Are you in a toxic relationship with yourself? Keep reading for practical tips to help you work Through some of your unhealthy behaviors and nurture a healthy relationship with yourself.
When you are raised in a dysfunctional family, it is normal to adopt some toxic behaviors. Every behavior has a function. It was necessary for survival and, therefore, may be deeply ingrained that you may not even realize it.
You must take some time to self-reflect, allowing you to see how certain behaviors may be pouring into your relationships, leading you to uncomfortable but necessary work. As I was working through my healing journey, I realized this constant unhappiness still exists. It was as if I was missing something. I realized I was doing everything possible to avoid facing the reality that my behaviors were in the way of my growth. It was easier to say, 'I am this way because of what happened to me.' It was my crutch to continue living the way I felt safe.
If you are anything like me, this may all sound familiar. In this post you will learn about how to stop toxic relationship with yourself and practical steps you can take.
8 Signs You're in a Toxic Relationship With Yourself
1. You engage in unhealthy coping strategies.
Coping strategies can help you work through a difficult, stressful, or unpleasant situation. There are healthy coping strategies and unhealthy coping strategies. Unhealthy coping strategies temporarily relieve your problem, but it does not always help long-term.
Imagine this situation: You come home after a long day at work and find your parents arguing about something again. Nothing is new in this situation, but it is nonetheless stressful, and you want a quick fix for how you feel. When you are in a toxic relationship with yourself, you may choose unhealthy ways of coping to deal with the situation. you may go out with your friends and get drunk instead of talking to someone about it. Drinking means you will feel numb to whatever is happening around you and temporarily remove the pain.
You may be looking for a quick fix. Sure going out with your friends and drinking may help you for that night, but long-term, your inability to deal with your parents arguing (or whatever your stressful situation may be) will only grow bigger. Furthermore, you are doing a disservice to yourself by choosing to engage in unhealthy coping skills.
What To Do Instead: Practice healthy coping strategies. There are two primary coping skills: 1. Problem-Based Coping Skills and 2. Emotion-Based Coping Skills. Problem-based coping skills are when you need to change your circumstances. Emotion-based coping skills are when you need to find a different way to cope, and your situation may be out of control or something you may not want to change.
In the situation above- you can choose which type of coping skills you would like to practice. If you select a problem-focused approach, you may decide to talk to your parents and express how you feel when they argue all the time. You work with your therapist to develop a clear plan about how this conversation will make you feel more prepared and confident.
If you choose an emotion-focused approach, you may decide to call a friend and ask if you can come over. Instead of drinking, talk about how you are feeling. You may also choose to journal how you feel or go to the gym and lift weights.
The goal is not to always distract yourself from what is happening; sometimes, it is essential to face your feelings.
2. You frequently talk down to yourself.
How often have you talked down to yourself in ways you probably would never do with your loved ones? Some examples are-
- I am so dumb.
- I look so ugly.
- I am going to have a bad day.
- People won't like me.
- I am a failure.
- I am not good at X
Having an inner critic can be helpful at times and even necessary. However, if you are constantly engaging in negative self-talk, it may be an indictor that you are in a toxic relationship with yourself. The internal dialogue you carry within yourself determines your ability to believe in yourself and reach your potential. If you are in a toxic relationship with yourself, you may find yourself constantly undermining your abilities.
Negative self-talk can also be highly damaging to your self-esteem. We have all been conditioned through our parents, friends, and social media, reflecting our ability to show up for ourselves. You may have been raised hearing things like 'good girls don't do that, 'you can't do one thing right, or 'what will people say.' These are just a few examples, of course, but it will continue to negatively impact you and your experiences if you don't engage in self-reflection.
For example, if you wish to study abroad and move out of your parent's house, you may find your inner critic saying- 'good girls don't do that, or 'what will people say.' Unfortunately, this type of limited thinking may lead you to not capitalize on your opportunities and to stay within your comfort zone.
Continued focus on negative-self talk can also lead to more significant concerns like mental health problems, feeling helpless, and/or constantly being stressed out.
What To Do Instead: Giving your inner critic a name is extremely helpful. It allows you to separate your negative-self talk from yourself. You can see how silly some of the thoughts are by saying something like, 'Looks like Ursula is back again.' Or simply ask yourself, 'whose voice do I hear when I judge myself?'
Another way of minimizing negative self-talk can be by tracking your thoughts. Sometimes we don't even realize how often we talk down to ourselves until we see it on paper—challenging that with positive self-talk. The next time you find yourself saying you can't do something or have an unhelpful thought, challenge that thought. What proof do you have that this specific thought is true? What factual information do you have that can invalidate the current thought? What is another way of looking at this? If your friend had a similar thought, what would you tell them? What is a more balanced thought?
