Today we’re going to talk about the major signs that you have a toxic ex (or were in a toxic relationship.) You’ve heard of the 7 deadly sins, right?
Well, I just came up with what I consider to be the 13 toxic relationship sins,
- You Are Trapped In A Narcissistic Abuse Cycle: Your ex is a narcissist and has you trapped in an abuse cycle.
- Gaslighting: They deny things they’ve said or done, trying to make you doubt your own memories or feelings.
- Comparing You to Their New Partner: They might reach out just to let you know how much “better” their new relationship is, in an attempt to make you feel inadequate.
- Emotional Manipulation: They use guilt, blame, or emotional blackmail to make you feel responsible for the end of the relationship or their current feelings.
- Jealousy and Possessiveness: They become overly jealous or possessive, even after the relationship has ended, and may try to control who you see or what you do.
- Refusing to Return Belongings: They hold onto your personal items as a way to maintain a connection or have an excuse to see you again.
- Stalking Behavior: They might show up at places they know you frequent, check your social media obsessively, or even follow you.
- Playing the Victim: They consistently portray themselves as the victim, refusing to acknowledge their role in the problems that led to the breakup.
- Financial Manipulation: They might try to control shared financial assets or obligations to exert power over you.
- Constant Criticism: They continually criticize or belittle your choices, appearance, or actions, even after the relationship has ended.
- Revenge Tactics: They might try to sabotage your future relationships, job opportunities, or other aspects of your life as a form of revenge.
- Public Humiliation: They might attempt to embarrass or humiliate you in public or on social media platforms.
- Making Threats: Whether it’s a threat to harm themselves, you, or someone else, any form of threatening behavior is a serious red flag.
There’s quite a lot to cover here so let’s get to work.
1) You Are Trapped In A Narcissistic Abuse Cycle
So, 2023 has really been the year of me diving into understanding narcissists.
It’s not necessarily that I neglected researching narcissists before; it’s just that I was far more interested in mastering the nuances of attachment theory and attachment style. But when I felt like I had mastered that, I decided to move on this year to focus specifically on narcissists, and boy, did I learn a lot.
So, if you’re not familiar, a narcissist, I could sit here and give you the traditional narcissistic definition, but I actually think what clicked for me with narcissists was simply by understanding how they operate.
A narcissist is someone who operates not by viewing human beings as human beings; they view human beings as supply. This human being can give them potential intimate benefits, so they view that person as a way they can fill up their cup, if you will, romantically, intimately, or sometimes sexually.
Maybe they’ve got another person earmarked as someone they can rely on for emotional support, and they’re just users. They just use people, and when they’re done with them, they spit them out, and then they’ve learned over their lives ways to suck them back in. And basically, what I just described there is the very basic version of the narcissistic abuse cycle.
So, take a look at this graphic.
This graphic is known as the narcissistic abuse cycle. And what I want you to start paying attention to is if you feel you are caught in this graphic. The narcissistic abuse cycle starts the same way across the board.
The Idealization Stage
It starts with the idealization stage. Now, the idealization stage is essentially where the narcissist shines. They have learned exactly what to do and what to say to attract individuals to them, whether that’s by harping on their own good looks or by saying the right things at the right time.
Usually, they don’t mean these things; they’re just trying to manipulate you into committing to them or giving them what they want. Of course, when they get what they want, that’s when they start moving down the abuse cycle. So, they’ve idealized you. You feel on top of the world.
The Devaluation Stage
Well, next comes the devaluation stage. They’ve gotten what they want. They’re not so interested in you anymore. And so, they start saying mean things to you, or they start doing mean things to you, or they start seeking other supply elsewhere.
And this makes you feel horrible. And typically, what happens, I’ve noticed, is my clients, when they’re in the devaluation stage, will bring this up to their partner, and their partner will literally sit there and gaslight them and make them feel like they’re crazy. But ultimately, it ends in the same way.
The Discard Stage
The narcissist will discard the individual. They’ve found another source of supply or they’ve gotten the supply they needed from you and move on to someone else. But that doesn’t mean they’ve thrown you away forever.
