At some point in your life, if you haven’t already, you’ll probably find yourself in a relationship. If you’re lucky, your relationship will positively challenge you, support you, and encourage you – it’s the type of relationship we all strive to have!
However, some relationships take twisted turns to where one partner is abused, humiliated, manipulated, and/or harmed. These types of relationships can be incredibly scary, so it’s important to know the signs of a toxic relationship before entering one.
What is a Toxic Relationship?
For starters, a toxic relationship can take many forms. Whether it be abuse, humiliation or manipulation, a toxic relationship will hurt you. This type of relationship doesn’t support, doesn’t encourage, and it doesn’t love – although it pretends too!
Toxic relationships, which can be seen through examples of domestic violence, can be incredibly trapping. Generally, one partner is the abuser and one partner is the victim. This cycle of toxicity, or abuse, can almost feel unwinnable.
The cycle is broken down into three phases:
Now you might be asking, “What if I’m not abused?” That’s a fair question, as not all toxic relationships revolve around direct abuse and/or harm. Some relationships are toxic, simply because they’re toxic.
Breaking Down Toxic Relationships
As just mentioned, not all toxic relationships incorporate direct abuse and/or harm. However, they can still harm us indirectly.
For example, a relationship without trust is what? Probably a strained relationship, right? This strain can lead to arguments and accusations, which can ultimately lead to long-term feeling of hurt. What if you’ve tried to leave and your partner threatens self-harm? Although they’re not directly harming you, they’re emotionally manipulating you to stay – which is toxic.
If you’re in a relationship where your partner is always cheating, always lying, or always making you feel like you’re the “crazy one,” – then that’s toxic. In fact, this is called gaslighting. If you’ve watched Hannah B’s season of The Bachelorette, then you’ve witnessed gaslighting.
What is Gaslighting?
As defined by The National Domestic Violence Hotline, gaslighting is a strategy used by an abuser to make their partner question their own feelings, instincts, and sanity. Gaslighting tends to happen over time, not overnight. When it does occur, the abuser gains a lot of power.
Listed below are the types of gaslighting techniques, defined by The National Domestic Violence Hotline.
If you believe your partner is intentionally utilizing any of these techniques, chances are – it’s a toxic relationship.
If you’re fortunate enough to be in a fulfilling, healthy relationship – cherish it! Make sure you keep your wits about you and notice any red flags if they ever emerge. In addition to that, if you see someone struggling in a toxic relationship – be their ally. They don’t need another person putting them down, so be as supportive as you can.
If you find yourself in a toxic relationship, to any capacity, reach out to a trusted person who can help you leave the relationship. Whether that be friends, family, counselors… reach out to your support system. If you feel as though you can’t reach out to anyone, for whatever reason, there are numerous resources that can help.
Some of these resources include:
Please note, leaving an abusive and toxic relationship can escalate violent behavior. It’s essential to have a safety plan or personal support. Your safety is the number one priority!
I know it can seem scary, but it’s never okay for someone to be abused, humiliated, manipulated and/or harmed. Listen to your gut when you see red flags and help others to do the same. No one deserves a toxic relationship!
Last month I wrote about the potential harmful effects the WW Kurbo app has on children and families. Since then the debate has become increasingly heated and the medical and mental health community are at odds to what is “right and wrong.” So if you are a parent and/or caregiver and feel confused by how to raise a confident and healthy child, I DON’T BLAME YOU! It’s incredibly overwhelming and confusing!
One of my colleagues, Ariel Johnston, RD, LD, a well respected Dietitian in our community, and I put together a list to help parents and caregivers raise strong, healthy, and confident kids and teens. This list is based on our personal and professional experiences of working with individuals with disordered eating and eating disorders, as well as years of research in this field.
Here’s the good news and the scary news: This starts with us, not with our kids. It’s up to all of us who have any interaction with children (not just parents) to set a good example, practice what we preach, and teach our kids how to love their bodies and to love food, even we’ve been taught the opposite ourselves.
1) Foods choices are not a moral issue. Food is fuel for our bodies and should not be labeled as “good or bad.” ALL food has nutritional value and no one should feel ashamed for what they are eating and enjoying the taste of certain foods they enjoy.
Teach your child to approach foods neutrally and avoid categorizing food into “junk food” or “healthy food.” For example, instead of saying “processed meat like pepperoni will give you cancer.” Try, “Let’s mix a little bit of meat with a bunch of veggies on our pizza.” Instead of saying, “juice will rot your teeth” try, “we always brush our teeth after having juice.” Instead of saying ‘junk food’ try saying 'play food' or 'fun food' instead to take away the stigma.
By forbidding the less nutritionally dense food from your home (cookies, candy, chips, ice cream, etc.) it increases your child’s preference for them and the likelihood to binge on them when they have the opportunity. Studies have shown that parental control of kids food intake actually increases their enthusiasm for and intake of those restricted foods. Just like any diet or form of restriction, food policing from a parental figure disrupts the body's greatest tool to nourish itself: hunger and fullness signals.
