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Should I Stay in a Relationship with a Toxic Loved One?

Should I Stay in a Relationship with a Toxic Loved One_ - trauma recovery

Are you familiar with the concept of a soul family?  They are the family you choose versus the one you’re born into.

When I was first working with a coach after my mom disowned me, I said something about never speaking to my mom again.  My coach wasn’t yet versed in such extreme situations and her reaction was to be expected.

“But she’s your mom!”

After learning more about my relationship with my mom, she got it.

Sometimes our birth families don’t work out as planned.

Forming a soul family doesn’t have to only be the result of complete no contact with your birth family.  You can create a hybrid.  Staying in touch with your family while also having others in your life that you know you can depend on, no matter what.

But when it comes to your birth family, how do you know how much contact to have?  How do you know if it might be time to even consider the unthinkable….going no contact?


Show Up For Your SELF First

No one is perfect, therefore no family is perfect.  Whether or not to consider limiting or nixing contact with loved ones is no lightweight topic.  It is highly charged and can instigate big backlash from people who are not ready to entertain even the possibility.

I was once one of those people and thought, or rather assumed, that someone choosing to limit contact or especially to full on cut someone out of their life meant that they were giving up.  I am no quitter.  In fact, I’m loyal (to a fault) and am almost always the last man standing no matter the circumstances.

But here’s the thing.  Some relationships are downright toxic and detrimental to our well-being.  And the fact that I was so loyal to unsafe and unhealthy people meant that I was not being loyal to myself.  It does not feel safe to be your authentic Self around toxic people because they will tear you down.  I was living in hiding and didn’t even realize it.

A safe enough person will be ready, willing and able to meet you in the middle, co-creating a mutually beneficial and supportive relationship.  Knowing when and to what degree to minimize or even end a relationship comes down to showing up for your Self first.  To do that, you’ll have to practice being in Self, meeting yourself where you are with grace and compassion and by tuning into the wisdom of your nervous system and intuition.

How do you assess where your relationships lie? 

Where along that spectrum do you decide to minimize contact? 

Where along that spectrum do you decide to go no-contact? 

What are the implications for you?


How do you assess where your relationships lie?

First, it can be helpful to understand what a healthy relationship looks like.  Remembering that there’s no such thing as perfect and that we all have stuff we’re working through, we can still lay down some guidelines that help us identify ‘healthy enough’ relationship factors.

Some factors of a healthy enough relationship are:
  • Feeling safe. Not only physically, but safe to freely and fully express yourself.  (Honestly, most relationships could work on this one and it’s the most important!)
  • Feeling seen, heard, accepted, and valued.
  • There is mutual respect and trust.
  • You’re both able to talk about the hard stuff. Even when it feels painful and challenging, neither of you avoid or minimize – you address it together.
  • You both turn towards each other when your struggling, rather than away from each other. (It’s fine to need space, but do both of you circle back when you’re both calm and turn to each other for support and to work through problems and pain?)
  • You both genuinely enjoy each other’s company.
  • You support each other’s interests, hobbies, hopes and dreams.
  • You’re both comfortable just being Silence is comfortable.  There’s no feeling the need to entertain each other or perform in any way to do anything.
  • You’re both comfortable as individuals and spending time apart. You have independent interests, needs, wants, and people in your life and neither of you feel threatened by that.

I could go on and on but this is a solid list to at least get you thinking.  As you read this list, I’m sure you’re thinking of relationships that might not quite measure up.  That’s perfectly ok!  Every individual and every relationship is a work in progress.

Likely you’re also thinking that you need to work through some of these.  That’s perfectly ok too!  And completely to be expected.  In this article, we’re exploring the people we are in relationship with and how they show up.  I strongly recommend that you spend time applying the above awareness to yourself too.  You are half of every relationship you’re in.

How are you showing up for and with yourself?
How are you showing up for and with every other relationship you’re in?

Be gentle.  This is about awareness, not blame.  Blame holds no place here.  You’re simply stepping back and taking in a bigger picture, so that you’ll have more information with which to make better decisions.  Observing your side of the relationship equation will empower you to grow with intention into the person you want to be in each and every relationship – your Self.


Where along that spectrum do you decide to minimize contact?

You know how there are certain people that every time you’re around them you feel tired or cranky or reserved or [add your own descriptor]?  That is invaluable information to have.  Spend time sitting with those feelings so that you are fully processing them.  Allow those emotions to inform you.

