Toxic Relationships

Posted by: Asa Don Brown on March 25, 2013 1:04 pm

A toxic relationship is any relationship that is unfavorable to you or others.  The foundations of any relationship, healthy or not, are most commonly established upon mutual admiration and respect, but can in time become remarkably unhealthy.  It is the poisonous atmosphere of the relationship that distinguishes a merely bad or troublesome relationship from a toxic relationship.   Toxic relationships are interfering with those involved from living a productive and healthy life. 

Toxic relationships can be caused by two polar opposite personality types.  The toxicity is caused by the incompatibility of the persons involved in the relationship.  In some cases, there is no one necessarily to blame for the toxicity, rather the toxicity is caused by the inability to commune and establish healthy boundaries, conversations, and communication. 

Not all toxic relationships are caused by two unhealthy people.  It does not always take two to tango. In some cases, unhealthy individuals target and prey upon others for their own personal needs and gratification.  It is a slanted desire for a relationship.  The individual who is preying is seeking to emotionally and psychologically dehydrate others, removing whatever is possible for their own greedy benefits.  Such individuals have a manipulative style, and will frequently triangulate and maneuver their way into any relationship that they perceive as beneficial. 

People who are toxic are rarely aware of their own toxicity.  Toxic personalities have an unawareness of their own personality type.  They are too self-absorbed and preoccupied with their own emotions, interests, needs, and goals to be aware of the needs, goals, interests and emotions of others. 

Toxic relationships are: 

  • unfavorable:  toxic relationships lack the expression of approval or emotional support.
  • unhealthy:  such relationships are imbalanced, unfavorable, and unaware.
  • unwholesome: they are characterized by lacking any moral, ethical, or positive principles.
  • noxious:  the harm of a toxic relationship is that they are not only unpleasant to be around, but are poisonous, leading to an emotional, psychological, and possible, physical death.
  • hazardous:  toxic relationships are not conducive to life, and most commonly centered on high risk behaviors, emotions, and outcomes.
  • poisonous:  when a toxic relationship becomes poisonous, it is attacking the very nature of the persons involved.  It is not uncommon for such poison to prove malicious and extremely painful for all who encounter the relationship. 
  • deadly:  unfortunately, toxic relationships can be hazardous for one’s health.  Toxic relationships have lead to the purposeful harm of self and others.
  • injurious:  toxic personality types are frequently malicious, conniving, immoral, conspiring, triangulating, and unwilling to recognize the needs or welfare of others.


Not all persons who are toxic are psychopaths, but those who are psychopaths can have the gravest effect upon you, themselves, and others.  “Psychopaths are very effective at masking their selves from those they wish to manipulate or con.”  (Babiak & Hare, 2007, p. 67)  Psychopaths are people who are suffering from a chronic psychological disorder.  The personality of a psychopath is often an individual who is impulsive, imposing, extravagant, flamboyant, resplendent, swanky, and most commonly pretentious.  Such individuals are rarely aware of how they effect others.  It is not uncommon for psychopaths to have an overly inflated sense of self and an unrealistic set of expectations of others.  The psychopath’s traits often encompass superficial, grandiose, deceitful, self-loving, self-absorbed, self-obsessed, conceited, self-centered, and egotistical styles.  In a majority of cases, psychopaths are narcissistic, having behaviors of an antisocial personality. 

Psychopaths are rarely in touch with their own feelings, emotional wellbeing, and psychological needs.  They are individuals who lack such personal insight, that they will most commonly lack empath for others and self.  It is rare for a psychopath to acknowledge when they are wrong or to accept personal responsibility.  Psychopaths are individuals who crave administration, attention, and the acceptance of others, but will never reveal their need for acceptance or approval.  It is essential that a psychopath receive psychotherapy and treatment for their mental conditions. 

Why would anyone knowingly want to befriend an antisocial, psychopathic personality type?  “It is easy to become entranced by them.  They are the darling, high-maintenance sports cars of the manipulators.” (McCoy, 2006, p. 107) Psychopaths are extremely concerned with their appearance and how they are being portrayed by others.  If a psychopath feels he or she is being described, tagged, or designated any label other than a desired identity, they will do whatever is necessary to reverse or redeem their character.  Likewise, it is also important to remember that psychopathic individuals are like anyone else; they too deserve the right to befriended, loved, and admired.  If a psychopathic individual receives psychotherapy, they are capable of gaining control over their own deviant behavior, allowing them to lead a healthy and positive life. 


