Many people find themselves trapped in unhealthy relationships when they reach a dark point in their lives— especially when it comes to addiction. These can include friendships, romance, or even relationships with family members. In any case, you might not have recognized that the company you kept during addiction was just as toxic as the drugs you used. After all, your focus was on feeding the addiction. But what will happen now that you’re sober? Unfortunately, continued toxic relationships in recovery are far more common than you might think. In fact, many suffer in silence during addiction recovery simply because they don’t know how to address, change, or end toxic relationships for their own good.
What is a Toxic Relationship?
The definition of “toxic relationship” will vary depending on who you ask. Overall, though, most people would describe a toxic relationship as one that is characterized by negative thoughts or behavioral patterns. The most extreme toxic relationships involve psychological, emotional, or sometimes even physical harm. In many ways, being in a relationship with a toxic person can lead to abuse if it has not already.
What Does the Bible Say About Toxic Relationships?
The term “toxic relationship” is a relatively new one, so there are no direct references to the phrase in scripture. However, the idea behind toxic relationships existed long before it had a name attached to it. So, there are several passages from the Bible that do discuss the concept of toxic relationships in depth. The wisdom imparted by these passages are especially relevant in addiction recovery since toxic relationships tend to continue even after getting sober.
Toxic People to Avoid in Recovery
The Ones Who Always Play the Victim
The people who regularly “play the victim” are the ones in your life who take any situation and make it about themselves. False victims are usually very needy and attention-seeking. They will often make others look bad to make themselves more sympathetic by comparison. Most conversations they hold with you will consist of statements like:
- “Everyone takes advantage of me.”
- “No one even tries to understand me.”
Companionship with false victims is one the most damaging toxic relationships you could have in recovery. What makes false victims so toxic is that they do not show genuine support. Instead, they are more likely to take on your struggles as their own to gain sympathy from others. Even worse, these toxic people may even convince you that you are guilty of victimizing them yourself. False victims will likely try to guilt you into thinking you have wronged them directly by struggling with addiction in the first place. If they are successful in twisting their words, they may even have you believe that hurting them was the worst consequence of your addiction— not your own suffering. False victims might tell you things like:
- “This has been especially hard for me.”
- “You don’t understand how badly you’ve hurt me.”
- “Why weren’t you thinking about how this would affect me?”
Toxic relationships with false victims take away any real chance at healing from those who have actually been victimized by something— like how the physical and emotional demands of addiction have victimized you.
The Ones Who Always Blame Others for Their Faults
Much like the false victims, the people who continually blame others for their misfortunes are more likely to hinder your recovery than help it. Blamers are people who never take responsibility for their own actions. Nothing is “their fault,” and they will go out of their way to find fault in others to support this mindset. General comments and complaints you will hear from blamers include:
- “It’s all his/her fault.”
- “Everyone is out to get me.”
- “Nothing ever works out for me.”
Blamers are one of the worst kinds of people you can be around during your recovery. In this kind of toxic relationship, blamers are more likely to use your addiction to justify themselves for their failure to be kind, compassionate, or supportive. They might tell you:
- “It’s not my fault you became an addict.”
- “You shouldn’t have used in the first place.”
In addiction recovery, the primary role of anyone in your support system is to put you, your feelings, and your needs first so that you can make progress and get better. The blamers in your life will do just the opposite; they will place more importance on their own minor grievances than on your recovery. In other words, your problems will always take a back seat to theirs in this toxic relationship. Worse still, they will never let you forget it.
The Ones Who Are Never Positive
People who have a negative outlook on life are rarely good company even under normal circumstances. However, the views of serial pessimists epitomize the “glass half-empty” mentality that people in recovery try their hardest to avoid. Serial pessimists are relentless critics, single-minded complainers, and persistent whiners. They rarely have anything positive to say, even about things that are perceivably good, fair, and just. Instead, this toxic relationship is usually comprised of generalized biases like:
- “This will never get better.”
- “Things can always get worse.”
- “This is the worst case scenario.”
The serial pessimists to be especially wary of during addiction recovery are the ones that also have a strong desire to be right all the time. Those kinds of pessimists typically won’t have any reservations about sharing and spreading their negativity— even to those who need positivity to stay sober. If you keep a toxic relationship with a serial pessimist during your recovery, you’ll most likely hear things like:
- “You’re not making very much progress.”
- “It’s only a matter of time before you relapse.”
- “Once you’re an addict, you’re always an addict.”
Perhaps the worst part about toxic relationships with serial pessimists is that they will often try, intentionally or not, to make their negativity the norm for others. In their minds, they’re sharing the truth about the world. However, because they see the worst in things, serial pessimists may influence you to do the same. Even worse, they may trick you into seeing the worst in yourself, which can easily trigger a relapse during the early stages of your recovery.
The Ones Who Bully Others— Including You
Bullies never fail to put the “toxic” in toxic relationships. As such, bullies should never, under any circumstances, be part of your support system during addiction recovery. Whether they are trying to be playful or purposely malicious, bullies always aim to dominate their peers and the situation. They tend to act on their desire to be “better” than others, including you. Additionally, many of their conversations with you will revolve around comparing themselves to others and pointing out all the ways they think they are superior. In a toxic relationship with bullies, you might be told things like:
- “I would have been able to quit using a lot sooner if it was me.”
