According to Merriam-Webster, “survived” means “to remain alive after the death of.” Today, I remain alive physically, mentally, and emotionally, after the death of many toxic relationships.
When I was in my twenties, I wouldn’t have thought it was possible to survive a toxic relationship. My belief was always that I had to “endure,” or “continue in the same state.”
What is a toxic relationship? Toxic relationships are not just romantic, they can also be platonic and familial. They can be abusive in many different ways, from physically violent to emotionally manipulative, or defined by codependency.
1. Set boundaries
One thing I’ve learned how to do is set boundaries in relationships. In the beginning, learning to advocate for myself was difficult and awkward. Often times, I didn’t know where my boundaries were until someone crossed them. Now that those boundaries are clearly defined, the trick is to assert them in all of my relationships while respecting the boundaries of others.
2. Honor your limitations
Some level of compromise is necessary in every relationship, but the relationship itself should not be a compromise. There are certain things I am willing to occasionally make concessions for: my time and my wants, but never my needs and never my values. I accept that I may need to compromise some of my preferences, but not my prerequisites. I have to honor my own limitations.
3. Avoid codependency
I have been in many codependent relationships where I thought I could “fix” my partner. Sometimes our best intentions are not congruent with the actions we take. We may want our partners to grow and be successful but our partners are not projects and it is not our responsibility to fix them. Our only responsibility is to work on ourselves, even within the confines of a relationship. However, it’s not always possible to do that when we are overly invested in our partners’ well-being, to the detriment of our own.
4. Don’t take on their pain
A lot of my relationships were characterized by or built around common struggles, including untreated substance abuse and a lack of self-worth.
These common struggles would unite me and my partner, but they also divided my codependent, inauthentic self from my best, higher self. That divide made it impossible to bridge the gap between who I was and who I had the potential to be.
We often think that if we share the struggles our partner is experiencing, they will feel less alone or depressed. We can be sympathetic and supportive, but we don’t have to take on someone else’s pain. Everyone has their own process, and we shouldn’t interfere with it, especially because it makes us less capable of being in a position to support them.
5. Stay authentic
There were many times when I was not able to be my true, authentic self in relationships. I felt stifled by trying to meet the other person’s expectations. I tried to conform to what the other person wanted. Part of the reason for this is because I didn’t know who I was or who I wanted to be.
However, being in these toxic relationships provided great examples of what I don’t want. From there, I was able to develop a conception of my ideal relationship, partner, and self.
6. Maintain autonomy
When codependency is a factor in a toxic relationship, it means that an individual is solely relying on the other person to meet their emotional and psychological needs. One person assumes the role of a caregiver, compulsively seeking to rescue their partner from destructive behavior.
If leaving the relationship is not an option, professional help and support groups can assist the caregiver in achieving or regaining their sense of identity even within the relationship.
A healthy relationship is interdependent. Two individuals experience closeness and share responsibilities, whether they are financial or emotional. They maintain autonomy both in and outside of the partnership, engaging in self-care and having a life that exists beyond the life of the relationship.
7. Detach with love
I no longer maintain contact with any of my previous romantic partners from those toxic relationships. However, in some relationships, such as with family and friends, it’s not always possible to do this. In those cases, detaching with love has helped me. I have had to put some distance between myself and others in order to continue growing.
Detaching with love means making yourself available to someone who is struggling, in case they ask for help, but loving yourself enough to walk away from a relationship that no longer serves you.