What messages are they attempting to impart?  Are they telling you that you feel reserved around a particular person because, for example, they are outgoing, and you feel intimidated because you’re not outgoing?  In that case, the fact that that person pokes at your reservations and fear, may actually be your system telling you that you’re ready to face your fears so that you can learn to feel comfortable being more outgoing.  This person may even be something of a guide to help you in your healing and personal development!

Now if your reservations are because the person mocks you or challenges everything you say, then minimizing contact is absolutely the way to go.

The key difference between these two examples is whether or not the person is exhibiting unsafe behaviors.  People and situations trigger us all the time.  That doesn’t mean they’re bad or wrong.  Most of the time, those triggers are our opportunities for growth.  However, if someone is displaying unhealthy behavior, they are not someone we need to be around.

Depending on who the person is, such as an acquaintance, simply cutting them out of our life may be the best thing.  We will often spend time attempting to nurture those relationships out of people pleasing or even co-dependency.  When doing so, we are not seeing the person in front of us.  While it’s challenging and sometimes painful, it is important to ‘see’ others just as it’s important for them to ‘see’ us.  We do not get to fix or change people.  Only they can do that when they are ready and their process and timeline are not our responsibility.

Let me repeat that.

Each of us heals and grows at our own pace, on our own timeline and in our own ways.  While we need support once we commit to ourselves, no one else is responsible for us.  The reverse is also true. 

If the person in our example is a colleague or close family member, then perhaps their behavior is not so extreme as to cut them out of our life entirely.  It is important to clearly communicate and protect our boundaries.

That’s easier said than done and often kicks up other wounds along the way that we get to heal.  Fear of speaking up.  Fear of being seen.  Fear of others thinking we’re being selfish.

Acknowledging yourself and each of your emotions is vital so that you can meet yourself with grace and compassion, healing at your own rate and slowly but surely learning how to identify, communicate and protect your boundaries.  Once you’re committed to living only within healthy boundaries and being only in healthy relationships, over time, you’ll be able to see huge shifts in the quality of those relationships and in your life in general.


Where along that spectrum do you decide to go no-contact?

If you are triggered every time you are around a person…

If they repeatedly violate clearly communicated boundaries…

If they repeatedly engage in toxic behavior…

Then it may be time to at least consider going no contact.

This is not lightly said. 


Only you can decide what is in your best interest and what you are ready for.


Having said that, a healthy enough person will not do those three things.

I’d like to speak a bit more about toxic behavior. Even if their toxic behavior is not specifically directed to you, it is still impacting you.  Remembering that everything is energy, their toxic behavior is bathing everyone around them in toxic energy.  That can’t not impact you!

Do you remember how infuriating it was, as a child or teenager, to hear your parents or other adults chastise that you are the company you keep?  They were right!  As rebellious as I am, admitting that leaves a bitter taste.  But we really are the company we keep and food that we eat.

Once you have communicated to people that you don’t want to be around certain behavior and requested that they please not engage in it around you, you’ll likely get some pushback.  They’ll often feel toxic shame at having their behavior spotlighted.  While it’s important to meet them with compassion, it’s even more important to meet yourself with compassion.

If they make fun of you, dismiss your request, or minimize the impact of their behavior, then they are not a healthy enough person.  A person who continually engages in toxic behavior and blatantly dismisses your boundaries, may be better in small, controlled doses if not cut out entirely.

If, however, they begin respecting your boundaries, if you begin to see shifts over time, then that is a sign of a potentially healthy enough person.  Whether or not you choose to let them in closer, will depend on how ready they may be to continue respecting not only your boundaries but other’s boundaries as well, including their own.

In my own life, there have been times when I didn’t see someone for a long time and noticed that certain challenges for me disappeared, for example, speaking freely.  I thought, ‘Wow, I’ve really worked through my stuff and I’m just able to say what’s on my heart.”  Then I’d be around a certain person or people and suddenly all those old triggers were back, and I was terrified to speak up.  I’ve even gone so far as to beat myself up and feel like I was being unfair to them because they hadn’t done anything.  The fact is though, that while they had not overtly done anything to me, their passive aggressive behavior clearly communicated that they were not safe for me.

