Toxic relationships can take a variety of forms. They don’t always involve physical violence, they aren’t always directed from a male partner to a female and they don’t necessarily have to involve a romantic relationship; toxic relationships can also be between friends, colleagues or family. A common thread between all toxic relationships is some form of abuse.

So what does abuse look like?

Our Watch is an Australian organisation aiming to change the attitudes and behaviours that underpin violence against women. They point out some key potential warning signs of an abusive relationship:

  • Physical – Hitting, slapping, kicking or any other physical way of hurting someone. This includes threatening to hurt someone
  • Emotional/psychological – Demeaning or belittling another person by insulting them, constantly criticising or making jokes at their expense
  • Financial – Limiting someone’s access to money or controlling how they spend it
  • Sexual – May involve using someone only for sexual gratification
  • Social – Trying to control who someone spends time with and when they can spend time with them.

So, what can you do if you think you may be in a toxic relationship?

Know that you're not alone. There are many resources available to assist you with next steps. Unfortunately, abusive relationships rarely change. For this reason, it’s important to distance yourself from the abusive person. If you have a trusted family member or friend, ask them if you can stay for a few nights while you work out what to do next. You can also go to a shelter or refuge where you can receive temporary accommodation as well as legal advice and emotional support. If you’d like to read up on your rights, the Lawstuff website is a helpful resource. Every state or territory in Australia has laws designed to protect against domestic violence. In some cases, Centrelink can offer crisis payments to help you support yourself when you’re in the process of leaving a toxic relationship.

The Beyond Blue forums are a helpful resource to read and contribute to discussions with others who may be experiencing the same difficulties as you. Here are some quotes from our forum users:

  • “Emotional manipulators make you feel guilty for everything, force their insecurities on you, make you doubt yourself and make you believe that they want what you want. I’ve found it very hard but I’m taking steps forward. I deserve someone who helps me develop and extend myself, to be proud of and to be at peace with."
  • “For me toxic people are those that I can do without. People stopping my progress to heal. Eliminating is the quickest and surest way to obtain harmony and move on without the drama.”

If you’re worried about your relationship but aren’t sure if there is abuse involved, take a few minutes to fill in this warning signs quiz. If you or someone you know is suffering from any type of abuse call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au 

Remember, if you feel you’re in immediate danger, call 000. The police are there to help you.

Related reading: Coping with a relationship breakdown

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