The terms “toxic person” and “toxic relationship” get thrown around a lot, especially when it comes to intimate relationships and divorce. But what does this toxicity really mean?
Heidi Brocke is a retired chiropractor-turned toxic relationship awareness and healing specialist. After leaving her own toxic relationship to save herself, she turned the skills she learned through her escape and her chiropractic knowledge into a career by helping individuals realize the unhealthiness of the relationships they’re in and make an escape plan.
In This Episode
It is very common for someone to be experiencing toxic behaviors and not realize them.
What is “toxic”?
Toxic is not a diagnosis. It’s an adjective used to describe a relationship that, in its current status, is unhealthy for you physically, mentally, or emotionally. Because it is an adjective and not a diagnosis, it can only be used to describe that person to yourself and not to anyone else, i.e. “he’s toxic for me” and not “he’s a toxic person”.
A toxic person’s goal’s in a relationship are different from other people’s goals. They normally seek self-security whereas an emotionally-driven person is looking for companionship, friendship, intimacy, emotional support, etc.
A toxic personality cannot get enough from their own life to make them feel secure (rewarding career, love from their children, happiness from friends). Therefore, they place people in their lives so they can feel secure. Those people will allow them to feel control, power, attention, and admiration. If you are an emotionally supportive person, you will naturally give the toxic person these things without realizing anything is wrong.
“Frog in boiling water syndrome” – A frog put into a pot of boiling water will immediately jump out but if the water starts out warm and gradually gets hotter until it boils, it won’t feel the danger. In a toxic relationship, if a person enters a relationship that they immediately see to be toxic or feels dangerous to them, they’ll leave. But if the relationship starts off well and then becomes more and more complex, they won’t realize it until it’s too difficult to leave.
Toxic relationships don’t have to be intimate relationships. They can be friends, family, or co-workers.
When an intimate relationship begins, the emotionally supportive person will either say or insinuate the type of relationship goals they’re looking for (companionship, emotional support, etc). The toxic person will respond that they are looking for the exact same things when, in reality, they aren’t.
What are some examples of what toxic behaviors might look like?
The toxic person is often emotionally abusive. That means that if they can say or do something to make you feel a certain way, they will feel in control of your emotions. The emotionally supportive person will then look to the toxic person to validate their feelings because they just want to be good enough and accepted.
Red Flag Behaviors – these will either get an emotional rise out of the emotionally supportive person (control for the toxic person) or make the emotionally supportive look for support (self-security for the toxic person):
Criticism, comparison, and name-calling
Overstepping Boundaries – The toxic person will always step over the boundaries the emotionally supportive person has set because it allows them to feel in control and secure.
Fear – This doesn’t necessarily mean fear for your physical safety. It could also mean fear of angering or upsetting the toxic person. If someone says “I’ll be in trouble if I go out with my friends”, that’s a red flag.
Tension, Anxiety, and Fear – Heidi says that her experience as a chiropractor has taught her that tension is often a sign that something is wrong. This tension and anxiety is normally described as a feeling of “walking on eggshells” and can be there from the very beginning of the relationship. In the beginning, an emotionally supportive person might chalk up the fear and tension to the toxic person having a bad day. But that “innate intelligence” (a term from Heidi’s chiropractor days) is the body’s way of telling you that something is wrong.
The first step with any change is always awareness. In a toxic relationship, what triggers awareness? Things like being deeply troubled, depression, anxiety, a feeling that you can’t continue, opening up to friends?
The trigger is different for everyone but it might include someone from the outside pointing out the issues, a feeling of imminent danger, or a triggering event.
You cannot leave until you’re ready.
In order to leave the toxic person, you need to recognize their need for your emotional response and the sense of control you give them. That recognition will help you understand how they behave and help you leave them.
Why does abuse in a toxic relationship escalate?
Toxic people are seeking a reaction. They start with name-calling but when the name they’re calling you doesn’t make you react, they move to a meaner name. Then they move on to breaking things, to blocking doorways, and finally to hurting you.
Once you realize you’re in a relationship with a toxic person, what do you do? Starting to stand your ground and demand different behavior is challenging, and could even be dangerous. Do you have recommendations for how someone can do this?
You need to make them go away by stopping to feed them the things they’re seeking. You do this by changing the way you interact with them so that you don’t give them an emotional reaction they depend on.
What happens when that toxic behavior comes from teenage or adult children?
Some of the most painful clients Heidi works with are parent-child relationships because the emotionally supportive person needs to cut contact with the toxic parent or child.
Teenagers are naturally toxic – self-centered, materialistic, and looking for an emotional reaction. So for parents who have already dealt with or left a toxic relationship, dealing with a teenager is easy.
Any last takeaways?
It’s not about the relationship, it’s about the control. Once you file for divorce, you will find the toxic person not showing up to meetings, court, or refusing to compromise or sign documents. This is the new form of control.
After 23 years in healthcare practicing as a primary care physician, Doctor ofChiropractic, and acupuncturist, Dr/ Heidi Brocke continues to expand her professional reaches into the realm of toxic relationship healing. Emotional abuse awareness and healing is her specialty as she not only has had extensive experience working with those whose lives have been affected by emotional and narcissistic abuse but she herself is a survivor as well which makes her very relatable and trusted by clients and followers.
Mandy Walker is a divorce mediator and Certified Divorce Financial Analyst® based in Boulder, Colorado. She works with individuals and couples helping them to end their relationships with dignity and respect, creating an understanding of the process and their options so they can feel confident in the decisions they’re making.