Personal Share

I was once talking to a cousin’s wife and sharing some sweet antics of my cat and dogs.  When everyone else laughed and said how adorable my cat and dogs are, her response was that she hates cats.  I’d just very clearly communicated that my cat and dogs are important to me.  She did not ‘see’ me and she didn’t care to as was evidenced by the fact that she just went on and on sharing story after story about why she hates cats.  I walked away in the middle of her talking, thinking of how cruel her behavior was and that that is not the sort of person I ever want in my life.  I have not seen her since.  (If that’s not all bad enough, this conversation happened moments after my mom dying and I was struggling to be present at all.  Talking about my loved ones was how I was resourcing myself.)

It Is Seldom So Simple 

Of course, considering going no contact with some people is not as simple as simply walking away.  It is an enormous consideration and not to be made lightly.  It’s also not a decision that should be made in a moment of pain.  We can easily say, feel and even believe that we’re ready to cut someone out of our lives when we are triggered, feeling hurt or angry.  Meet yourself where you are, with grace and compassion and be with those feelings.

If the idea of going no contact stays with you, then sit with that too.  Even so, give it time, give yourself time.  Experiment with longer periods of not being around that individual, then coming back to them, in short visits if possible.  If no contact continues tapping you on the shoulder, then perhaps you’re ready.

Let me reiterate that only you get to choose if someone is safe to have in your life at this time or if you are ready to cut them out now or ever.  No one else gets to tell you what to do, when or with whom.

When someone I cared about is being mistreated, I absolutely talk to them about what I am noticing.  If they’re not ready to leave an abusive situation, I get to meet them with grace and compassion – not judgement and pressure.  Do not allow yourself to be bullied into someone else’s agenda or timeline.  Even if they are coming from a place of love, they still get to meet you with compassion, supporting you through your journey and respecting the boundaries you communicate with them.


What are the implications for you?

As I reread this article in preparation for writing the conclusion an image formed in my mind.

Imagine spending a hot summer day working outside.  You’re sweating like a pig.  You’re covered in grime, dirt and dust.  But instead of coming in and heading for the shower, you plop on the couch in front of the AC.

The sweat dries, with the dirt and dust still clinging.  The next day, you’re working out in the sweltering heat again.

No shower.  Just plop on the couch, in the AC, allowing it all to dry on you.

Jump ahead a few days, weeks…

You see photos of yourself and think, ‘Wow, I was so pale in that picture,’ because your skin is so much darker now under the layers of dirt.

Your couch is darker too.  Your bed.  Everything you touch.

One day you pull the couch out to get something that rolled under there and the back of it is a completely different color.  Or water splashes on you, and the color of your skin peeks through.

You’ve been so dirty for so long, you didn’t even notice.  You no longer recognized yourself in a photo.  You no longer realized that you’re surrounded by dirty things.

When you clear toxic people and toxic energy from your life, magic begins to happen.

You begin growing more fully into your Self – into the Truth of who you are.  You begin seeing your life and relationships more clearly and all the dirt stands out!

As your energy shifts and elevates, as your wounds heal, you become lighter, freer.  You also become more sensitive, noticing the slightest imbalances, and righting them immediately, rather than allowing them to cascade out of control.

You’re able to more easily identify healthy enough people and only invest in those relationships.  Your fear evaporates into a distant memory, and you’ll find yourself speaking freely in ways that you never could have imagined.

You’ll just feel safe.

And curious!  And creative!  With a childlike wonder, you’ll dive into life, creating the reality you want to engage in.  You’ll lean into who you truly are, loving every minute with your wonderful Self.

Your very being will simply overflow with love and compassion, for yourself and others.  Your intuition will clarify more and more, guiding you ever deeper into your truth and authenticity.

And you will know, KNOW, that you are never alone.  With all that rust and dirt and grime knocked off, you will feel connected to all that is, to your Self in ways that perhaps you never have.

Life will be beautiful.




*Most people do not need to go no contact with significant people in their life.  However, for those who are in relationships with truly toxic people, this can sometimes be imperative.  If you are considering going no contact, talk to trusted and safe people that can help you clarify your needs and the healthiest way for you to meet them.

Amy Lloyd

Amy supports emerging individuals in designing and mastering their dream life as Self-led souls on heart-led missions. As a Holistic Life, Career and Executive Coach, a Certified Trauma Recovery Coach and an Accredited Trauma Instructor, Amy supports ambitious lovers of life, entrepreneurs and other big dreamers in living more authentic and meaningful lives by safely navigating the unforeseen obstacles of self-discovery.