thoughts -in-toxic-relationships

What To Do About The Thoughts That Erode Your Self-Esteem In A Toxic Relationship

Christel Van Gelder Toxic Relationships Leave a Comment

When you’re in a toxic relationship, for sure you must have —unconscious— thoughts affecting your self-esteem. These thoughts are not necessarily true. 

But having you believe your own stinking thinking is an effective strategy that a toxic person uses against you. This tool keeps you in doubt, panic, confusion and overwhelm. And hence under the toxic one’s control

So what you can do about it?

The most common thoughts people in toxic relationships have, are those about “not enough” or “ too much”. 

“Not enough” may sound like this: 
I’m not beautiful enough.
I’m not smart enough.
I’m not thin enough.
I’m not sexy enough.
I’m not rich enough.
I’m not doing enough.

Or any other variety on the “I’m-not-good-enough” theme. 

“Too much” may pop up like this:
I’m too jealous.
I’m too controlling.
I’m too suspicious/
paranoid.
I’m too insecure.
I’m too weak to stand up for myself.
I’m too shy.
I’m too in your face.
I’m too afraid

Of course, we all have these thoughts at times. That’s part of being human.

But when you’re having these thoughts on a daily basis, when you doubt yourself all the time, chances are you’re in a toxic relationship.

Good, solid relationships have strong values, such as empathy, understanding, acceptance, support, giving. But in a toxic relationship these values are compromised or even non-existent.

This leaves you full of doubt, overwhelmed, drained and exhausted. You feel mad, sad and scared. And you don’t know why. 

You may even feel like a drama queen and/or a spoiled brat. 

This is because you are made to believe you are a drama queen/spoiled brat. 

Going back to the thought patterns you’re having, I’m not going to go into the why of these beliefs right now. 

But I do want to give you a simple tool for you to become aware of having these thoughts. 

To become aware, you have to stop and take a step back. 

You have to become the Observer. When you’re the Observer, you pretend you’re watching yourself from afar. And you try to notice what it is your thinking. 

Becoming the Observer is a powerful tool to spot the dynamics of a toxic relationship. 

By doing this, your awareness of having specific and repetitive theme-thoughts will deepen. And that will be an eye-opener. 

If you watch your thoughts long and often enough, you’ll notice them the moment they pop up. Then you can examine them. And you can name them. 

You can say to yourself: See, there’s that shitty not enough thing again!” 

When you can name your thought-theme, you can also see it for what it is: false and not very helpful. 

And you can start to connect your internal reactions with the external dynamics that cause these thoughts.  These external factors being the behaviour and MO of your toxic person.

The next step is to question your thinking. 

Ask yourself the following questions:

Is what I’m thinking helping me?

Is it useful to me? 

Who is benefitting from me being in doubt, overwhelm, afraid? (Fill in the emotion that applies here)

And the last question to ask—the more tricky one— is this: Is what I’m thinking true? 

Why is this so tricky? Because by now you’ve been conditioned to believe that your “not enough” or “too much” way of thinking is true. And if you believe them to be true, you’re giving away all your power to the toxic person in your life.

So how do you start disbelieving your own stinking thinking? 

Well, you already know that your thoughts are not helpful nor useful. But I’m guessing you still think they’re true. 

I can tell you that in 99,9999% of the cases they’re not!

But you don’t have to take my word for it. 

What I want you to do, just for this very moment, is to be willing to think you may be wrong. 

So maybe it’s not true that you’re not good enough or too much —whatever that is.

Can you do that?

Now, you take it one step further by looking for proof that your thinking is not true. 

Let me clarify this with an example.

Take a  thought you often have. Let’s use this one:  “I’m not brave enough to say something when my partner disrespects me”. 

Write it down. 

Now ask yourself if this is true. 

Chances are you feel like a scared, trapped animal. So I bet you are tempted to say this is really true. You believe you’re not brave enough. 

What I want you to do next is to write down the exact opposite of this thought. 

Like this: “I am brave enough to say something when my partner disrespects me.”

Now shorten this to: “I’m brave enough.” Because this is the essence of your thought. 

Next, I want you to find at least 3 to 5 examples of how you are brave enough. 

So think about the times you did something brave, even it was a tiny thing. 

Write those examples down. 

Go for at least 3 examples. You get extra points for finding 5. 

Dig deep!

Don’t dismiss any small brave acts you may have done. Like for example, saying hello to a total stranger you cross on the street. Or saving a spider and putting it outside, instead of running away from it, shrieking. It can be the tiniest spider ever —I’m OK with that!— it’s still an act of courage. 

If you’re feeling really bold, you could even try and find 10 examples of you being brave. 

This exercise loosens up your fixed thought patterns. Your learned beliefs. 

Make a habit of doing this each time you have an unhelpful thought. Eventually, you will start to believe that the opposite thought may be as true as your first automatic thought. 

Just try it and see what happens. 

But do be patient because I know this can be hard at first and you need to practice. Also, don’t forget to be kind to yourself when you do this. 

Share your turnarounds —opposite thoughts— and your proof in the comments. 


“You are not too much. You have never been too much. You will never be too much. The very idea is preposterous. Because you were born to be you. All of you. Not a tiny acceptable sliver. Not a watered down version with colors dulled and edges softened. No. You were meant to be every last pulsing-bleeding-loving-crying-feeling bit.” 
― Jeanette LeBlanc


Are you in a toxic relationship? Did you get out of one? Are you still dealing with some nasty stuff from that relationship?
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More articles that may interest you:

On thoughts and how to deal with them:
https://christelvangelder.com/thought-hoarding/

On the excuses we use to stay in an unhealthy relationship:
https://christelvangelder.com/not-knowing-fear-of-change-big-excuses-to-stay-in-toxic-relationship/

On emotions that keep you stuck, one of them being shame:
https://christelvangelder.com/shame/

On why you’re not to blame for a toxic relationship:
https://christelvangelder.com/no-blame-toxic-relationship/

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