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Toxic relationships are everywhere. Romances, friendships, relationships with superiors, colleagues or one’s own parents can be toxic. It’s hard to clearly define what a toxic relationship is. But there are some pretty distinct warning signs:

1. You feel uncomfortable 

One of the most important signals of a toxic connection is that it consistently makes you feel bad. That alone is a sign that you should consider – and revise – the relationship from all perspectives. Even if you don’t have a clear indicator, constant stress and anxiety regarding your relationship are never, ever, a good sign.

2. You’re walking on eggshells

In a healthy relationship, everything just … sort of runs itself. Of course there are fights, and naturally every relationship is work in some way – but you shouldn’t constantly feel like you have to work on each other (and especially yourself) to keep the friendship going. In a toxic relationship, you do have that feeling. Constantly. And while you’re doing everything you can to be a good friend, your inadequacy is always being used against you by the other person. Unfortunately, you can’t get it right anyway. 

3. Me, me, me 

In a toxic relationship, one of the two actors is mainly interested in – you guessed it – themselves. This is accompanied by the (perhaps unconscious) expectation that everyone else must be, too. Therefore, it is a clear warning sign when the relationship or friendship is only concerned with the needs of one of the people involved, and the other one usually plays a subordinate or caring role. Often in toxic relationships, one person will always have the heavier lot. The one that needs to be talked about. You are doing badly at work? Your friend is doing worse. You are grieving a great loss? Compared to their loss? Piece of cake. Remember: In general, comparisons are never the right way to go in a friendship. 

4. A “no” is not accepted 

If you feel like you always have to be there for them, always have to make time for them, always have to be of their exact opinion – maybe you are deeply stuck in a toxic relationship. In a healthy relationship, the other person respects your boundaries and accepts that you don’t have to be available all the time to be a good friend, partner, or coworker. Maybe it’s enough to be more clear with your needs here, and to break the habit of trying to please the other person. But if that doesn’t change the other person’s excessive expectations, maybe you should say “no” to this connection once and for all.

We all make mistakes. A good friend points this out to you, but doesn't judge you for it at first.

5. What you do, you do it wrong

We all make mistakes. A good friend points this out to you, but doesn’t judge you for it at first. Your behavior may well lead to an argument – but they usually won’t threaten to terminate your friendship right away. In a toxic relationship, you can never please the other person, and they will never tire of punishing your misbehavior by constantly blaming you or even temporarily cutting off contact. 

6. No room for privacy

Your partner, one of your parents, or your boss makes you feel like you’re always accountable to him or her? This is also a major red flag. You have a right to privacy, a right to secrets, and a right to your own life outside of the relationship. A manipulative person always wants to know every detail, including, for example, what some third-party has said about him or her. Be aware that this is often just a tool to keep control and have something to hold against you at the right moment. 

7. Lies

You keep catching the other person lying, but he or she won’t admit it or apologize? Bad sign. Full stop.

No one is worth risking your (mental) health for their approval.

8. Gaslighting 

“You are too emotional. / You are imagining things. / You are misremembering things. / You’re a liar. / All the problems we have, we have only because you are so childish, stupid and difficult.” Sound familiar? Chances are you’re being gaslit. The term gaslighting comes from a 1938 play: In “Gas Light,” a man tries to convince his wife she’s crazy – by intentionally questioning her until she no longer knows what’s true and what’s imagined. The “Gaslighter” may also be trying to make you feel insecure by telling you how strange or inappropriate others find you and your behavior are. 

Of course, all of this can happen in a healthy relationship as well, and can simply be a sign of concern, honest sincerity, or even just a misunderstanding. However, if these situations occur continuously, you may be dealing with a manipulative person. What can help now: 1. Talk about it. Do others also have a strange feeling about the person? How would your other friends feel about the situation? 2. Take a look in the mirror. Often people are manipulated primarily because they let it happen. Do you tend to place the blame on yourself? Are you a people pleaser? If so, you’re a toxic person’s meal ticket. Try to change your own behavior, and see how that changes the situation between the two of you. 3. Break up! End relationships with people who are not good for you. Long-term toxic relationships can lead to serious mental health problems such as depression or anxiety. Listen to your gut – and if it warns you about a person, trust it when in doubt. No one is worth risking your (mental) health for their approval. And: A real friend wouldn’t want that anyway.