They view you like a toy. They’re just putting you in the toy box until they have the urge or the feeling to play with the toy again. And that is where the hoovering stage comes into play.
The Hoover Stage
The hoovering stage is named after the vacuum, the Hoover vacuum.
They learn over time what to do to suck you back in, to idealize you again, and have you go through the entire cycle again and again and again. This is why narcissists often are forces of nature that ruin people’s securities and ruin people’s foundation of relationships.
So, if what I just described sounds incredibly familiar to you, then yes, you are in a very toxic situation, and you need to remove yourself from that situation as much as possible.
Okay, so we just talked about how gaslighting can sometimes be present in the devaluation stage of the narcissistic abuse cycle.
But it’s not only narcissists that have learned how to use gaslighting. Very toxic exes use gaslighting all the time.
To prove that point, I found a very public instance of gaslighting that I would like to break down and talk about. All right, so my wife and I have been rewatching, well, I don’t think I’ve seen this before, but we’ve been watching the show Bachelor in Paradise, which is interesting.
I actually prefer that show more than The Bachelor, where you have all these women vying for one man’s attention, or The Bachelorette, where you have all these men vying for one woman’s attention.
Rather, this one is more about couples and trying to get to the end. Now, it’s as fake as the rest of The Bachelor shows and everything, but we do get some really fascinating instances of seeing relationships play out in front of our eyes.
There was a particular instance where a contestant named Leo was on season, I want to say five, of The Bachelor in Paradise. Essentially, he came in and went on a date with a girl. Immediately after the date, he obviously kissed the girl, but right after, he went and kissed another girl and did not tell the original girl about it, with whom he, quote unquote, got into a relationship. This sets the stage for the gaslighting that’s going to happen. Eventually, it comes out to the initial girl he is dating that after their date, he immediately started making out with another girl. When confronted about this by the initial girl, he began to gaslight her, not necessarily making her think it didn’t happen, but making her feel bad about bringing it up, portraying himself as the victim, and suggesting that his behavior was normal, thereby invalidating her feelings and dictating how she should feel.
To illustrate this, I’ve included a clip to show you what this looks like in person.
I was curious about this blatant instance of gaslighting, so I searched Google to see if anyone else had discussed this episode, which aired years ago. I found an article from the JWI Association, or Jewish Women International, a leading organization championing women and girls by preventing domestic violence and sexual abuse.
The article, written by Eric McMullen, the development coordinator for JWI, breaks down this episode. I won’t delve too deeply into it here to direct traffic to her insightful piece, but it highlights how Leo’s treatment of the girl exemplifies gaslighting.
If what I’ve described sounds familiar to you, especially if it mirrors the attached clip, then you are likely in a toxic breakup or relationship and should address the situation or distance yourself from that individual as soon as possible.
3) Comparing You To Their New Partner
I’ve said this multiple times throughout the existence of ex-boyfriend recovery: no one likes to feel like they lost the breakup.
This sentiment is especially strong when you consider that about 80% of the readers of my content are individuals who have been broken up with.
This is significant because if you’ve been broken up with, you naturally don’t want to feel like you’ve lost. What I’ve often observed is that ex-partners try to rub your face in the breakup.
They quickly move on to someone else and flaunt that new relationship, engaging in activities you might have longed for during your time together.
For instance, if you always wanted to take a trip together, they might suddenly embark on getaways with their new partner, posting frequently about it on social media. It becomes evident that your ex is showcasing this new person, comparing you to them, and making sure you know about it.
Sometimes, they even go out of their way to tell you directly how much better they feel with this new person compared to when they were with you.
The psychology behind this behavior is intriguing. At its core, it stems from their own insecurities and an overwhelming need to feel like they’ve “won” the breakup. However, if they’re constantly trying to prove that they’ve moved on and are better off, it’s a clear indication that they haven’t fully gotten over the breakup.
From my experience, once the new partner realizes that their significant other is still hung up on the past, it often becomes a turn-off for them.
4) Emotional Manipulation
Emotional manipulation involves using a variety of tactics to influence another person’s emotions and actions. The manipulator seeks to control the other person’s behavior to achieve their own desires or needs, often at the expense of the other’s well-being.
