How to Break Free From Unhealthy Relationships

What unhealthy relationships do you experience in your life?

Throughout my life, I had a fair share of unhealthy relationships, whether it was my sister or a close friend. Being in these relationships, I often felt confused and powerless. It felt easy to blame the other person for their behaviour. However, I also noticed that I had a responsibility for unhealthy dynamics. Don’t get me wrong, I do not think that their unhealthy behaviour was ok. They were responsible for it. However, the reality is that blaming them for their behaviour did not allow me to make better choices for myself. Some people may change, others won’t. Therefore, I asked myself how I could empower myself in these situations. I chose to be honest with myself and reflected on the dynamics.

What is holding you back from making healthier choices?

Overtime, I found out important principles that help me break free from unhealthy relationships. They also helped me choose healthy relationships in my life.

Stop making excuses

I noticed that I excused and explained their unhealthy behaviour, but I did not respect my boundaries. In the case of my sister, I deeply loved her and I knew her. I understood why she behaved the way she did since we have grown up in a dysfunctional family. I saw the abused child in her but I never saw in her the adult who was now responsible for their choices. She never chose to heal herself and break the cycle of violence. She never changed her unhealthy behaviour and violated my boundaries. I stopped excusing her and saw the adult she now was.

Hold people accountable for their behaviour

Therefore, I was able to hold her accountable for her actions – or inactions. I addressed the behaviour that was not ok for me and requested her to change. While I have compassion for people’s suffering, I stopped making excuses and took care of my boundaries.

Heal your blind spots

While it took me a while to recognize it, my sister and my best friend knew my insecurities better than I knew them. Each time I did something that they did not like, they used those aspects of me that I felt guilty for or insecure about against me. They were those parts of me that I avoided looking at because they were painful or I considered them as being worthless. The more I was able to take care of those parts, accept them and integrate them, the more I was able to liberate myself from emotional blackmail. I was able to stand up for myself and confront what was going on.

Acknowledge your needs

Last but not least, I sat down with my painful emotions and asked myself what the unmet need was underneath it. For example, in my relationship with my former best friend, I noticed that I often felt angry or bored and I asked myself what need I did not get out of this relationship. My friend never shared his story, and I needed this to feel connected with him. I asked myself what I needed in this relationship to continue with it.

You can make requests, but you cannot command people to change

I reflected on the specific behaviours I could request from him to get them met. I also marked those needs that were essential to continue with the relationship. Later, I had a conversation with him and explained my requests. He denied all of them. While it was a difficult conversation, it gave me the clarity I needed to let go of the relationship. It suddenly became easy.

If you do not take action, nothing will ever change

I am not saying that breaking free from an unhealthy relationship means that you have to let go of it. There is no definite rule for it, it depends on the other person and what you are willing to tolerate or where your boundaries are. However, stopping to find excuses, healing your blind spots and acknowledging your needs will help you to gain clarity about what your options are.

Change is uncomfortable, but nothing is as painful as staying where you are

While it is easy to write about it, I do not necessarily think that it is simple to implement when we are in the middle of an unhealthy relationship dynamic because our emotions may be messy – we may feel confused, angry, devastated, powerless, and full of doubts. Therefore, I think that it is a sign of strength to get help when you are in an unhealthy situation. At least, this is the promise I gave myself if I ever ended up in an unhealthy relationship again.

Check out my program “Break Free From Unhealthy Relationships.”

Natalie Jovanic

Natalie Jovanic is a Registered Therapeutic Counsellor and Shiatsu Therapist. As a counsellor, she passes on what she believes in, but it isn’t just knowledge, theory, and professional experience. It is also her wisdom gained through her own transformative journey of healing abuse. She is the author of A Brave, True Story.