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Breaking Free from Toxic Relationship Cycle

Updated: Apr 30, 2023

A toxic relationship can be emotionally draining and can negatively impact one's mental health, self-esteem, and overall well-being. Unfortunately, many people find themselves stuck in a toxic relationship, where they keep repeating the same patterns and behaviors, unable to break free. These relationships can be romantic, but also those we have with our parents, siblings, or friends. Most of us are not even aware of the toxicity until we have felt the consequences to our physical and mental health. If you're in an unhealthy relationship cycle and want to break free, here are some steps you can take.

a couple in a toxic relationship after a fight
Photo by Alex Green - Pexels

Recognize the signs of a toxic relationship

The first step in breaking free from a toxic relationship cycle is recognizing that you're in one.

Some signs of an unhealthy relationship include constant criticism, gaslighting, manipulation, control, and lack of trust. If you're experiencing any of these behaviors in your relationship, it's time to take a step back and evaluate whether this is a healthy and sustainable relationship.

Identify the root cause

It's essential to identify the root cause of the toxic relationship you are in. Take some time to examine your previous relationships and consider the possibility that they were unhealthy as well. Try to find the common thread among those relationships.

Write things down, search deeper than ever before, and find clues.

  • Are you attracted to the same type of people?

  • Do you have a pattern of getting into relationships with controlling or manipulative partners?

Understanding the underlying cause can help you break free from the cycle and make healthier relationship choices in the future. This stage may be painful and even shocking to you, but understanding patterns is of the utmost importance on the path of change.

Set boundaries

Now that you have discovered that you may have been allowing behaviors you do not deserve or are uncomfortable with, it is time to set some boundaries.

This part may be difficult, and you are not alone in doubting yourself and feeling too anxious to follow through. However, setting boundaries is crucial when it comes to breaking free from a toxic relationship cycle. Boundaries help you establish what is and what isn't acceptable behavior in a relationship.

You can start by communicating your boundaries to your partner and letting them know what you're not comfortable with. Come from a place of confidence, and do not let them bully you or gaslight you during this stage. If your partner continues to cross your boundaries, it's time to reevaluate whether this is a healthy relationship for you.

Seek support

Breaking free from a toxic relationship cycle can be challenging, and it's essential to have a support system in place. You would be surprised how critical that support system is for finding that strength inside you.

Your loved ones know you better than anyone and will build you up and give you that boost you so desperately need. You can seek support from friends and family, but also a therapist. They can help you process your emotions and provide you with the necessary tools to move forward.

Practice self-care

Self-care is crucial any day of the week, but especially during difficult times like this.

You can start by taking care of your physical and emotional health, practicing mindfulness, and engaging in activities that bring you joy. Prioritizing your self-care can help you build your self-esteem and make healthier relationship choices in the future.

Take responsibility for your part in the cycle

This doesn't mean blaming yourself for your partner's behavior but rather acknowledging the patterns and behaviors you bring to the relationship. By taking responsibility for your actions, you can make changes in your patterns and ensure you do not allow anyone to treat you the same way again.

Let go of guilt and shame

Many people in toxic relationships may feel guilty or ashamed about their situation.

Let go of these feelings and recognize you're not responsible for your partner's behavior. Anyone can find themselves in a similar situation; most of the time, the toxic person is highly skilled at manipulating their partners.

Guilt and shame can prevent you from taking the necessary steps to break free from the cycle and can lead to mental health issues. It's essential to work through these emotions with a therapist or support group in order to move on with a feeling of self-worth.

Create a plan for leaving

If you're in a toxic relationship, it's crucial to have a plan for leaving.

This can involve finding a safe place to stay, reaching out to a support system, and seeking legal or financial assistance if needed. It's important to remember that leaving a toxic relationship can be dangerous. Therefore, it's essential to have a detailed plan in place to ensure your safety. If you know you may not have the courage to do it alone, ensure you prepare a friend or a family member to be there for you or protect you.

Recover from addiction

If you were in a relationship where drug or alcohol abuse was involved, you know it is extremely important to step away from that situation. If you found the strength to attend rehab and get on the path of freeing yourself from addiction, going back to that person will ruin months of work you had put into your recovery. Letting go of toxic relationships after rehab is imperative, so do everything in your power to distance yourself from them and focus on your recovery.

Focus on your personal growth

Getting out of an unhealthy relationship is an opportunity for personal growth and development. Focus on building your self-esteem, setting and achieving goals, and engaging in activities that bring you joy. By focusing on your personal growth, you will feel empowered and build the resilience and confidence needed to make healthier relationship choices in the future.

Break free from a toxic relationship

Breaking free from a toxic relationship cycle can be a challenging and emotional process.

However, by taking the necessary steps to prioritize your well-being and build healthier relationship patterns, you can escape from the cycle and create a happier future for yourself. Remember that you deserve to be in a healthy and loving relationship, and taking the necessary steps to change the cycle is the first step in that direction.


This is a guest post written for Dr. Jordan Harris.

Dr. Jordan Harris is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists with over 10 years of experience. He's worked in various fields from addictions, to kids, to psychiatric wards. Currently his clinical specialty is working with couples and marriages.

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