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Toxic Relationships and 5 Insightful Questions to Help!

Being around her, I felt invisible, no matter what I attempted or achieved. I questioned my value and worth continually. I didn’t know it, but this was a toxic relationship. 

Doubting my abilities as a capable contributor, valued friend, and compassionate, attentive human, I felt small.

Filled with apprehension, anxiety fueled my already harried mind. It seemed no matter how I tried to accommodate, anticipate, or meet her needs, she always found something else wrong. 

In the end, I felt like a disappointment. 

Desperately desiring a relationship, I tried to fix myself so she would approve and affirm me.

But through counseling—discovering my false beliefs and narratives and learning to refute them—I came to a stark realization:

I will never be good enough or considerate enough. To her, I fail in a million little ways. 

As I reflected, I started noticing patterns. I was not the only one. Most people got it wrong. 

“What reason, other than the fact that I want this to work, do I have for believing that tomorrow is going to be different from today?” Dr. Henry Cloud

toxic relationship

From my counselor, I first heard the phrase, “necessary endings,” the title of one of Dr. Cloud‘s many books, in which he asks thought-provoking and challenging questions regarding difficult or toxic relationships:

  • Do I want this same reality, frustration, or problem six months from now?
  • Do I want to be having these same conversations two years from now?
  • What reason is there to have hope that tomorrow is going to be different?
  • Who deserves your trust?

Based on these questions, I began to evaluate my fears, insecurities and desires.  

Fear – what needs, emotions, or boundaries do I feel won’t be met, recognized or crossed?

  • Do I hide my needs or emotions to avoid conflict?
  • Do I people-please to pacify?
  • Do I lack healthy boundaries with this person?

Insecurities – what lies am I believing based upon this person’s actions or reactions?

  • I’m unworthy 
  • I’ll never measure up
  • I’m irreverent

Desires – Do I allow myself desires?

  • Do I believe it’s selfish to have desires because of what others think?
  • Do I believe I’m unworthy of desires?
  • Do I believe my desires are less valuable than others?

After evaluation, I found I struggled with limiting beliefs and anxiety, and could not even name my desires. 

So how do I change my demeaning self-narrative, create healthy boundaries, and allow myself the freedom to name my desires?

According to *Dr. Cloud, 3 types of people exist: the wise, foolish, and evil. I added a 4th for posterity.

*The wise person:

  • embraces feedback, making adjustments
  • takes responsibility
  • is caring and concerned
  • empathizes
  • shows remorse
  • follows through
  • has a growth mindset fueled by curiosity.

Wise words bring many benefits, and hard work brings rewards. Prov.12:14

Pride leads to conflict; those who take advice are wise. Prov.13:10

*The Foolish person:

  • gets defensive
  • rationalizes
  • blames others 
  • creates conflict
  • alienates or punishes
  • trivializes: “It’s not that bad.”
  • show little remorse or concern
  • is the victim
  • displays an “us versus them” mentality
  • possesses a fixed mindset, unwilling to grow/learn.

A fool is quick-tempered, but a wise person stays calm when insulted. Prov. 12:16

Fools think their own way is right, but the wise listen to others. Prov. 12:15

The innocent (naive, ignorant) person:

  • learns from truth and wise people, growing wise
  • rejects truth and wisdom, becoming foolish.

*The Evil Person:

  • lies
  • harms 
  • maligns
  • deceives 
  • wounds

The best thing to do is set strong boundaries, get away and stay away. And recruit help when necessary–which may be often.

Evil people desire evil; their neighbors get no mercy from them. Prov. 21:10

Brazenly inhumane, people like Hitler and Stalin wreak death and destruction upon entire nations or races. Additionally, a selfish family member or friend who swindles and steals or is continually and intentionally harmful is evil as well. 

There are reasons why foolish and evil people do the things they do. Past trauma, wounds, toxic relationships and environments, mental instability or illness, fear, insecurity, or self-loathing are a few.

And we all act foolishly and even evil at times. Ashamedly, I’ve intentionally hurt others with my words and actions and acted foolishly—blaming and rationalizing. 

The key is what we are characterized by. 

While the person above is a caricature based on past experiences, I’ll bet her impact is far-reaching.

Are you being blamed, criticized, ridiculed, ignored, or slandered by someone or a particular group? If so, reflect on these 5 insightful questions:

  1. What type of person am I dealing with?
  2. What boundaries do I lack in our relationship?
  3. What am I believing about myself based on their actions or inaction?
  4. What do you want me to know about this relationship, Jesus?
  5. Jesus, what should I do?

He will meet you in your anxiety and heartache. Lean in and listen to His gentle and loving words over you. He cares more than we can comprehend.

The LORD waits to be gracious to you…to show mercy to you. Isa.30:18

*Contributions from Necessary Endings by Dr. Henry Cloud.

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