Here Are Some Of The Key Tactics A Toxic Ex May Use:
- Guilt-Tripping: The manipulator makes the other person feel guilty for their actions, decisions, or feelings. This can be done by portraying themselves as the victim or by exaggerating their emotional pain. For example, they might say things like, “After everything I did for you, this is how you repay me?”
- Blame-Shifting: Instead of taking responsibility for their actions or mistakes, the manipulator shifts the blame onto the other person. They might say things like, “You made me do this” or “It’s your fault our relationship ended.”
- Emotional Blackmail: This involves threats or ultimatums that play on the other person’s emotions. For instance, they might threaten to harm themselves if the other person leaves or doesn’t comply with their wishes.
- Playing the Victim: The manipulator portrays themselves as the innocent victim, regardless of the actual circumstances. This tactic seeks to gain sympathy and divert attention away from their own harmful behaviors.
- Withholding Affection or Approval: The manipulator might withhold love, affection, or approval as a form of punishment, making the other person feel unloved or unworthy unless they comply with the manipulator’s desires.
- Gaslighting: This involves making the other person doubt their own perceptions, memories, or feelings. The manipulator might deny things they’ve said or done, leading the other person to question their own sanity.
(Note: You’ll notice that some of these tactics are the deadly toxic sins that I’m talking about in this article. That is by design.)
Effects on the Target (You):
- Decreased Self-Esteem: Constantly being blamed or made to feel guilty can erode a person’s self-worth.
- Confusion: The target might feel unsure about their own feelings or reality due to the manipulator’s tactics.
- Feeling Trapped: The emotional toll can make the target feel trapped or unable to leave the situation.
- Depression or Anxiety: Prolonged emotional manipulation can lead to mental health issues.
How to Deal with Emotional Manipulation:
- Awareness: Recognizing the signs of manipulation is the first step in addressing it.
- Set Boundaries: Clearly define what behaviors are unacceptable and stick to those boundaries.
- Seek Support: Talk to trusted friends, family, or professionals about the situation.
- Prioritize Self-Care: Engage in activities that boost self-esteem and emotional well-being.
- Consider Professional Help: Therapy or counseling can provide tools and strategies to cope with or leave a manipulative relationship.
5) Jealousy And Possessiveness
I’m not referring to the jealousy or possessiveness that might arise during a relationship.
That, to some extent, can be understood.
When two people commit to each other, certain expectations are set, and sometimes insecurities can lead to feelings of jealousy. What I’m addressing here is jealousy and possessiveness that manifests specifically after the relationship has ended.
Imagine this scenario: your ex breaks up with you, and after a few months, you decide to venture into the world of dating again, exploring platforms like
- Facebook Dating,
- or Tinder.
However, when your ex learns about your new dating endeavors, they react with heightened possessiveness.
They might attempt to dictate who you can or cannot see, trying to control your actions even though the relationship has long been over. This behavior can be likened to that of narcissists.
If you recall the narcissistic abuse cycle, there’s a phase called “hoovering.” After discarding you, when a narcissist feels their supply of admiration is dwindling, they often return to what they consider a reliable source: you. But if they discover you’re moving on, they might panic. Resorting to their manipulative tactics, they’ll idealize you, make grand promises, and do whatever it takes to hinder your progress in moving on. Their goal isn’t necessarily to ensure your happiness; rather, they’re focused on their own satisfaction. Essentially, they aim to keep you confined, not for your well-being, but for their own selfish desires.
6) Refusing To Return Belongings
When a relationship ends, it’s common for individuals to have possessions that belong to the other party.
However, in some cases, an ex-partner may deliberately refuse to return these items. This behavior often goes beyond mere forgetfulness or oversight.
Instead, it can be a manipulative tactic to maintain a connection or a form of control over the other person.
By withholding belongings, the ex-partner creates a reason for future interactions, giving them an excuse to re-enter the other person’s life whenever they choose.
This can be particularly distressing for the individual who wants to move on, as the withheld items can serve as a constant reminder of the past relationship. The act of holding onto personal items can be a way for the manipulative ex to exert power, signaling that they still have something the other person wants or needs.
