How to identify toxic relationships and attract healthier connections

How To Identify Toxic Relationships And Develop Healthy Connections

You know that saying, “Tell me who your friends are and I’ll tell you who you are?”  I used to think that was such a bs thing to say.

Do you want to know why?

For years, I surrounded myself with some very toxic people.

I know how it feels to be on both sides of this issue and, frankly, neither situation is healthy.

This post is going to help you determine if the people you surround yourself with are toxic or uplifting, and how these different types of folks impact your overall happiness.

Identifying a “toxic acquaintance”

First, a toxic relationship doesn’t have to be with somebody who necessarily pushes you to do unhealthy things.  A toxic acquaintance isn’t an entirely toxic person either; it’s their toxic behavior that can be detrimental to your personal growth.

It isn’t easy to determine whether or not an acquaintance is toxic.

For example, I had a toxic boyfriend for nearly two years before I started to realize (with the help of a great psychologist) just how toxic his behavior actually was.

It was nearly another 18 months before I finally broke off all communication with him, moved out, and moved on.

Take a moment now and think about the people you surround yourself with — even family members.

Think about your relationships objectively for the time being.

Is there a person in your life whom you’ve started to dread being around? Or an individual who makes you feel completely drained after you spend time with them?

If either of these sound familiar, it is possible that you’ve got ties to a toxic acquaintance (or relative).

If any of this sounds familiar, it is possible that you’ve got ties to a toxic acquaintance (or relative).

Five traits of “toxic acquaintances.”

  1. They have distinct narcissistic tendencies.  Not sure what I mean by this?  Do they talk more than they listen?  Does everything have to center around them?  Do they interrupt you?  One up you?  Belittle your problems?  If a person in your life is doing this, they are struggling with narcissistic tendencies.
  2. You are directly affected by their drama and behavior.   Toxic people tend to live from crisis to crisis.  There is always something happening to them, and when there isn’t something there, they’ll create it.  When you’re friends with a toxic person, you are expected to nurse their wounds and listen to their carrying on.  Often a solution is offered, and often it will be responded to by a direct refusal of even considering your advice.  Toxic people are full-time victims and view themselves as never at fault for what’s happening in their life.  As such, they are not responsible for trying to make their situation better.  If this sounds like somebody you know, you’re sadly fighting a losing battle.  Until that person acknowledges their victim mentality and narcissistic ways, they will continue to refute any and all of your advice.
  3. They lack empathy and support for others.  Toxic people, though they seem to bounce from crisis to crisis, will find other people’s problems trivial at times.  They will use their experiences as a reference point for the circumstances of others around them.  Not sure what I mean?  Take the following, for example, “I don’t know why she’s complaining about, it’s not as if she was with him as long as I was with my ex.”   For a toxic individual, they cannot separate their experiences (and outcomes) from the experiences of those around them.
  4. They are controlling.   A toxic person is not only controlling in the sense that they want you to be available whenever they need you or they question your loyalty to them.  When you’re with this person, you can’t think for yourself or challenge their opinions without automatically having them discount your opinion or belittle it as being “silly” or “ignorant.”  All of this happens without any consideration of your point of view.  Are they overly critical of you and yet, fail to be able to accept any constructive criticism you have offered them?  Any aspect of an attempt to control the relationship is a sign of narcissistic and toxic behavior.
  5. You’re exhausted after being around them.  Healthy relationships require a certain amount of giving and taking.  Toxic acquaintances tend to be takers and exhibit little give.  If somebody in your life leaves you feeling drained, after you’ve been in their company, ask yourself when the last time was that person asked you how you are feeling.  If you can’t think of one, it’s time to consider the possibility that this person might be toxic for you.

How To Handle Toxic Relationships

If you’re like me, you like to see the good in people before you accept other people’s “warnings” about them.

Over the years, I’ve had people come up to me in a public place and ask me, “why are you friends with ______?”  I would be put off by this, naturally.

There’s nothing wrong with being a compassionate and accepting person — those are terrific qualities. Unfortunately, toxic people (consciously or otherwise) prey on folks with those qualities.

About the ex-boyfriend I mentioned previously, I went on to discover over the ten years before our relationship that he had left relationships with previous partners either on medication or in therapy as a result of his mental abuse.

Unfortunately, some people are master manipulators, and it can take months (even years) for their reign of control over you to show itself.

If you feel that any of the five descriptions I’ve provided are present in any of your current relationships, you don’t have to scrap the relationship just yet.  There is still some hope.

