Stages of a Toxic Relationship

Ever felt like you’re stuck in a relationship with someone who hurts you but keeps pulling you back in? Toxic relationships are characterized by patterns of harmful behaviors, emotional manipulation, or verbal and psychological abuse. They can be romantic, familial, or platonic in nature, and they can be a confusing and damaging loop that’s really hard to get out of. Worst of all, toxic relationships can feel good at times, making it all the more confusing and harder to leave. But recognizing these stages can help you understand what’s happening and figure out what to do next.

Stage 1: Idealization

Toxic relationships often start off seeming perfect. Your crush showers you with compliments, affection, gifts, and over-the-top gestures, saying the most romantic things like, “I’ve never felt this way before,” or “You’re my soulmate.” But is this too good to be true? Are they moving too fast? This intense idealization, characterized by love-bombing, is designed to make you dependent on their validation. They might also ask about your fears or secrets, not to build intimacy, but to use against you later. 

Stage 2: Devaluation

Once a toxic manipulator knows they have you, things will quickly take a turn for the worse. They’ll suddenly become harsh and critical, pointing out your flaws and making hurtful comments. The personal information you shared is now used against you, with them throwing your biggest insecurities back in your face. Worst of all, you might feel confused and blame yourself for their behavior. You try to meet their demands, but their expectations are unrealistic and never-ending. So you just end up feeling worse about yourself.

Stage 3: Manipulation

Do I often feel confused or unsure of what’s true? Do they make me feel guilty for their mistakes? In a toxic relationship, manipulation can be subtle. Your partner might twist situations to make you feel guilty or to get their way. They might play mind games, lie, or withhold information. Phrases like, “If you really loved me, you would…” or “You’re imagining things” are often used to control you and make you question your reality. And they’ll say things like, “You’re making me act this way,” or “I only do this because I care” are used to justify their behavior.

Stage 4: Isolation

At this stage, the other person may start to isolate you from your friends and family. They might say things like, “They don’t really care about you,” or “I’m the only one who truly understands you.” By doing this, they gain more control over you and limit your support system. So ask yourself: Have I distanced myself from loved ones because of this relationship? Do I feel alone? You might notice you’re spending less time with loved ones and more time with the toxic person. But remember, a healthy relationship should expand your world, not shrink it.

Stage 5: Discarding

No matter how many fights you get into or how many times you try to walk away, when you’re in a toxic relationship with someone, they’re constantly reeling you back in. Think, Maddie and Nate from Euphoria, or Ana and Christian from 50 Shades of Grey. They’ll reject you to keep you chasing after them, as humans are psychologically wired to do this. When someone becomes less available, we perceive them as more valuable and desirable.

But when the toxic partner decides they no longer need you, often because they have found someone new to manipulate. The discard can be sudden, leaving you feeling blindsided and hurt. They might also publicly humiliate you, making a big show of “dumping” or cutting you off, or turn the tables and shift the blame entirely on you. 

Stage 6: Healing

Being discarded can leave you feeling devastated and confused. You might question your self-worth and wonder what you did wrong. It’s common to feel a mix of relief and pain, as the toxic cycle is finally broken but the emotional wounds remain. 

Understanding and learning from this experience is essential. By acknowledging the toxicity and its impact on your well-being, you can begin the journey towards healing. This stage is marked by: seeking support, reframing your perspective, and recognizing that you are not defined by that toxic relationship. It’s also about embracing your worth, practicing self-care, setting better boundaries, and coming out of the other side happier, more empowered, and with healthier relationships. 

Remember, you are not alone in your journey. Whether you’re currently navigating a toxic relationship, healing from past wounds, or supporting someone else in their recovery, know that there is hope and support available. If you found this video valuable, leave a like and share it with others. Comment your thoughts down below, and subscribe to our channel for more content on mental wellness and relationships like “Hidden Signs Your Past Trauma is Still Hurting You” and “6 Things To Know About Your Crush Before Dating.” Thanks for watching!

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