How to move on from a toxic relationship

Because nobody has the right to treat you with disrespect

In this article

Wherever we go in life we will meet people! For the most part (ideally) the relationships we have, whether that be home, work or social are pleasant and and opportunity to embrace life and enjoy precious time. 

Unfortunately though, sometimes we can become tangled in a toxic situation. Why they may be toxic will be discussed in other articles, but for this article it is to recognise that the connection has turned sour and what to do about it! 

The red flags of a toxic relationship

At the start, relationships are enjoyable…that is why we make a connection with the other person. Though when things start going wrong, there will be signs. These are known as ‘red flags’ and usually noticed as a ‘gut feeling’ that something is not right. 

Although often it is quite a challenge to articulate ‘why’ you may feel something is wrong…the phrase ‘trust your gut’ is something you need to listen to!

The ‘funny feeling’ you start to notice when you are in the company of the toxic behaviour is your subconscious mind ‘flagging up’ a subtle nudge that your conscious mind has not fully realised. 

Example red flags to watch for

How you may feel

How they may treat you

When it comes to red flags – there can be thousands, but they are mostly are covert. For a full description of the most common types check out this article
Warning – The 5 main emotional manipulators

The 4 stages to exit a toxic relationship

Once the ‘red flags’ have been noticed…the next step (should you choose to) is to take action. The longer you leave it the harder it becomes. With each ‘attack’ your strength and resilience will be weakened.
However, it is also to be recognised that tact and strategy are essential. If for example, it is a potentially volatile or dangerous situation, sudden changes or ‘action’ may leave the situation (and you) worse off. Take action yes, but ensure that all avenues are thought through to ensure the best outcome. Do not let emotion cloud your judgement.

Stage 1 - The straw man

The straw man strategy is to talk about the situation your in, but through the example of another person. This is an indirect way of getting the point across.

For example “Can I ask your view on something? A friend of mine at work is having a bit of a hard time in their relationship as they are feeling judged. What would you suggest to help them out?”

Ensure you use this genuinely! If not, it will come across as patronising if they realise it is about them. If your not sure about this ‘style’ – just go to stage 2. 

Stage 2 - Sit and talk

Sometimes it can feel like the other person should just ‘know’ how they are behaving, but sometimes they don’t. They may have been treated a certain way when young or have learned poor habits. 

In the stage of ‘sit and talk’ it is an opportunity to give the person the benefit of the doubt. Here, just ‘assume’ that they are unaware of how they are treating you and to calmly explain what you have noticed and how it is making you feel.

In the ideal situation, they would become aware of what is happening and then explain their point of view. Then the boundaries and respect can be understood by both sides and harmony can be re-established. 

Stage 3 - Sit and TELL

If the other person is not emotionally able (or not willing to)  respect your boundaries (after calmly explaining them in stage 2), then it is time to make your boundaries explicitly heard.
Stage 3 is about expressing the same massage as stage 2 but in a more forceful way. Here the energy will be “Listen to what I am saying as you are close to losing the connection all together!”

Here it can be made clear that unless things change that the relationship/friendship will come to an end. When expressing at level 3 it is important to say it as you mean it. 

Maybe work this stage through with a friend or therapist who can help formulate a plan. Getting feedback on how the energy is coming across is essential for the message to be truly heard!

Stage 4 - Time to walk away

Stage 4 will be the time to realise that you have tried your best and no matter what you do…your boundaries are not going to be respected…and leave! Though only you can decide when that is.
It could be that the other person is not willing to change.  Or it may be that they have emotional challenges from their past that they have not worked through (Or not choosing to).

This can be a very challenging thing to do and can be very emotionally difficult. Especially if you have long term investment in a friendship, a family together or it is a working relationship where money is involved. For this though you will have to work out the pro’s and con’s and go from there.

Respecting the boundaries you create

When we are young, we can often be in situations where our boundaries are not respected (or just plain crushed) and we just have to accept it as it is the adults who have all the power.

So when it comes to creating boundaries ‘as an adult’ there can often be anxiety (a negative pre-projection of the future) see this article from more on anxiety which can make it difficult to feel confident in enforcing those boundaries. 

There may be thoughts arise such as “What’s the point?”, “What if I don’t find anybody else?”, What if I end up in a worse position?”, “What if I am just over thinking things or being dramatic?”

So here are some suggestion to help the process…

1. Write it out
Write out your thoughts in a private journal (password protected). How you feel, what has happened and with as much detail as possible. Be honest about the whole situation and about them and yourself (sometimes it can be us who is out of balance without realising). Journaling can be a great way to gain perspective and see your options clearly.

2. Talk it through with a trusted friend
A trusted friend needs to be ‘honest’ – somebody who is the pity party or will always take your side or the other’s side can often make things worse. If this is a very sensitive topic then try a coach or therapist who has no connection and no prior emotional investment allowing them to remain completely objective.

3. Learn about boundaries
So many of us are taught to disrespect our own boundaries and let people get away with too much. We know it feels awful, but it may feel easier (in the short term) to just play it safe. But this will get worse.
Watch videos, read books, speak to people online about how they put boundaries in place. Other people are a very valuable resource. 

4. Write out your ideal future
Make this as detailed as possible, how you want to feel, how you want to be treated and the respect level you want to have. Write as much detail as possible and then make a plan. How do you get from where you are now to where you want to get to.

When reading it back ask yourself “Do I believe I can have this type of life?” If you find it hard to imagine, or do not believe you can have an abundant life, it will probably be coming from past limiting beliefs or a self esteem concern.

6. KNOW that it is normal to be respected!
To live in a world where the people around us show respect and kindness is normal. Living in a world where people attack and disrespect us is not normal and goes against survival and interdependence.

If the whole world showed only disrespect and a lack of kindness it would come to a grinding halt. It is a normal human right to be shown respect…when people go against this, it is they who are out of balance with humanity. 


Life is about working together and living abundantly. Sometimes being treated with disrespect is all we may have known.

If you are used to having your boundaries pushed or being disrespected then it is essential to open your mind and see a different world. 

Unfortunately though a person with toxic or controlling behaviour may be unwilling to change or gain a sense is feeling more secure by covering up their own low self esteem by dominating other people. But that is their issue unless you choose to allow it to continue then it becomes your issue too.

Remember it is your human right to be respected. If some people in your life wont show you respect…there are other people out there who will!