Three steps you can make to try and mend a “toxic relationship”*

  1. Be honest with them about how you’re feeling.  This one is a bitter pill to swallow for most people with toxic behavior issues since they rarely accept responsibility for their role in anything.  However, as an enlightened person with toxic behavior issues, if it weren’t for the people who cared enough to call me out on how my behavior was affecting them, I wouldn’t have been able to change my ways.  The bottom line is:  If they aren’t willing to take your feelings into consideration or make you feel bad about trying to have a rational conversation, you’re better off with them out of your life.  Wish them well, send them love, but move on for your sake.
  2. Use ‘I-statements’.   While studying interpersonal communication, I took a class that centered around conflict resolution.  One of the most memorable things I learned during this course, was the importance of using  ‘I-statements’ when confronting others regarding their behavior.  I-statements are an assertion about the feelings and emotions of the person speaking.  They let the person listening know that this information is about the speaker.  An example of an I-statement would be, “when you tell me I’m oversensitive, I feel belittled.”  In that case, the speaker is owning the feeling of being belittled rather than blaming that feeling on the recipient by saying, “when you tell me I’m oversensitive, you make me feel belittled.”   If taking ownership of your feelings and using I-statements while you attempt to salvage this relationship isn’t given the appropriate consideration then, again, you’re better off without this person.
  3. Seek the help of a professional.  I only advise this personally if the relationship is worth saving.  If you absolutely must try everything to help the toxic person see where you’re coming from in an attempt to save your relationship (this is mostly for spouses and relatives) I would advise seeking out a mental health or personal development professional to see it through. It does require that both parties enter the situation with an open mind and willingness to work things out.  If this approach doesn’t work, this relationship (and individual) are most likely beyond repair.  Protect yourself and wellbeing and move forward.

* I must stress:  If you feel threatened or in danger, never attempt to handle the situation on your own.  

How to attract healthier connections

Now let’s discuss acquaintances and friends who lift us up and make us feel inspired to be the very best version of ourselves we can be.

These are the people we can go to when we’re down, inspired, angry, frustrated, and anything in-between.

It can be difficult as an adult to befriend these types of people, but it’s not impossible.

Five traits of positive people (they’re not always obvious)

  1. They are kind to others.  They don’t have to like everybody they come in contact with, but regardless of their personal feelings, they are always kind and considerate to others. An admirable quality.  If you’re somebody who struggles with separating connection and kindness, this is a type of person you need more of in your life.
  2. They make friends with other people with ease.  As we get older, it becomes more challenging to develop (and maintain) genuine friendships.  When I connect with new people, I often find myself (and the other person) saying, “I feel like I’ve known you for years.”  Discovering people you can connect to in ways that feel unforced and comfortable is an amazing thing.  We all need more people like this in our lives, right?
  3. They are present and listen to others with intention.  Have you ever been out with a friend and realized they’re attached at the hip to their phone?  I mean, we’re all guilty of expecting a call or text that may overlap with a coffee date or get-together, but there’s nothing worse than being with another person who isn’t fully engaged in your quality time together.  Whenever possible, I try to turn my phone off while I’m with others or leave it in my bag.  If I am waiting for a text or call (which, living in a different country than my friends and family is often for me), I will let the person I am with know, “if I’m checking my phone it’s because I’m expecting a text from a family member, I will keep it as brief as possible.”
  4. They don’t take you (or your time) for granted.  Okay, there’s always going to be unexpected things that happen in life, and occasionally plans may have to be broken or rescheduled.  It happens to the best of us.  However, if it’s continuous, that’s another story.  Positive people and acquaintances will not take you or your time for granted.  They will appreciate the time you’re both making to maintain and evolve the relationship.
  5. They encourage you to take (calculated) risks.  We all need to break up with our comfort zone occasionally.  So, it’s best to surround ourselves with people who give us that positive nudge we need to take a plunge into something new.  Not every idea you ever have will be one that a positive thinking friend will back 100%, but you can be sure they will have your best interest at heart when they share their two cents.

That’s a stark contrast, isn’t it?  Some of this information may seem obvious, but you would be surprised how many people spend years surrounding themselves with people who don’t encourage them without recognizing it.

When you spend any length of time with people, you can tend to not pick up on how the relationship is evolving — or going nowhere.

Being able to see the other side of something gives you a different perspective than you could ever have if you had never challenged it.

Sadly, not all connections we make with others in life meet our (or possibly theirs) needs.  When this happens, it’s best to save what you can and walk away from what you can’t.

Free your life up for those who will support and encourage you.

Can you think of a time you were in a toxic relationship?  Do you consider yourself to be a positive person in your relationships?  Have you ever experienced toxic behavior in yourself?

