When I look at relationships from a South Asian lens, toxic elements in any relationship are often disguised or supported by us as a part of cultural practice or expectation, be it romantic, familial or platonic friendships. I have been part of family circles where I have noticed how an individual is unhealthily passive or barely has a say in any decisions. I always wondered in my early years, 'is that what way they think relationships are supposed to be like?'
South Asian men and women are not taught how to identify toxicity in relationships. Instead, they are supposed to consider it a part of our culture and feel the need to follow it.
As a therapist, I have had a lot of clients seeking guidance amid their relationship journey. The common gap is the inability to identify the toxicity and then figuring out what to do.
We do realize that some relationships are bad for us and, it is time to let them go. What people struggle with is the decision to either stay or leave.
There is also the added South Asian cultural pressure of ‘log kya kahenge’ and to keep up appearances in the family and social circles which also blocks the person from opening up about the issues that prevent them from living an authentic and happy life.
We are taught the names of animals; how to write, how to code. But our schools/parents never teach us about relationships- how to take care of them, how much to commit, what expectations can be made and most important- when to let go?
Talk to any person who has been in a toxic relationship. They will tell you nothing good can ever come out of that. You have to walk out of it. The worst thing about being in a toxic relationship is that we fail to see the red flags as we are always trying to make things right.
While there are many reasons for a relationship to become a toxic one, there is one grave consequence; it affects a person mentally deeply. Nothing will affect our well-being more than the quality of the relationships in our lives. It takes a toll on your mind, body and spirit.
But what if you don't even realize your relationship is toxic?
From my 3 years of experience, let me give you examples of signs of a toxic relationship:
Feeling bad all the time: Sleeping hollow every day and waking up feels the same. You feel the sting when you look at other couples and often find yourself wanting the same bond.
The "gotcha" state: Questions asked by my client’s partner were - "Would you rather go out with your friends or stay home with me? Sometimes, statements become traps “You seemed to enjoy talking to your boss tonight”. They just find the glory in catching you out. Everyone makes mistakes however, your mistakes will be used to prove that you are too wrong, too stupid or too something.
No is a dirty word: If you are only accepted when you are saying yes, it’s probably time to say no. No is an important word in any relationship. Don’t strike it from your vocabulary.
Maintaining a scorecard: your partner always wants to show you how wrong you are. Humans do make mistakes. It is how we learn, how we grow and how we find out the people who do not deserve us. Partners who bring this up over and over will keep you feeling guilty. Having to blame you continuously is a way to control and shame you.
These are just a few signs of toxicity in any relationship. Once we know and are aware, how do we move on from it? Whether it is because we are dependent on our partner or we are too scared to leave our self-esteem has been broken into pieces over the years. It will often seem easier to stay in a dysfunctional and unhealthy relationship than to end it and make a clean break.
Realize that you deserve healthy love- our definition of love and self-love changes in a toxic relationship. You need to start loving yourself- flaws and all. The more you believe you deserve healthy love, the more you will be able to be aware of and identify the red flags.
Acceptance- We can only cope with the loss of the relationship by fully accepting and understanding all that was wrong with it. The end of any relationship creates grief. It is natural for you to go through hurt, anger, loss and sadness.
Remember who you are- you were someone before you were in a toxic relationship right? So detox yourself from all the irrational beliefs you adapted during the relationship.
Coping strategies- log your feelings daily so that you have solid evidence of how your partner made you feel. This will help you distinguish between feelings and facts.
Never wait for an apology or closure- an apology will seldom come. You need to know that it is them who have to change and at the same time knowing that ending the relationship was the best thing you could do for yourself and moving on.
Embrace forgiveness- You may think that you have to wait until the feelings of hurt and anger are resolved before you can forgive but it is not true. Forgiving someone is an intentional act to restore your mental peace.
‘Be kind to yourself and remember that you always have a choice.’