This applies to all kinds of relationships—love, friendships, or work.
Because any relationship that you put your heart in matters.
And any kind of toxic relationship can totally drain you.
You know deep inside you have to leave. Your friends told you. Your family told you.
Or even worse, you don’t have much contact with your friends and family anymore because of that relationship.
The reason you haven’t left (or maybe you left and came back) is not because you are weak or less than. The main reason is that you interact with a person who made you believe there’s no better opportunity for you, no aliveness or intensity outside of what you have with them. And also, that there’s probably a lot of loneliness waiting for you.
Another common reason is you wouldn’t know where to go or who to talk to, as your support system has disintegrated because of the constant focus and attention this person required from you.
If practically packing and leaving is completely overwhelming today, I want to help you to build the foundations in your world that will make your departure manageable when you are ready.
1. Build a support system.
Toxic people are good at one skill: isolating you. You have no social life because this boss is so demanding; you don’t see your friends or family because your partner doesn’t like them.
You want to make time for those people you have been leaving behind. It might require some honesty and humility if you have to apologize or share that actually behind closed doors this relationship is not what you wanted the world to believe it was.
If you burned too many bridges and find yourself still isolated, or if you want to accelerate the process, hire a professional. A professional will help you to process what happened and guide you to reclaim your power step-by-step until you are strong enough to take action.
If you don’t have the money to hire someone, join a group on social media where you can talk with people in the same situation. Or, check where you live to see if there are free circles doing the same thing. Or start your own community live or online.
You want to find people who are not judging you for being where you are. And you want to find a place where you can be be honest about needing help, because chances are you didn’t leave yet because you can’t see yourself doing it all alone.
And you don’t have to.
2. Write a list of what goes wrong.
This is especially for the person who has already tried to leave, but their toxic counterpart is winning them back by sweet-talking them.
Make a list of all the moments when that person made you feel terrible—all of them. And also write all the beautiful events you were not fully present in or attentive with, because you were in your mind looping about how to make the toxic one feel better, waiting for them to call, or downward-spiraling in any way.
Keep that list and read it each time you are tempted to apologize, reach out, or come back to that toxic person. Or, to be precise, each time you are willing to sit on your most basic needs to put theirs first like always.
What this does is teach your nervous system that the problem doesn’t come from you not doing the right thing, but from their toxic behavior triggering your insecurities.
Having a written list in front of your eyes will make that clear. This understanding will give you some energy back, by stopping the constant self-attack and overthinking in your head.
3. Challenge the narratives in your mind.
This is the part where a professional would really accelerate the process. Because they would catch the limiting patterns with the vocabulary you use when you speak. You can do this by yourself too, but it requires a lot of awareness.
You want to catch all the stories you tell to yourself about being trapped. Things like:
“I can’t go for a walk with my friends…because it would end up with a scene.”
“There’s no smarter boss who can teach me that much.”
And instead, you want to rephrase it:
“I am choosing to not go for a walk with my friends because my partner’s reaction to that scares me.”
“I am choosing to stay working with that boss, because due to the fact he is valued in my industry, I give him/her permission to treat me badly.”
It’s not really about “taking responsibility.” It’s about acknowledging another choice is possible. And recognizing that the behavior of the toxic person is not decent.
Be vigilant about any thought that confirms the best experience is only with that person. It might be what they sold you. But you know that’s not true, because for one high moment, you repay it with a river of misery.
Your mind finding excuses for remaining there is just an unintegrated part of you who is afraid. The toxic person managed to convince this part of you that your life without them would feel like an empty hole.
4. Have some love for the wounded part of you who wants to stay there or go back.
The celebration is: not all of you wants to stay there. Otherwise, you wouldn’t read this article.
Toxic people trigger our wounds. This wounded part of you needs extra support, love, acceptance, and integration. It needs to be made conscious that you can build a nurturing relationship with it. Only then will it stop buying into that polluting dynamic again and again.
5. Give up the hope this person will change.
Let’s be concise and clear here. Unless this person acknowledges his/her behavior is a problem, apologizes, and decides to engage in serious self-work, there will be no change. Period.
When you accept this, a grieving process will start. And it will stop this constant loop of hope and disappointment that is taking so much energy from you.
Emotionally speaking, the grieving process will help you shift from anxiety, which is a constant energy leak, to sadness. Sadness is challenging too, but it is temporary and will fade in time.
And it has a superpower. It helps you to release and cleanse the tensions held in your nervous system from working so hard to make things work.
6. Find some evidence that you are wanted somewhere else.
There’s never only one amazing place to work, one coolest friend to hang with, or one and only best love relationship in your life.
Unless your mind decides so. And then it feels true for you.
It’s time to take action to find evidence that challenges that belief.
It’s toxic at work? Send resumes elsewhere and go to interviews, even if it’s not the job of your dreams and you are not ready to take it. It will give you the courage to apply later on for some specific positions you don’t yet dare to dream about. Or it will mirror to you something positive about yourself that can give you the courage to step in entrepreneurship.
Same with people. Meet people who love you as you are now. Even if you find the rest of the world outside of that toxic person boring. The world outside of the toxic relationship can feel boring, because relationships with toxic people are charged with a certain intensity—and this intensity makes us feel alive. It is like a drug, because there is a release of chemicals in our system that happens in their company.
You are not really putting yourself out there to meet new people in order to change that mechanism. You do it because we need to be seen and heard by others to feel worthy. That’s how it works. You do it to put your attention on you feeling safe and met, instead of working hard to meet the abusive needs of someone else constantly, and losing yourself in the process.
When you notice you are wanted, suddenly another world outside of the one you are living in right now appears.
You put yourself out there to regulate your nervous system, to connect, to experience what emotionally healthy feels like.
But mainly, you want to activate your imagination about something else being possible, because that is what precedes choice and action.
These steps will give you some vital energy back, help you to resource, and create in your mind some room for other possibilities—until you feel capable of leaving.
Once you’re back on your feet, you will still want to investigate that wounded part of you that was compelled to a toxic situation no matter how miserable it made you feel.
You are not broken. You are not weak. You need some help to rewire your nervous system in a way that the chemistry activation you feel in the presence of toxic people will now be released in the presence of emotionally healthy beings.