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how to fight your inner conflicts

In every facet of our lives, we must be in touch with what motivates us.  Without knowing our motivations, we cannot get to the very core of what makes us who we are.

Why is this important?

It’s important because it’s what’s  within us that is our true  self.  Everything else is a result of our  mental conditioning.

We become our thoughts.  And, when our thoughts are not positive or self-fulfilling, they create this alternative self that we believe ourselves to be in place of the person we truly are deep down at our very core.

I know this because I thought I wasn’t good enough for anything or anyone.  I walked around the world not believing in myself and giving others permission not to believe in me either.  It was a hopeless cycle because when others didn’t believe in me, it confirmed my belief that I wasn’t good enough.

Are you dizzy yet?  You probably are, because living like this is like being on an emotional Tilt-A-Whirl.

However, there is a stop button, and you have control over it.  In fact, not only can you stop this dizzying ride but you can get off of it and leave it behind for good.

3 Actions To Fight Your Inner Conflicts

I know it seems pretty simplistic to say that just three steps which can improve your life, but it’s the power of these measures that make them so profound.

Start small with these steps, and you will be on your way to living a less dramatic and more productive, meaningful existence.

Are you ready for them?

Action 1:  Stop

That’s it. Just stop.

For instance, when I started my wellness journey after the death of my father, I was doing these three steps without even realizing it.

I stopped eating poorly.  I started exercising and paying attention to what I was eating.  I let myself be proactive about my health and happiness.  When something isn’t working for you, the very first thing you need to do is figure out what you can take control of and stop.

You must do something to interrupt the addictive emotional patterns.

So, in my case, I was tired of feeling empty and insignificant.  I was sick of using food and alcohol to numb myself while I continued to wonder why nothing in my life was going right.

I was tired of feeling like I had no control over anything; including myself.

I had programmed myself to believe that being a shell of a person was enough for me and that it was all that I deserved.  All the while, inside of me, was that confident, active, and intelligent person hidden under years of conditioning myself to feel otherwise.

I was sick of using food and alcohol to numb myself while I continued to wonder why nothing in my life was going right.

The person I was meant to be was hidden away under all of that self-destructive behavior and unhappiness. The first step I had to take to get back to my real self, was to interrupt the emotional pattern that was limiting me.  By discontinuing the negative behaviors, I did have control over (food choices, overeating, and inactivity).

Action 2:  Start

The beginning of a journey of self-rediscovery and leading a more passionate life is to stop focusing on what you think you can’t do.  If you feel like it’s a hopeless situation, these two steps will help you a) getting out of your comfort zone and b)raising your standards.

It may seem like an impossible task, but even a baby step outside of your comfort zone is an accomplishment, and a will start allowing newer and healthier habits to take hold.  When I decided to eat healthier and exercise five days a week, it was far from comfortable.  I wanted to quit at first, but I just kept reminding myself that if I didn’t make this commitment to myself, I wouldn’t be able to commit to anything else either.  I raised my standards for myself, and it leads to many additional positive changes and opportunities.

Action 3:  Become

Once the negative cycle has stopped and you have started to do things that break you out of your comfort zone, you will see yourself emerge and become the person you have always been meant to be.

The third step is when you come into your “ideal self.”  The self who has been inside of you all of your life. The one who can finally stand up to all of your negative self-talk and claims of incapability

When you finally decide you’ve got to make a change if you stop with the negative and start with the positive your true self will have no choice but to become evident to you and the world around you.

The inner conflict that I felt for so many years was due to the battle that my head waged against my heart.  I finally decided I had to stop letting it continue.  I finally decided I had to start changing my ways.  I finally became who I was always meant to be, and beautiful and positive things began to come into my life.

There are still cloudy days, and there are still struggles, but I know that the Erin I am today can weather all storms.

3 Actions To Fight Inner Conflicts

Are you struggling with inner conflict?  If you are, you’re not alone, and it is clear that the solutions to what you feel conflicted about most are already within you.

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five tips for handling constructive criticism

I can tell you — for a fact — that there is probably nobody who struggles with criticism more than I do.  In fact, if you were to ask any of my former employers, they would all probably say that “being defensive” was the one quality about me they struggled with the most.

Nobody likes criticism.

I used to have a serious problem with acting like a victim.

I always felt like I was being “attacked” for something.  From the biggest to the smallest of things, I did not like to take ownership for my part — or worse — be told how I should have handled things.

I used to become incredibly defensive and angry at anybody who would give me the slightest bit of constructive feedback because I always felt it was unnecessary.

I’ve grown to learn that criticism is a necessity.