In such situations, it’s essential to recognize the underlying intentions and set firm boundaries, even if it means considering legal avenues or third-party mediation to retrieve the belongings.
7) Stalking Behavior
Stalking is a pattern of obsessive behavior and unwanted attention directed at a specific individual, causing fear or concern for personal safety. When exhibited by an ex-partner, it’s a severe invasion of privacy and a sign of disrespect for boundaries.
Here’s a deeper look into this behavior:
Manifestations of Stalking:
- Physical Surveillance: The stalker might frequently appear at places the victim frequents, such as their workplace, gym, or favorite cafe. They might “coincidentally” run into the victim or even follow them covertly.
- Cyberstalking: With the rise of digital technology, stalking has taken on a new dimension. An ex might obsessively monitor social media profiles, send unwanted messages, or even create fake profiles to spy or harass.
- Gathering Information: The stalker might try to gather information about the victim’s daily routine, friends, or activities, often through mutual acquaintances or by going through their personal belongings.
- Intrusive Communication: This includes sending unsolicited emails, texts, or letters, often with content that ranges from pleading to threatening.
- Using Third Parties: The stalker might involve mutual friends, family, or even strangers to relay messages or gather information about the victim.
8) Playing The Victim
This behavior fascinates me, given how frequently I’ve observed exes resorting to it.
As I’ve mentioned, many of the exes we study are the ones who initiated the breakup with our clients.
Yet, it’s astonishing how often these same exes portray themselves as the victim, failing to recognize or admit their part in the issues that led to the breakup. Why do they do this?
I believe it primarily stems from their desire for attention, validation, and sympathy. Playing the victim also serves as a diversion from accepting personal responsibility.
A useful lens to understand this is through the emotion of anger. Many are puzzled when their ex, who initiated the breakup, displays anger post-breakup. This anger often has a cathartic effect, providing a temporary relief from guilt or responsibility.
By directing anger towards someone else, that individual conveniently becomes the root of all problems. Over time, these exes condition themselves to avoid accountability, shifting the blame onto others and casting themselves in the role of the hero.
It’s essential to remember that we all view ourselves as the main characters in our life stories, rarely perceiving ourselves as the villains. Secure individuals will own up to their mistakes and take responsibility. In contrast, insecure ones will often play the victim, even when it’s unwarranted, all in an effort to shield their ego. At its core, it’s about ego preservation.
9) Financial Manipulation
Financial manipulation is a subtle yet powerful form of control that can manifest in various ways, especially after a relationship has ended.
An ex-partner may use shared financial assets, debts, or obligations as leverage to maintain influence over the other person. For instance, they might withhold funds, delay payments, or make unauthorized transactions to create financial instability.
Such tactics can force the victim into unwanted interactions or decisions, as they may feel financially dependent or bound to the manipulator. This form of control can be particularly distressing, as it not only affects emotional well-being but also one’s ability to maintain a stable life.
Recognizing these signs and seeking legal or financial advice can be crucial in regaining autonomy and breaking free from the manipulator’s grip.
10) Constant Criticism
Persistent criticism from an ex-partner goes beyond the occasional disagreements that might arise post-breakup. When an individual consistently faces criticism or belittlement regarding their choices, appearance, or actions, it’s a clear sign of a deeper issue.
Such behavior is an attempt to undermine the individual’s self-worth and confidence, making them second-guess their decisions and feel insecure about themselves.
This relentless negativity can be a tactic to maintain a form of control, ensuring the individual remains emotionally tethered and possibly even yearning for validation from the critic.
Over time, this can erode one’s self-esteem and lead to feelings of inadequacy. It’s essential to recognize this behavior for what it is: a manifestation of the critic’s own insecurities and need for control, rather than a reflection of the individual’s worth or capabilities.
Here are some of the most common criticisms that a toxic ex will level at you,
- Appearance: Critiques about weight, clothing choices, hairstyle, or overall looks.
- Career Choices: Belittling one’s job, salary, or career aspirations.
- Friends and Social Circle: Disparaging comments about friends or accusations of spending “too much” or “too little” time with them.