- “You could probably get sober on your own if you cared enough.”
- “I wouldn’t have been stupid enough to get addicted in the first place.”
Don’t think that you are exempt from any harsh treatment from the bullies in your life just because you are in recovery. Most bullies will not pass up the opportunity to mock or even hurt others just to make themselves look smarter or stronger. Even worse, bullies who are quick to anger have a higher potential to trigger a relapse than most others.
The Ones Who Try to Control Others— Including You
People in recovery should be especially wary of manipulation, which is a unique form of bullying. Unfortunately, toxic relationships with manipulators are usually the hardest to identify. This is often because manipulators appear genuinely concerned for you and your wellbeing. But in reality, they are driven by their desire to be in charge— not just of their lives, but of everyone else’s, too. Manipulators might mislead you during your recovery with statements like:
- “You’d let me help you if you really trusted me.”
- “You’re not capable of doing this, so let me handle it.”
- “You don’t know how to take care of yourself, so let me take care of you.”
These particularly toxic people are the most likely to make you doubt yourself during your recovery. Most of the time, they’ll do it just so they can influence the way you think, feel, or act going forward. Additionally, they’ll try to convince you that your past mistakes invalidate any good decision-making you do in the present. Manipulators and false victims are similar in this way. The only difference is that, unlike false victims, manipulators like to play God.
The Ones Who Abuse Others— But Especially You
Abusive relationships are the hardest of any toxic relationship to escape. Like bullies, abusers tend to feel that they are superior to others. However, unlike bullies, abusers are typically more prone to anger and bouts of emotional or physical violence. If you are on the receiving end of abuse from a partner, friend, or family member, you are in danger. When something doesn’t go their way, abusers will take it out on anyone or anything— and it very well might be you. If at all possible, you should terminate this kind of toxic relationship after the first red flag.
Identifying the Signs of Toxic Relationships
With so much of your focus dedicated to your recovery, it can be challenging to determine whether or not a close relationship has become (or perhaps always was) toxic. Still, it is essential to recognize which of your peers’ patterns of behavior might jeopardize your sobriety. Ask yourself:
- Do I feel safe when I’m alone with this person?
- Does this person encourage me to do/be better?
- Has this person helped me in my recovery so far?
- Does this person make me feel good about myself?
- Do the others in my support system like this person?
- Has this person helped me feel good about my recovery?
- Does this person advocate for my overall health and wellbeing?
How to End Toxic Relationships During Recovery
If your answer to the questions listed above is anything other than “yes,” then you should strongly consider ending the relationship, especially if making healthy adjustments to it isn’t possible. There are a few ways you can terminate toxic relationships. These are just a few of them:
Recruit Help from Others Who Support You
Your support system is arguably the most invaluable tool in your recovery process. If you ever find yourself trapped in a toxic relationship that threatens your physical, mental, or emotional health, you should not be afraid to reach out for help. Your counselors, therapists, and peers in recovery can help you find the best way to rectify the situation and move on without putting you or anyone else at risk. From that point forward, you can count on those same people to provide the positive influence you’ll need in your new, sober life.
Revitalize the Relationship by Setting Boundaries
If the relationship in question was not always toxic, it might be possible to salvage as long as it is not dangerous. Certain mildly toxic relationships can be restructured and made healthy again by setting boundaries. This means establishing “rules” for what is and is not acceptable from others during your recovery and beyond.
The boundaries that you set for others should address all the issues that have impacted everything from your sense of self-worth to your need for personal space. Once you establish these boundaries, you’ll need to maintain them as well. For example, if a friend makes an off-handed comment about your addiction or recovery that hurts your self-esteem, bring it to his or her attention. Then, reaffirm the boundaries you both agreed to by saying that you do not want to be spoken about in that way again.
If any of your toxic friends or family are serious about supporting you through your recovery, they should comply with the boundaries you’ve set. The ones who genuinely care about you might even change their behaviors for the better. Otherwise, they risk losing your companionship. And unfortunately, you may have to prepare yourself for this very situation.
Cut Your Losses and Walk Away if You Need To
Your priority should always be your recovery. The people who support you will understand that. So, if others blatantly ignore or deliberately cross the boundaries you’ve set, it’s time to end the relationship. Any healthy relationship needs reciprocity and mutual respect. If anyone acts like your boundaries are not relevant to them, then they’ve made it clear that you and your health are not a priority for them. At this point, the best thing you can do for yourself is to walk away and keep moving forward.
Trust in God and Brave Your Path with Help from Road to Freedom
Many people struggle with toxic relationships, but it can be especially difficult— and even dangerous— for people in addiction recovery. If you find yourself in a situation where you have to end a toxic relationship that once meant a lot to you for the sake of your health, rest assured that God has a plan for you. If a relationship ended, take it as a sign that His plan doesn’t involve people who would put you in danger of relapsing after all your hard work to get sober. At Road to Freedom, our faith-based programs and services can equip you with all the tools you’ll need to face toxic relationships during your recovery process. For more information, please call our admissions counselors at (844) 432-0544.