Even though we each will receive a fair bit of criticism in our lives, there is no need to feel threatened, defensive, or ashamed of it. It’s all part of breaking away from our comfort zone. In fact, one of the most annoying criticisms I’ve received continuously has been the question, “Why do you do it that way?”

I’m sure you have heard this issue/observation many times also.

For years, this would be my reaction when asked that dreaded question.

“Why did you do it that way?”

Five steps for effective handling constructive criticism

  • Avoid being defensive whenever possible.  I’ve learned to choose not to be defensive when I receive criticism works best for me.  I used to get super defensive whenever I felt criticized.  And the only thing I ever accomplished by becoming defensive was to prove I was incapable of respecting other people’s observations.  We cannot grow from staying inside a bubble.  So, if somebody bursts yours, try and keep calm and hear them out.
  • Avoid being quick to react.  My father used to tell me all the time that I’m a “highly reactive” individual.  As soon as I heard something I didn’t agree with, I would react and typically regret doing so.  Being reactive is similar to being defensive, but the difference is that when we respond quickly, we don’t give ourselves time to process the situation correctly.  Now, I try to step back from the situation and breathe and think about how I’m going to process it.  I may choose to confront or concede, but I will have given myself the opportunity to have a choice.
  • Assume the responsibility when it’s your fault.  When I’m the root of the problem, I owe it to myself, and everybody involved to accept responsibility for it.  Nobody likes the blame game (especially when you’re the one to blame), but it’s a necessary evil sometimes.  Assuming the responsibility for your mistake shows that you are big enough to accept and learn from a situation.
  • Take it as an opportunity to gain some insight.  In every occasion, there is something positive to come out of it and to be at the forefront of criticism is a chance to gain some valuable insight.  For example, after you receive a criticism is a perfect time to ask questions about how you can better handle the situation in the future.
  • Stop taking criticisms as a personal attack.  When objections occur, we often internalize them as an attack on who we are not what we’ve done. You will likely never be able to please everyone.   Just because someone questions your work doesn’t mean they are criticizing who you are.  We all can produce work that disappoints, but that doesn’t mean that we are disappointing.

Learning how to handle criticism constructively is something we all should master.  We can choose to see critiques as an opportunity to learn something new about ourselves.  As with everything in life, it’s a decision.

Here’s to making the best decisions possible!

How do you handle criticism?

 

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Do you give yourself ultimatums

By nature, people do not like ultimatums. They are threatening, limiting, and just plain nasty.

So, imagine how terrible it is when you give yourself one, or worse, many.

For some people — especially perfectionists black and white thinkers — giving ultimatums is a way of life. Even though it may seem like ultimatums are a motivational tool they are very self-destructive.

I know because I used to give myself ultimatums continually. It was part of my “all or nothing” thinking. Either I was going to get “x,” or I’d never get .”

In fact, here are some examples of ultimatums I used to give myself on a regular basis.

“Either this guy is “the one,” or I’m through with dating.”
“Either I get this promotion, or I’m quitting.”
“Either I stick to this diet, or I’ll be fat forever.”

Those are all pretty threatening, limiting, and nasty — right?

So, why would I do this to myself?

When I would propose these scenarios to myself, I was primarily retaliating against myself. By only ever give myself two choices — complete success or total failure — I would attack myself. I wouldn’t just limit the action itself as a success or failure; I would confine myself as a success or failure if I didn’t receive the desired outcome.

The problem with this way of thinking was that when I was only giving myself one of two possible outcomes, I was always placed 50% against myself.

 

 

With those odds, I wound up always struggling between the demands I had put on myself and the result of those requirements. That is where my inner conflicts began, and one of the ways to fight internal conflicts is to start allowing yourself to have more than two options when you desire something from yourself (or others).

Instead of declaring “Either this guy is “the one,” or I’m through with dating,” I began saying things like, “Perhaps, I’m not what he is looking for, but that’s okay.  I’m now one step closer to finding someone who thinks I’m amazing.”

Positioning the relationship prospect as being only a success or a complete failure,  provided me with only negative outcomes.

Changing the way I placed things, created greater odds for positive results.

Also, I’m now happily married, so I’m quite happy I gave myself more options!

I know it can be tough to stop giving yourself ultimatums and creating unnecessary conflicts within yourself.

Remember, there is no reason to be more demanding of yourself than anyone would be of you. And there is no need for anybody to be that demanding of you in the first place!

Be kind to yourself.  Always.

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what I learned when I finally quit dieting

Dieting used to feel like my full-time job.

Every time I tried to give notice, the insecurity over not trusting myself enough around food stopped me.

