I like to think I’m a fairly positive person. It takes a lot to get me down and I tend to choose friends who are happy-go-lucky sorts. But not too long ago I hit rock bottom in a relationship. It had become so toxic and my self-worth had never been lower. I lost around 5kg in two weeks, and I found myself second guessing everything.
I know, grim.
After one particularly bad fight with my guy, I received a text from him that sent an instant chill down my spine. It set off all my spidey senses and for the first time in a long time I realised I needed to remove myself from this scary situation I had got myself in.
It said: ‘You’ve made a dangerous enemy out of me.’
Right away I knew he wasn’t mucking around, and I knew exactly what the threat meant. It meant, watch your back.
After a bad fight with my guy I was sent a text from him that sent an instant chill down my spine. It set off all my spidey senses… I needed to remove myself from this scary situation
There were many red flags about a man I dated. The first were his ‘jokes’ about the scary people he knew. He would say things like ‘so don’t mess around with me haha’
I did two things after I got that message. The first one was to book a flight for the following week to New York because your body tends to go into ‘fight or flight’ mode when you feel threatened, and in this instance, I chose flight. Literally.
The second thing I did was book in a session with my fabulous French therapist. She may be tiny in stature but she’s mighty strong with her advice, and I needed someone to steer the ship for a second.
As I walked into her office I burst into tears and said ‘I just need you to give me the right tools to get out of this situation’. You see the problem with a toxic relationship is that you can’t just turn off your feelings, despite knowing the person is bad for you.
I was equal parts scared of him, and yet still in love with him. Not a great position to be in, and one I never thought I would find myself in again.
She passed me a tissue and told me to take a breath. We spent the next hour unpacking how I got myself into a ‘situationship’ with a guy who would make a threat like that in the first place, and some steps to get myself out of it. She also stressed that it was important that I notice the red flags earlier and leave when they start appearing rather than charging headfirst into them like a bull.
Oh, how I love her straightforwardness.
As we took a trip down memory lane, I realised there were many red flags waving about from the start. The first were his ‘jokes’ about the scary people he knew. He would say things like ‘so don’t mess around with me haha’.
The second red flag was the way he spoke about his last two ex-girlfriends. After a couple of drinks, he would always comment on how ‘crazy’ they were. He never went into specifics he just said they were either ‘crazy’ or ‘mean’.
Upon reflection, I have no doubt these women were probably driven mad by his toxic actions. I had a think about my exes and realised they were all quite lovely.
Over the next couple of months my therapist gave me some really great advice for avoiding future red flags and if you’re someone attracted to the more rouge based men amongst us, hopefully they will come in handy for you too.
If something doesn’t feel right, get a second opinion from a loved one or therapist. It sure worked for me
1. As soon as you see a red flag address it
She explained that an honest and open dialogue from the very start of a relationship helps create a safe place to share your concerns and set up healthy boundaries. Sure, for an anxious avoidant like myself, this sounds like a horrendous conversation but she explained that the more you do it, the better you get at it.
For example, rather than laugh awkwardly at his jokes about not messing with him because he ‘knows people’, I should have said ‘hey that makes me feel kind of uncomfortable. What do you mean by that?’.
2. Trust your gut
If it sounds like a threat then it usually is one. If you suddenly feel uncomfortable or unsafe around someone, trust that your gut is telling the truth and leave. We always look back at bad relationships and think ‘deep down I think I knew this wasn’t a good idea from the start’ but we ignore it because we’re filled with lust and dopamine. Listen less to your libido and more to your gut at the start of a relationship.
3. Leave quietly
When you’re dealing with someone with strong narcissistic tendencies, or who is currently in a bad headspace, you will find they tend to go looking for trouble. Wound their ego and they will have an adult size tantrum. Rather then end the relationship in a big dramatic fight, simply explain to them your reasons for leaving in a calm manner and then give them plenty of space.
4. Like a good girl scout, always be prepared
Some red flags can be very subtle. So if you notice something that doesn’t feel quite right, make a note of it. The occasional white lie, or hint of love bombing could just be them trying to impress you. But when they start to add up you may notice too late that you’ve got yourself in a bad situation. Enjoy the start of a relationship but always keep your wits about you.
5. Be kind to yourself
And finally, I think the most important thing to do when you realise you’re in a toxic relationship is be kind to yourself. We’ve all made mistakes and got swept up in the passionate fire these situations bring with them. You can’t make smart decisions from a bad headspace. So remind yourself that you are human, and surround yourself with friends and family who only want the best for you. This is not a time to hide away. If something doesn’t feel right, get a second opinion from a loved one or therapist. It sure worked for me!
If you or someone you know is in a dangerous or potentially dangerous situation, call 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732) for anonymous assistance from professionals 24 hours a day, seven days a week.