How to Handle Toxic Relationships in Recovery

Detox and rehab are going to stress your relationships with others to new, uncomfortable shapes. If you have always had problems with a particular relationship, you may be dealing with a toxic person. Adding that connection to your current physical, mental and emotional pressure could push you into a very unhealthy place. When working out how to handle toxic relationships in recovery, you need to be able to rely on your caregivers.

An additional challenge when dealing with a toxic relationship is that you may be on the receiving end of generational blame and guilt. If you have an aunt or uncle with whom you have always had a jittery, troubled relationship and you share your goals for recovery, they may latch onto your addiction as the source of your relationship issues if they are the child of an addict; your parents may also react poorly to your choice to enter detox and treatment. This is neither true nor fair, but it can hurt.

Figuring Out What a Normal Relationship Feels Like

Toxic people are manipulative. They are constantly surrounded by drama and will steal all your energy by getting you to validate their drama. If you had a toxic person as a caregiver in your childhood, you may have sadly learned that supporting and loving such a person is a necessary aspect of life. Toxic people refuse to respect your boundaries, such as

  • your privacy
  • your interests outside of the relationship with the toxic person
  • your sensitivities

This can lead to a life of secrecy and sneaking. If your parents constantly pressured you to take on age-inappropriate responsibilities around the home, refused to let you socialize with your peers or demanded perfection, you learned to hide your activities and your feelings. Drug and alcohol use could also have been something you learned to hide.

Non-Toxic People May Leave You Feeling Uncomfortable

One of the worst things a toxic person will do is destroy your moments of joy. For example, you may get a promotion or a raise at work. A supportive spouse or partner would

  • congratulate you and remind you of how hard you’ve worked to earn it!
  • encourage you to treat yourself
  • with your encouragement, take a look at your budget as a team

A toxic spouse or partner would

  • be surprised
  • plan to spend your new income without your input
  • complain about how much harder they work

Sadly, if you grew up with a toxic person as a caregiver, spouse #2 will be the person that you feel most comfortable with. Folks who celebrate you will leave you wanting for the ax to fall on your happiness; children of toxic parents learn to hand over their happiness early to avoid the pain.

Painful Honesty is Key

Figuring out how to respect your own boundaries may mean that you have to, at least temporarily, shut some people out of your life. This is easier to consider than to actually do; if you’ve done the work of detox and your parents want to visit you, the decision to refuse to see them can seem cruel.

However, you deserve to own your work. Detox is work. It will leave you feeling exhausted and may have your brain bringing up memories that you really don’t want to deal with. Long-term treatment is also working. If you have a family member, a partner or a friend that you really should not see again for your mental well-being, you will need to tell them that you can’t see them now.

Protecting yourself from toxic people may be easier if you focus on not letting yourself get too empty. Being honest about when your reserves are too low will allow you to say “no” to a visit or a phone call. Toxic people are a bottomless pit that can empty you pretty quickly as they blame and claim their own victimhood.

Learning to have honest relationships with supportive community members will be hard. Your emotional reserves will be low as you start the treatment process. A quality care team can help you make the best choices on which connections to close down and which to re-establish. Our counselors are available 24 hours a day. Call 614-705-0611.