It felt familiar.  Dieting was second nature.

And so was my self-doubt and dissatisfaction with my body.

I tried every diet, pill, potion, cleanse whathaveyou over the nearly two decades of my toxic relationship with food and my body.

So, I tried something radical (for me):  I stopped trying.

And this is what happened in the aftermath of my decision.

What I learned when I finally quit dieting

I got to eat what I wanted without feeling any guilt.

When you don’t have restrictions placed on your diet left, right and center it gets a lot less stressful when you decide to let yourself just eat!

I spent so many years worrying about whether the food had the right amount of carbs, sugar, fats, macros that it took all of the joy out of eating.

Seriously, just making a decision to eat was like solving a puzzle when half the pieces were missing.

Frustrating AND boring.

When I stopped restricting myself, I also stopped shaming and depriving myself.  Deprivation is fuel to the diet and food obsessed person’s inner motivation fire.

Without all the ‘self-policing,’ I was able to focus on listening to my body and becoming more in touch with what I wanted to eat rather than what I ‘shouldn’t.’

When you take restriction out of the equation, you no longer punish yourself for food choices.

I saved money even though I was eating more.  

I was a total sucker for energy drinks, diet snacks, and protein bars; not to mention diet pills, caffeine, and fitness enhancing supplements.

All of these “health” products were slimming down my bank account and doing nothing for my well-being.

I soon discovered that eating whole foods was not only more satisfying but much more beneficial to my overall fitness level.  And because I was eating healthy, flavourful foods like healthy fats, complex carbohydrates, and real protein sources, I found that when I did try to eat an odd “energy” bar, I was paying £2 to eat something that tasted like plastic and probably contained it too!

In the same respect, a piece of pie or cake for dessert tasted so much better.  Without eating processed foods, I appreciated the richness and flavor of the items I was eating.

Delicious food without a giant helping of guilt afterward hit the spot as well!

I realized that I was never “addicted” to anything I ate.  

One of the most rewarding things about breaking up with food restriction is that you understand that the propaganda about being addicted to sugar and salt is not real.

When I began eating like a normal person, I started to crave whole foods consistently.  Being able to eat all vegetables, fruits, and nuts alleviated the need for diet or sugar-free substitutes.

Products containing syrups, chemicals, additives, and preservatives are the culprits behind why you believe you’re “addicted” to them.

I also started to recognize my true hunger cues when I stopped restricting my diet.  Without constant insulin spikes, my body was able to lead me to a better understanding of my appetite and how to feed it.

I stopped being at war with my body

Restrictive eating and body judgment are anchors for shaming ourselves.  When I ceased to shame myself for the foods I was eating, I also stopped the cycle of body negativity.

A new cycle of rational and healthy give and take begins when you quit dieting.

Eating what my body needs when it needs it, stopped the mental battle I was living through while I was engaging in restrictive eating.

I stopped constantly being in a bad mood which I attributed to two things 1) processed foods were no longer screwing with my digestion and bodily functions and 2) I stopped shaming the hell out of myself for not being compliant with a diet plan.

It is amazing how much better you will see your body when you stop punishing yourself for not having “more control” over it.

The truth is, we have little control over our bodies and our health.  While eating well and being physically active are part of the formula for good health, they don’t guarantee it.

Self-compassion is something with which most of us struggle.  However, it is an even bigger battle when you spend your days and nights beating yourself up over eating a peanut butter cup.  You’re only human, and there are enough causes in life to get passionate and fight against, your body doesn’t need to be one of them!

I lost some weight (and it stayed off)

Emotional and physical weight can be present in our lives in equal measure.  When I quit my diet and began embracing self-compassion, it enabled me to shift weight without conscious effort.

As a coach who utilizes NLP, I can tell you that when you spend life thinking negative statements, you will also spend your life fighting against those thoughts, and 9 out of 10 times get the very thing you don’t want.

Your mind cannot process negative statements.  When you say to yourself “I can’t  eat sugar,” your mind will only hear, “eat sugar.”  While you think you are commanding yourself into not to doing something, you are essentially talking yourself into the very action.

Now, it may take some time for your weight to regulate within its set point range.  If your goal has always been to lose weight, then it may take longer to lose it this way than by, say,  carb cycling.

Enjoy and appreciate your body every single day that you have it.  Feed it with love and compassion and skip the side order of hate!

 

If you would like to break up with diet culture and embrace a life of nourishment, abundance, and peace of mind – why not book a FREE  30-minute consultation to help make your relationship with food and yourself a healthy one?

For more information, fill out the form below OR shoot me and e-mail!  I look forward to hearing from you!

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