Negative self-talk can be minimized by distracting yourself. Try a grounding exercise (Read #4 for Grounding Exercise) or play your favorite song. Try to break out of the rumination cycle. Finally, my favorite, say it out loud and think, would I say this to my friend? If not, why am I speaking to myself this way?
3. You struggle with self-care.
WHO defines self-care as "the ability of individuals, families, and communities to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and to cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a healthcare provider." When people think of self-care, they naturally think of bubble baths, lighting candles, or binge-watching a tv show. While those may be on your list of self-care, it goes much deeper than that.
You may have heard the saying you can't pour for an empty cup. You pour from an empty cup when you neglect yourself and continue to show up for others. As a South Asian woman, your self-care definition may be different than others. We are taught to put ourselves after everyone else. You may be taught- you are a daughter, wife, sister, and mother first, leading you to be present for others constantly. It is common to feel uncomfortable or guilty when you first start to practice self-care.
More importantly, self-care is seen as an indulgence in our community. You may not have had a role model that regularly practiced self-care and, therefore, never thought about the consequences of not engaging in it.
When you are in a toxic relationship with yourself, it can be hard to be kind to yourself, making it harder to engage in self-care. If you were raised in a dysfunctional family, you may have been asked to care for others at the expense of your mental health. This can quickly lead to burnout, resentment, neglect, inability to show up as your authentic self, and mental health problems.
What To Do Instead: Self-care is not selfish. If you are okay, your ability to be fully present for others will be OK. Find a practice that works best for you. It can be as simple as doing a 5-minute breathing exercise daily, drinking plenty of water, and getting enough sleep. Work with a therapist to work through some of the emotions you feel as you start engaging in self-care.
You can also engage in a gratitude exercise. Reminding yourself things to be grateful for can help rewire your brain, allowing you to focus on things you have.
Download the Self-Care Worksheet to help you get started.
4. You are too hard on yourself.
How often have you found yourself forgiving other people but constantly focusing on your shortcomings and mistakes? When you are hard on yourself, you may find yourself ruminating on your mistakes long after they are over, engaging in negative self-talk, blaming yourself, and striving for perfection.
When you are in a toxic relationship with yourself, you may find a bully in your head that frequently makes you feel bad about yourself and making you feel like you are never good enough. When you do not meet certain expectations you have set for yourself, you feel overwhelmingly disappointed. I found that I was criticizing myself every time I corrected a mistake. I felt the need to go the extra mile to apologize over and over for my mistake. Even after that, I would continue to feel guilty about making a mistake in the first place.
What To Do Instead: It takes practice to let go of toxic habits. First, keep track of all your wins. You can either do this daily or weekly. We tend to forget our accomplishments when we are too hard on ourselves. Having a visual of your wins can help remind you you are human. It does not have to be anything significant, either. It can be as small as making your bed daily for a week.
Once you identify your wins, reward yourself. This reward can be anything you really enjoy and look forward to receiving. For example, it can be your favorite cup of coffee, buying yourself a present or taking a day off. Something that will remind you to celebrate all your hard work.
Next, allow yourself space to mess up. Making mistakes is essential, believe it or not. Your mistakes are part of your learning—foster room for reflection. Finally, learn to catch yourself and stop apologizing for things that you don't need to apologize for.
5. You enjoy the drama.
How often have you heard yourself say, 'how do I always end up in these situations?' You find yourself surrounded by drama and people that do not reflect your values. Sure there may be situations where you did not cause the drama, but you may secretly find yourself thriving on the drama.
When you are in a toxic relationship with yourself, it can feel like a never ending cycle. You make choices that are not good for your well-being like treating yourself poorly, engaging in harmful choices and cycles of self-doubt. It's a strangely captivating cycle. Breaking this cycle is important to enjoy a healthier relationship with yourself.
I was extremely uncomfortable when I first moved out of my parent's house. Unconsciously, I put myself in situations where I could recreate the chaos. Maybe you are not consciously putting yourself in situations, but you are engaging in other activating behaviors like watching hours and hours of television that would be dramatic. If it wasn't television, you probably know exactly the type of crowd you need to be around to create the drama.
When you are in an unhealthy relationship with yourself, you may not notice the toll these dramatic experiences take on you. When I watched hours of reality television, it didn't seem like a big deal until I realized I was always tired, my eyes would always feel heavy, and I would have headaches. It may be helpful to pay attention to how your body responds to certain situations or behaviors.