Toxic relationships are not always made-up of psychopathic or people with psychological conditions or symptomology.  Toxic relationships may be made up of good people with bad or poor relations. 

Importantly, toxic relationships can be made-up of poor choices, bad decisions, and wrong turns in life.  Toxic relationships are like a good pasta that has been overcooked.  An overcooked pasta may have started off as eatable, but in time if too much heat is applied; a good, eatable pasta becomes barely eatable or unable to be consumed.


How do you know if you are in a toxic relationship?  There are many warning signs that may indicate that you have entered a toxic relationship.  The following are a few questions to engage your thoughts and conversations:


  1. How does this person make you feel?
  2. Do you feel safe in the presence of the person?
  3. Do you feel your children, partners or others are safe?
  4. Have you ever felt emotional or psychological distress when interacting with the person?
  5. Do you feel that you are on guard around this individual?
  6. Have you ever been caught in the web of their triangulation? 
  7. Is the person manipulative or conniving? 
  8. Have you ever felt the person may push moral, ethical, or legal boundaries?
  9. Do you ever feel as though the person adds unnecessary challenges to your life?
  10. Do you feel emotionally drained after dealing with the person?



What if you have a desire to repair a toxic relationship?  If so, then you have some decisions to make.  Are you willing to succumb to the negativity of the relationship? Are you willing to endure the anxieties, stress, and troubles that might engulf the relationship?

It is important to ask yourself, “What am I gaining from this relationship?”  If it is a kin, coworker, or desired friendship, “How can I bring or return the relationship to health, happiness, and wholeness?”  What are you willing to sacrifice, if an individual within the relationship is unwilling to seek-out health?  Are you willing to sacrifice your own safety?  Are you willing to sacrifice the wellbeing and safety of your children, spouse, or others? 


If you are experiencing a toxic relationship, but feel a need to maintain the relationship, you should consider seeking a professional for therapy. 

Reaching health within any relationship involves work, discipline, motivation, purpose, intent, and desire.  If a relationship has experienced health in the past, it is possible to return it to a healthy, happy, and prosperous climate.  Notably, if a relationship has never experienced a healthy atmosphere, it may not be possible to achieve such a climate.  Nevertheless, you should act as an investigator deciding whether the relationship has potential for reaching a healthy climate, the probability of achieving a healthy level, and possibility of everyone on board participating in and working towards a healthy atmosphere.  It is important to recognize that all therapy will take time, patience, understanding, compassion, empathy and care.  If you expect to return a dysfunctional relationship through an expedited approach; the likelihood of obtaining health is slim.  

            “Patience is the ability to wait and calmly preserve. We all grow impatient, but some  people have more trouble waiting than others do. We tend to forget that all good things  take time.” – John Wooden

Finally, if you choose to return to better days within the relationship, then you may return to the same problems that you have previously experienced.  Rather, you should reach for a newness within your dysfunctional relationship.  You should seek to obtain new insights, new communication styles and strategies, and new problem solving skills.  Do not expect to live as once before, rather expect to live a life better than you have ever known. 


Author:     Dr. Asa Don Brown, Ph.D., C.C.C., N.C.C.M.




Block, J. D. (2003) Naked intimacy, How to increase true openness in your relationship. New York, NY:  The McGraw-Hill

Babiak, P. & Hare, R. D. (2007) Snakes in suits, When psychopaths go to work. New York, NY:  HarperCollins

Brown, A. D. (2010) Waiting to Live, Bloomington, IN: IUniverse

McCoy, D. (2006) The manipulative man, Identify his behavior, Counter the abuse, Regain control. Avon, MA: Adams Media

Wall, C. L. (2004) The courage to trust, A guide to building deep and lasting relationships. Oakland, CA:  New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

4 comments on “Toxic Relationships”

  1. Indeed psychotherapy plays an important part in your toxic relationship and for that you are always in need of psychotherapist.

  2. Dear Saraah

    I certainly appreciate your thoughtful message. Toxic relationships can occur without any warning. Likewise, individuals who are toxic are not necessarily bad people; sometimes they are a bad match. I certainly appreciate your time and consideration.

    By the way, I am revamping this article and it will be posted through The Sober World Magazine, in the very near future.

    Warmest of Thoughts,

    Dr. Asa Don Brown

  3. Saraah says:

    This is a very profound article. not all the romantic relationships need a spotlight sometimes we are stuck in toxic friendships too and that destructs us more.

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