“I was in so many bad relationships, I felt like my soul curled up and died. I was a shell of a person with no spiritual center. Everything was drained out of me.”

A patient of mine who had spent the better part of her life in soul-sapping, spirit-bending, unhealthy relationships said those devastating words to me. The cumulative effect from her critical parents, demanding boss, unkind spouse, unappreciative children, back-stabbing coworkers, and gossipy fair-weather friends had taken a toll on her emotional, physical, and spiritual health. She was depressed, anxious, constantly ill, had low self-esteem, and felt hopeless and abandoned.

This woman is not alone in her misery. Destructive relationships are so common as to be the rule rather than the exception in many people’s lives today. I have found-in my experience as a psychotherapist-that if a person is involved in one unhealthy relationship, there are usually other toxic people standing in line to take a shot at her.

Please bear in mind that destructive relationships don’t have to be-and usually aren’t-physically abusive. Having that narrow focus about what is healthy or unhealthy is not helpful to you. Let me take a moment and quickly define the 4 types of abusive relationships. How many apply to your life?
Verbally abusive-which may include name-calling, critical comments, threats or lies.
Emotionally abusive-which include such behaviors as humiliation in public or private, degrading one to make them feel small and weak or “less than,” being jealous, possessive or controlling; intimidation, needing to know where one is at all times or using interrogation techniques; blaming someone for difficulties and disappointments.
Sexually abusive-behaviors include sexual harassment or discrimination (on the job, for example), sexual coercion or assault, or being sexually demanding.
Physically abusive-involves such behaviors as pushing, striking, choking, restraining, and not letting one leave a room.

Before you can leave a destructive relationship, you must decide what the “payoff” is for you to remain there. Is it loneliness, fear, money, laziness? Is the cost of being in this relationship dearer than the payoff you have received? What has this relationship cost you? Your self-respect, your happiness, your integrity, your spirit? Do you believe you deserve more in your life. Only you can answer that and take the difficult but necessary steps to remove yourself from an unhealthy relationship.

Learning to stand up for yourself is an important step. Because women are usually raised to be people-pleasers, they are fearful of speaking their mind or stating that they are valuable, however if you do not do this for yourself, no one else will do it for you.

Know that you always have options and you have the right to say “no” or change your mind. If someone asks you to do something, instead of reflexively agreeing and then regretting it, you can either say, “Let me think about that and get back to you,” or, “I won’t be able to do that but thank you for asking.” Are you afraid that person will think badly of you? Well, they might, but so what? Is a demanding person who has no regard for your time and energy one whose opinions you value or someone you truly want to be friends with?

You deserve to be happy. You deserve to set and maintain boundaries. Will everyone around you be thrilled with this new person? No, but they will either learn to respect you more than they presently do, or they will disappear from your life and find others to abuse. Either way, you will have regained your self-respect and spirit. It’s a win-win situation!

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