Are you in a toxic relationship with yourself? Keep reading for practical tips to help you work through some of your toxic behaviors and nurture a healthy relationship with yourself.
When you are raised in a dysfunctional family, it is normal to adapt to 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 engage in self-reflection that allows you to see how certain behaviors may be pouring into your relationships, leading you too uncomfortable but necessary work. As I was working through my healing journey, I realized there was still this constant unhappiness. 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 that felt safe to me.
If you are anything like me, this may all sound familiar. This post will learn about ways to identify your toxic behaviors and steps you can take to get out of an unhealthy relationship with yourself.
What is a toxic relationship with yourself?
If there is one person you will be spending your whole life with, it is yourself. How exhausting must it be to fight yourself constantly? You talk to yourself in ways you would never speak to your loved ones, you don't trust yourself, do not attempt to get to know yourself, cross your boundaries all the time- the list can keep going.
7 Signs you are in a toxic relationship with yourself:
- 1You engage in unhealthy coping strategies.
- 2You frequently talk down to yourself
- 3You struggle with self-care.
- 4You are too hard on yourself.
- 5You thrive on drama.
- 6You manipulate people.
- 7You ignore your own boundaries.
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 give you temporary relief to your problem, but it does not always help long-term.
You come home after a long day at work and find your parents arguing about something again. There is nothing new in this situation, but it is nonetheless stressful, and you want a quick fix from the way you are feeling. When you engage in toxic behaviors with yourself, you may choose to go out with your friends and get drunk instead of talking to someone about it. Drinking means you will feel numb to whatever is going around you and temporarily take away the pain.
You are 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. By choosing to engage in unhealthy coping skills, you are doing a disservice to yourself.
What To Do Instead: Practice healthy coping strategies. There are two main types of 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 choose 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 out how you feel or go to the gym and lift weights.
The goal is not to always distract yourself from what is happening, and sometimes it is important to face what you are feeling.
2. You frequently talk down to yourself
How many times have you talked down to yourself in ways that you probably would never do with your loved ones? Some examples are-
Having an inner critic can be helpful at times and even necessary. However, when that changes in negative self-talk, it starts becoming toxic. The inner dialogue you carry within yourself determines your ability to believe in yourself and reach your potential.
Negative self-talk can be extremely damaging to your self-esteem. We have all been conditioned through our parents, friends, 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 affects how you speak to yourself 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.' This type of limited thinking may lead you to not capitalize on your opportunities 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: I have found 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 just saying something like, 'Looks like Ursula is back again.' 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, challenge that thought. What proof do you have?
Negative self-talk can be minimized by distracting yourself. Try a grounding exercise (Read #4 for Grounding Exercise) or play your favorite song. Finally, my favorite, say it out loud and think to yourself, 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. When you neglect yourself and continue to show up for others, you pour from an empty cup. As South Asian women especially, your definition of self-care may be different compared to other people. We are taught to put ourselves after everyone else. You may be taught- you are a daughter, wife, sister, 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.
If you were raised in a dysfunctional family, self-care might be hard for you. You were 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. 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. When I first started taking for myself, I would constantly feel guilty about having the luxury to take some time for myself. Journaling out some of the things that came up was extremely helpful. I always say- engage in self-care. If you are okay, your ability to be fully present for others will be okay.
Download Self-Care Worksheet to help you get started.
4. You are too hard on yourself.
How many times have you found yourself forgiving other people, but you constantly focus on your shortcomings and mistakes when it comes to you. When you are hard on yourself, you ruminate on your mistakes long after they are over, engage in negative self-talk, blame yourself, and strive for perfection.
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 had 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. Keep track of all your wins. You can either do this daily or weekly. When we are too hard on ourselves, we tend to forget our accomplishments. Having a visual of your wins can help remind you you are human. It does not have to be anything big either. It can be as small as making your bed every day for a week.
Allow yourself space to mess up. Making mistakes is important, believe it or not. Your mistakes are part of your learning—foster room for reflection.
5. You thrive on drama.
How many times 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 find yourself thriving on the drama.
When I first moved out of my parent's house, I was extremely uncomfortable. Unconsciously, I put myself in situations where I could recreate the chaos. I was watching hours and hours of television that would be dramatic in nature. If it wasn't television, I knew exactly the type of crowd I needed to be around to create the drama.
When you are in a toxic 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. You must take time to understand yourself and ask yourself what toxic behavior your body is responding to.
What To Do Instead: Take some time to engage in self-reflection. Take a 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 the fact that you may be manipulating people. Some examples are:
If you were raised in a dysfunctional family, being in a toxic relationship might not seem out of the ordinary. You grew up watching these behaviors being played out by people who were supposed to love and protect you, so you learn to do the same. Years of conditioning take time to unlearn.
What To Do Instead: Therapy and journaling are two ways effective ways to stop manipulating people. Therapy helps you understand your destructive behaviors, allows you to create boundaries for yourself, and learn how to respect another person's boundaries. It also helps you work on your self-esteem by dealing with your insecurities and practicing self-love. Journal your progress.
7. You ignore your own boundaries.
A lot of people do not stick to their boundaries because setting boundaries is HARD! It is an uncomfortable experience that can create a lot of guilt in us. As children of immigrants, we have this profound sense of 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 your boundaries.
When you are 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 making your boundaries clear 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.
Be curious about your behaviors, learn to dissect them as much as possible, and get to the root of the problem. I continue to reflect on my behaviors and have come to understand that the toxic relationship with myself is a response to my traumatic experiences.
The more you get to know yourself, the more you will start to understand why you behave the way you behave. The first step to ending toxic relationships with yourself is being honest and figuring out what started the toxic cycle. Can toxic relationships be healed? Absolutely! Building a healthy relationship with yourself is possible.