- Hobbies and Interests: Mocking or dismissing activities or hobbies the individual is passionate about.
- Life Choices: Criticizing decisions like where to live, whether to go back to school, or other significant life choices.
- Parenting Skills: If children are involved, they might critique parenting methods or decisions.
- Financial Decisions: Making negative comments about how one manages money, spends, or saves.
- Past Mistakes: Continually bringing up past errors or decisions, even if they’ve been addressed or are no longer relevant.
- Intellect: Questioning one’s intelligence, education, or common sense.
- Emotional Expression: Mocking or belittling one’s feelings, calling them “too sensitive” or “overreactive.”
- Ambitions: Diminishing one’s dreams or aspirations, suggesting they’re unrealistic or unattainable.
- Independence: Criticizing the individual for being either “too independent” or “not independent enough.”
- Communication Skills: Accusing one of being a poor communicator, not “open enough,” or too talkative.
11) Revenge Tactics
Revenge tactics employed by a resentful ex-partner can be both overt and covert, aiming to cause emotional, social, or even financial harm. These actions are often driven by feelings of anger, jealousy, or a desire to regain control. By seeking revenge, the ex-partner attempts to assert dominance or alleviate their own feelings of inadequacy or rejection. Here’s a deeper exploration of this behavior:
Common Revenge Tactics:
- Spreading Rumors: They might spread false or exaggerated stories about you to mutual friends, family, or colleagues, aiming to tarnish your reputation.
- Interfering in New Relationships: They could reach out to your new partner with negative stories or warnings about you, trying to sow doubt and discord.
- Job Sabotage: They might contact your workplace with false allegations or negative information, hoping to jeopardize your job or professional reputation.
- Online Harassment: Creating fake social media profiles to troll, mock, or spread false information about you.
- Vandalism: Damaging your property, such as scratching your car, breaking windows, or other acts of destruction.
- Financial Harm: If there are shared financial assets or obligations, they might refuse to pay their share or make unauthorized transactions to cause financial strain.
- Using Children: If children are involved, they might use them as pawns, turning them against you or making false allegations to child services.
- Legal Harassment: Filing frivolous lawsuits or complaints to force you to spend time, money, and emotional energy in legal battles.
- Personal Information: Sharing or threatening to share private information, photos, or messages without your consent.
- Isolation: Trying to turn mutual friends or family against you, aiming to isolate you socially.
12) Public Humiliation
Public humiliation by an ex-partner is a deliberate act of degradation, aiming to diminish the individual’s self-worth and social standing.
This behavior is a manifestation of deep-seated resentment, jealousy, or a desire for control. By publicly shaming or embarrassing the individual, the ex-partner seeks to exert dominance, gain validation, or simply inflict pain.
Here’s what you want to look out for:
- Social Media Shaming: Posting derogatory comments, private messages, photos, or videos on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter with the intent to embarrass.
- Confrontations in Public Places: Creating scenes in places like restaurants, workplaces, or social gatherings, drawing attention to personal disputes.
- Spreading Gossip: Sharing intimate details or false stories with mutual friends, colleagues, or acquaintances, aiming to tarnish the individual’s reputation.
- Revealing Personal Information: Disclosing private or sensitive information without consent, whether in person, online, or through other mediums.
- Using Multimedia: Sharing compromising photos, videos, or audio recordings, sometimes referred to as “revenge porn.”
- Mockery and Ridicule: Making fun of the individual’s appearance, choices, or mistakes in front of others.
13) Making Threats
Threatening behavior, especially post-relationship, is a grave indication of an individual’s inability to cope with emotions or a desperate attempt to regain control.
When an ex-partner resorts to making threats, whether it’s self-harm, harm towards you, or towards others, it’s a clear sign of emotional instability and potential danger. Such threats are manipulative tactics designed to evoke fear, guilt, or compliance.
They can be used to prevent the other person from moving on, making certain decisions, or simply living their life without interference.
It’s crucial to take any form of threat seriously, as it not only jeopardizes emotional well-being but can also pose real physical danger.
In the face of such threats, immediate measures such as seeking legal protection, informing law enforcement, or consulting with professionals should be considered to ensure safety and well-being.