Can toxic relationship be fixed?

Can toxic relationship be fixed?

Unhealthy Intimate Relationships

If you and the person you are in relationship with have not had healthy relationships modelled for you, you may be acting in the only ways that you are familiar with. In this case, there is hope for improving the relationship. In your counselling, we can look at where this pattern of relating developed for you and we can look at alternative ways of relating to the other in the relationship. We can help you to put boundaries in place so that you can say no to unreasonable behaviour. This also gives the other in the relationship the opportunity to behave differently.

Some indicators of toxic behaviour:







Some indicators of healthy behaviour:




Giving respect


Narcissistic Abuse

However, this assumes that the other in the relationship is open to and capable of making changes. This will not be the case if the toxic behaviour you are prey to is emanating from someone who is narcissistic. In writing about this on my website, I don’t wish to vilify people who display narcissistic behaviours, but many people who come for counselling do so because they have been on the receiving end of such behaviours.

Signs that you are experiencing narcissistic abuse are: feeling that you don’t know who you are anymore; loss of confidence; feelings of guilt and shame; not enjoying seeing friends anymore; feeling you are never right. The relationship probably started off seeming too good to be true, and now you may be realising that it was. You may have been ‘love-bombed’; told you were their soul-mate; been delighted that they wanted to be with you all the time or give you lifts everywhere. They may have seemed really supportive and helpful and told you that you are the only person who ever understood them.  Fast forward to when the loved-up stage is over and the criticisms and control will have become much more apparent.

It is important to note that narcissism is on a spectrum of severity and that there are two different kinds; the grandiose narcissist is extrovert in nature, has a sense of entitlement and feels superior to others whereas the vulnerable narcissist fluctuates between feelings of self-importance and self-loathing and is easily hurt/offended.

If you believe that you are in relationship with someone who is narcissistic, it is advisable to work out what you want to do about it without telling them, particularly if they are violent. Talking about it in therapy can be really helpful because unless friends have direct experience of narcissistic abuse, they are unlikely to understand its devastating effects. You need to be able to talk to someone who understands it and can help you see it clearly for what it is so that you can decide what to do. It is time for the undermining behaviours to be named for what they are and for you to be validated. 

Men are also subject to narcissistic abuse

If you are male and in a relationship with a narcissistic woman, it is really important that you seek help. The experience of abuse within a relationship inevitably leads to deep feelings of shame, and this may be intensified for you because damaging gender stereotypes make it even harder to speak out. If you have children with your partner, you may be in the hideous position that you want to leave, but are aware she will prevent you from having contact with the children.
You may also feel that the children won’t be safe there without you and feel that you need to stay while the children are young. Talking about this in counselling is a safe place to explore what you want to do about the situation. If you decide to stay, we will look at ways of making it more manageable for you, initially by recognising that you will never be able to do enough to please her and that any emotional support will need to come from outside your relationship
Can toxic relationship be fixed?

Same-sex toxic relationships

25% of LGBTQ people experience abusive relationships and it is under-reported for a number of reasons. You may feel that you can’t reach out for help because your partner uses the threat of ‘outing’ you to control you. You may have internalised homophobia/transphobia or biphobia and inadvertently associate it with abuse, feeling that you deserve it in some way. This is the master key for any abuser – once they have spotted something a person is worried about, it unlocks the potential to manipulate that person indefinitely. During the therapy we will explore what it is that has led you to into this relationship, look for the self-doubt that the abuser is playing with and help you find ways to address it. I will help you see that this kind of behaviour is unacceptable and text-book narcissistic abuse so that you no longer try to please the abuser and begin to look after yourself.

Toxic relationships in the workplace

If you have the misfortune to be working alongside someone who is narcissistic and they have taken a dislike to you, it may have changed your experience of work considerably. Many people seek counselling because of this situation. There are a number of things that you can do in order to protect yourself as described by American Psychologist, Dr Stephanie Sarkis in this article.

If you are lucky, your colleague is unkind to everyone and so other people understand and may be supportive and helpful. However, often narcissists pick on one person at a time and in secretive ways so that no one else believes that it is happening. Counselling can be really helpful in navigating this situation.

Can toxic relationship be fixed?
Can toxic relationship be fixed?

Narcissistic friends

If you have a friend who is narcissistic, it can all start off really well. If they are grandiose narcissists, they may be really good fun in a party situation and you may think they have a good sense of humour, although usually the jokes will be at the expense of others. Initially you will feel as though you are special to them and it will be as though the sun is shining on you.  

However, in time, the criticism will start and gradually or very quickly build up. Often this leads to the friend raging at you over some perceived slight or difference of opinion and if you defend yourself, you will be accused of attacking them. Others in your group may not have seen this behaviour and may not believe you if you mention it.  

It can be isolating and lead to feelings of worthlessness. Talking about it in therapy can help you to see that raging at someone is unreasonable behaviour, whatever justification your friend may have given for it. 

Am I addicted to toxic relationships?

You may be wondering if you are addicted to toxic relationships. In Patrick Carnes’ book, ‘The Betrayal Bond (2019), he describes how the traumatised brain of an infant is flooded with neurochemicals. This can lead to cravings in periods of calm so that the person might be drawn to traumatic relationships. However, for many people who get caught in a pattern of abusive relationships, it is more a matter of conditioning and self-worth. There are many situations that occur when we are children that lead us to perceive that putting the other first in a relationship is normal. This is highly dangerous.

Conditions leading to this might be: parents telling a child he/she must be polite in all situations; parents who are not loving but insist that what they are giving is  love (ie love is unkind); the child witnessing one parent giving everything to the other and the other giving nothing in return; grooming and many more. In all of these situations, the child learns that the other’s needs are more important than their own and that he/she should accept unpleasant remarks and actions. When that child goes out into the world, put-downs from another appear acceptable and so are ignored. If put-downs are occurring at the beginning of any relationship this is already a red-flag. 

The good news is that with awareness it becomes possible to recognise the red flags before getting into the relationship or as soon as they arise. Further good news is that if improved self-esteem is added into the equation, then toxic behaviour will be rejected at the first post. If I am feeling good about myself, why would I accept someone putting me down?

How counselling helps

First of all, it helps to be able to talk about what has been going on with someone who understands it. You will have discovered that many people enable narcissistic behaviour by denying that it is happening and minimising the effects. We will look at what may have led you into such a situation. It may be that you have narcissistic members of your family and that you have learned to appease people displaying such behaviours. This conditioning could lead you to put up with the put-downs and rages.  

As you begin to understand what may have led you into the situation, it becomes more possible to avoid other relationships like this. We will look at warning signs to look out for in future relationships and how to recognize healthier patterns of relating. 

If you are unable to leave the relationship/friendship, we can look at how to help you manage your expectations in the relationship. For instance, Dr Ramini, the leading expert on narcissism in America, says that if you are going to stay in relationship with someone who is narcissistic, you must lower your expectations drastically.  

She advises that a good circle of friends is essential for emotional support as you won’t get any in the relationship. You will really be like a carer to the narcissist, providing support for them, but receiving none in return. 

The metaphor that I most often use is that when you first play with a narcissist, you might play like you are two frogs until you realise that the other frog has a scorpion’s tail. It is a shock to be stung when you didn’t know the tail was there. Once you know, if you choose to continue playing, you can never take your eye off that tail.

Can toxic relationship be fixed?