So stock your pantry with a wide variety of foods and create a home environment that has a variety of foods from broccoli to tater tots to ice cream, because all food is good food!
2) Take a look at your own fears and stigma around weight, size, and health
We know that our kids are watching and listening to what we say and do as adults. That’s how they learn. I’m not judging if your child repeats a curse word at school and the teacher asks where they heard that (not that that’s every happened to me of course…). Our current diet culture which is a $60 billion dollar industry and profits off our insecurities, has brainwashed us to believe that we should all hate our bodies and do anything we can to change them. Can you imagine our children growing up in our world where they are encouraged to be proud of what their bodies can do for them and to look in the mirror and love what they see?!
Try and only speak positively about your own body and physical appearance. Avoid commenting on other’s body shape and size because that has nothing to do with who that person is. Discuss what your body does for you and how feeling healthy is about feeling strong, energetic, hopeful, and excited. Compliment your kids for the awesome things they are doing each day instead of how they look. Replace compliments about your child being pretty, beautiful, and skinny with being strong, courageous, caring, loving, kind, smart, funny. Help them shape their worth by who they are as a person not what others see on the outside.
3. Disband the clean plate club
We are all born intuitive eaters, meaning our bodies know what and how much they need. Intuitive eaters fully trust their body’s wisdom and eat according to it’s hunger, fullness, and satisfaction cues, without guilt, rules, or restriction. Intuitive eating approaches have been found to positively impact eating habits, body image, self esteem, psychological health, and quality of life.
The clean plate club is essentially the opposite of intuitive eating. It's saying ignore all your bodily senses and eat everything that is in front of you. Obviously parents are doing this because they love their children and want to make sure they are getting all the nutrition they need, but in the long run it may be doing more harm than good because those practices can override a child’s innate ability to self-regulate energy intake.
Instead of saying, “Finish your plate before you leave the table.” Try, “if your tummy is full, you can leave it.” Teach your children to tune into their bodies. This may be the most important skill you can teach your child around food.
4. Cook with your child and eat at the table together
“When the joy goes out of eating, nutrition suffers.”
By cooking together, you are teaching life skills and building connection through joyful and playful experiences. This is one of the most important practices with kids who are “picky eaters” to help them be more adventurous. Have them touch, play, and smell the food, even if they don’t like the taste. Cooking can also help those picky eaters to be more adventurous. When my toddler says she doesn’t like a food (which is frequently one she’s never tried btw) I encourage her to tell me what she does like about it. The color? The smell? How it rolls around or makes a funny noise on her plate? If she doesn’t it eat that’s okay, my goal is to ensure she’s not afraid of it.
5. Be your child’s advocate
This one may sound obvious but I think it’s actually the most difficult, even for myself. It’s hard to feel comfortable talking with your child’s school about the importance of NOT weighing children or sending home letters about their BMI and being “healthy vs. unhealthy.” It’s not easy to ask your pediatrician to not label your child as “unhealthy” or “overweight” but it’s vital to their self esteem. Labels breed shame and shame leads to low self esteem and (truly) unhealthy behaviors.
I can’t tell you how many teens I’ve worked with who can recall word for word when a doctor, coach, parent, teacher, told them they were “overweight” and “unhealthy” which then in turn lead then down a path of obsession, negative self worth and disordered eating. We all make mistakes and say things we wish we wouldn’t have, myself included. Don’t be afraid to own your mistakes and model for your kids that you’re learning how to love yourself and your body too.
Everyone is doing the best they can and making choices based on what they’ve learned, but it’s time to learn new ways of doing things to improve our culture so our children grow up in a world with less shame, guilt, fear, and criticism. One day (and meal) at a time!
Written with love and kindness by Ariel Johnston, RD, LD (TheTastyBalance.com) and Whitney Harken, LSCSW, LCSW, CEDS-S
“Shoot for the moon, because even if you miss, you will land among the stars.”
A major part of my work is reducing the self-criticism and self-blame clients hear when they don’t reach their goals. The reality is that if we shoot for the moon and miss, we do end up among the stars…floating alone in the infinite void of space. It sounds like the best option may be to not try at all, or to not have goals. Right? But, who wants to live a life without goals?
The answer to the problem of criticism when we miss our goals is that context is everything, and the critical and blaming voices in our heads are terrible at context. Those voices say things like:
What is the common theme in these statements? The word you. Our critical and blaming voices zero in on what we did or didn’t do to the exclusion of everything else. There is no context. What was happening around you when you missed your goal? What barriers were in your way? What resources were you missing that would have made hitting the moon easier? Are your expectations of yourself realistic?
Adding context does not, unfortunately, change the situation. What it does is take the spotlight of criticism and blame off you, turning it from a painful experience into…an experience. Painful experiences lead to pain-based responses like inappropriate anger, depression, avoidance, and more. Experiences that are unpleasant but not painful lead to more positive responses including problem solving and growth.
So, it is metaphorically just fine to shoot for the moon—make your goals however lofty you want them to be. However, if you miss, and end up far from success, remember that context is everything. Is it your fault you’re there, or is it a complex situation with many causes? I guarantee it is the latter.