What To Do Instead: Take some time to engage in self-reflection. Look at your current environmental preferences, the type of people you choose to hang out with, your preferred entertainment choices, etc. Can you identify any negative patterns? What function is this behavior serving? Where can you start making changes.
6. You manipulate people.
It is hard to admit, let alone talk about how you may be manipulating people when you are stuck in a toxic relationship with yourself. Some examples are:
- Judging others
- Lying to people
- Withholding something until you get what you want
- Twisting the facts
- Constantly playing the victim
- Saying 'just kidding' after making hurtful comments
- Using people's insecurities against them
- Being passive aggressive
- Silent treatment
- Using people's past against them
Being in an unhealthy relationship with yourself might not seem out of the ordinary if you were raised in a dysfunctional family. You may have grown up watching these behaviors played out by people that were supposed to love and protect you, so you learn to do the same. Years of conditioning take time to unlearn.
You may not even realize you are doing it when you manipulate or hurt others around you. Working on breaking this cycle is essential so you treat others with respect.
What To Do Instead: Therapy and journaling are two ways effective ways to recognize your patterns. Therapy helps you understand your destructive behaviors, allows you to create boundaries for yourself, reframe negative thoughts, and learn how to respect another person's boundaries. It also helps understand healthy behaviors, especially if you have normalized some unhealthy behaviors.
Journaling will help track your current behaviors, process emotions, reflect on manipulative tendencies, and choose different outcomes for next time.
7. You ignore your own boundaries.
Many people do not stick to their boundaries because setting them is HARD! It is an uncomfortable experience that can create a lot of guilt in us. As children of immigrants, we have this profound obligation to support our family, given their sacrifices for us.
An important lesson I learned while setting boundaries is that it does not change the other person's behavior like we hope it does. Boundaries are about our protection and not necessarily about the other person. You get to choose what you will and will not tolerate. When you ignore your boundaries, you are telling other people it is okay to ignore your boundaries.
When in a toxic relationship with yourself, you may let people cross your boundaries and justify it to yourself.
What To Do Instead: You should focus on three things when setting boundaries- where do you need to draw a line, how do you know when your boundary is respected and when it is violated, and finally, sticking to your boundary. Read #7 to read the 3 tips in detail.
Remember this, you can choose to share your new ways of life, but in the end, only you are responsible for clarifying your boundaries and continuously reflecting on them. Anything that comes at a cost to your mental health should not and cannot be worth it. Setting boundaries is where you start to break the cycle of being in a toxic relationship with yourself.
8. You are uncomfortable spending alone time.
It may sound silly to spend alone time. However, there are many benefits to doing so. Spending alone time allows you to know yourself. It allows you to foster your creativity, get comfortable with yourself, nurture your relationships with others, and have time to reflect on your life.
If you are uncomfortable spending time alone, chances are you have low-self esteem, don't know how to structure your alone time, don't know yourself, you much rather not sit with what might come to the surface, or it is just an uncomfortable experience for you.
When you are in a toxic relationship with yourself, you may frequently be critical of yourself and find it hard to enjoy your own company.
What To Do Instead: There are so many ways to spend time with yourself: take yourself out on a date, check out the latest movie in the theatre near you, go for a hike, eat alone at a restaurant, set up a lovely picnic for yourself. These are just a few examples to get you started.
If spending time alone sounds extremely uncomfortable, you can start small. Maybe spend 5 minutes doing something you enjoy, for example, going on a short walk, listening to your favorite song, taking 5-10 deep breaths, or doing a quick body stretch. Then, as you feel more comfortable, you can continue adding more time. You can also start with things that allow you to have fun. This will nurture your inner child and make you much more likely to stick with it.
During the quality time, you spend with yourself, be mindful of not being on your phone or computer the entire time. Instead, utilize some time to have difficult conversations with yourself and engage in self-reflection: what habits do you want to change, what has been bothering you lately, what goals are you working on, or just check in to see how you feel when spending time alone and challenge yourself to sit with some of those emotions.
There is no 'wrong' time to assess your relationship with yourself. Your relationship with yourself is lifelong. So be curious about your behaviors, learn to dissect them as much as possible, and get to the root of the problem.
It takes time to unlearn some toxic behaviors, so be patient with yourself, and don't be surprised if you find yourself falling back into old ways of living. Extend some self-compassion to yourself when that does happen.
The more you know yourself, the more you will start to understand why you behave the way you do. The first step to ending toxic relationships with yourself is being honest and figuring out what started the toxic cycle. Can a toxic relationship with yourself be healed? Absolutely! Building a healthy relationship with yourself is possible.
I am rooting for you, always!