you back. It’s about becoming this immovable beacon of light. And because of this respect, they no longer act the same around you.

It’s impossible to force anyone to change, but with this process, you can not only give yourself the best chance at bringing out a better side of someone (or, at least, demanding respect), you’ve bettered yourself and not let their negative influence hold you back.

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