Sometimes, even when you are suffering in a toxic situation, it’s difficult to extricate yourself. The first thing is to recognize that you are, indeed, in an abusive relationship.

Couple Fighting

Here are some signs:

Anger. It’s a pretty good giveaway that the person you’re dealing with is toxic. If he flies off the handle, has violent mood swings, beware. A friend was dating a guy who was peaches and cream to her, but lost his temper at others, sometimes over insignificant things. He embarrassed her by upbraiding a waiter for not bringing the wine fast enough. It was a small incident that she brushed aside until she was in a serious relationship with him and his true colors showed. He put his fist through the wall, and her face might have been next if she hadn’t left.

Control. There’s nothing wrong with a certain amount of control. Without it your life might be pretty chaotic. But when your partner tries to control you by limiting your interaction with other people; by bullying you into doing things you don’t want to do; by withholding money, freedom or even information; you’ve got a problem. This person may go through your purse, your e-mail, your text messages—anything personal. His goal is to control all your relationships to make you emotionally and financially dependent on him and him alone.

Put-Downs. One way he can control you is by criticizing you and making you feel bad about yourself. He might call you names, and he might sabotage your efforts. When you have to study for a test, he’ll invite friends over. When you are busy at work, he’ll call repeatedly on the phone, demanding attention and distracting you from your goal. He’ll find any way he can to bring you down. When he does it repeatedly, he can erode your self-esteem, making you feel you don’t deserve a partner any better than him. He can even make you feel guilty in the bargain.

Why It’s Hard to Leave

Even under such unpleasant circumstances, it’s often hard to leave the relationship. The devil you know is at least familiar. You feel like you love him because you are used to a dysfunctional pattern—perhaps a repeat of your relationship with a parent. That familiarity is comforting, and hard to give up. Your weakness is the yin to your partner’s weakness, which is the yang. For example, you may be the caregiver and your partner the care needer—just like you were the caregiver to your mother who was a narcissist-needer.

People stay in these toxic relationships for many reasons we explored last week—inertia, money, fear of being alone, fear of failure and because they have children together. But another real reason people stay is because they are trying to resolve a relationship that may go back to early childhood. They want to fix their current relationship as a way to get closure from their past, similar dysfunctional relationship.

But the only real way to heal is to acknowledge that you are in a toxic relationship, try to understand why, and then have the courage to move on. This is a difficult journey, but one many people make successfully. You can too.

Nancy Travers is an Orange County Counseling professional. If you need safe, effective counseling services, please get in touch. You can reach her here: