7 Well-Meaning Behaviors That Create Toxic Relationships

By Michelle Farris, Relationship Therapist.

When you’re struggling with codependent behaviors, relationships aren’t easy. You try hard to make your relationships work but sometimes your own behavior may actually be creating toxic relationships without realizing what you are doing.

Codependent people often feel trapped in a cycle of over-giving and self- sacrifice. They have good intentions and want to keep someone else from hurting. In their efforts to help, the codependent person’s behavior often contributes to the relationship’s dysfunction.

It’s not always easy to recognize our part in these dynamics. 

Yet, acknowledging your codependent behavior is the first step in codependency recovery. Though your actions likely come from a place of caring, it’s important to differentiate between being supportive and fueling codependency. 

In this article you will learn seven well-meaning but detrimental behaviors that contribute to toxic relationships. Not only will you understand these patterns, but you will also learn healthier alternatives.

1. Saying yes when you mean no is the first toxic behavior.

Being unable to say no indicates a lack of boundaries. Without healthy boundaries, relationships become toxic and one-sided. When this becomes a pattern, your loved one is more likely to take advantage. People will assume that they can count on you for almost anything because you never say no. 

Eventually, you hit a wall of resentment.

Constantly going above and beyond for the people you love is exhausting, and eventually, you get tired of it. You may start to feel anxious and overwhelmed because your time is no longer your own. Doing favors for others has become the glue that binds you together.

At first, helping others makes you feel like the hero, but over time, you feel like you have no choice. You feel obligated to say yes to keep another person’s love or avoid their abuse. This codependent behavior makes you feel increasingly overwhelmed because your energy is spent helping others at the expense of helping yourself.

Healthy behavior: Allowing yourself to say no is critical for setting healthy boundaries. In recovery, you choose to give consciously without resentment. Your needs don’t always have to take second chair to those of the ones you love.

2. Pretending everything is fine, even when everything is not, is another behavior that creates toxic relationships.

Pretending that you’re fine when you’re not even OK gives a false impression of who you are and what matters most to you. Most people who struggle with codependency do this to please others and avoid potential conflict or disappointment. 

To the outside world, you can handle anything, but inside, you may believe that nobody really knows you. Friends and family don’t know when you’re hurting because you never tell them. You suck it up hoping that someone will notice but they never do.

While you may be honest in most of your affairs, being emotionally honest may feel risky. You may find yourself over-giving to avoid being vulnerable in relationships.

Healthy behavior: Learning to embrace and honor your feelings is the start of codependency recovery. This will help you to become more authentic in relationships. Eventually, sharing your true self with those who are safe will deepen your relationships and provide relief.

3. Assuming the worst-case scenario is another common behavior that creates toxic relationships.

Assuming the worst is a type of negativity that doesn’t lend itself to positive, healthy connections. This toxic behavior will eventually repel the people around you. Instead of bonding over problems, it can make others not want to hang out with you. 

When problems are the only way you can connect, the other person will likely lose interest. Healthy people don’t want to talk about problems all the time. They want to enjoy life and see the world as being full of possibilities.

Toxic people will use your problems against you. So, when assuming the worst, you may attract others with the same struggle which doesn’t help you feel happy either.

Healthy behavior: If you’re really struggling to see the good in life, strive to change old, dysfunctional beliefs that are keeping you stuck. It may be time to get some counseling to heal the past and move forward.

4. Not asking for help or support can also create toxic relationships. 

When you’re always the one helping, you don’t give others a chance to help you. This creates a one-sided relationship that can become toxic. The other person comes to expect your help but doesn’t realize that you need the same because you’re not advocating for yourself. In recovery, asking for help will minimize the chances of developing toxic relationships. 

Everyone needs help or support on occasion – it’s not a sign of weakness. You may need to let go of old beliefs that self-care is selfish. Letting yourself ask for help will create a healthy balance of give and take that prevents relationships from becoming toxic.

Healthy behavior: Start asking for what you need and see if the other person can tolerate your having needs. If they don’t, the relationship is likely toxic and may not survive long-term. A healthy relationship is based on give and take. You cannot have a healthy connection if you can’t do both.

5. Thinking that the other person needs to change is another well-meaning behavior that creates toxic relationships.

The harsh truth is that it’s easier to see someone else’s dysfunction than to see our own. While signs of abuse are the exception, having the courage to look at our own reactions is an essential part of growth. For instance, when your partner screams at you and you scream back, that’s not healthy either. 

Everyone has behaviors that are just outside of their awareness, but that too is part of growth. Pay attention to feelings of regret that may indicate unhealthy or hurtful behavior on your part. You’re human and it’s okay to admit our mistakes. It’s how we learn.

Healthy behavior: Focus on changing yourself because that is where you have the most power and influence. Being the example, not the teacher is always the best way to lead.

6. Letting everyone else’s needs take priority over yours is another well-meaning behavior that creates toxic relationships.

Putting your needs last in relationships may appear noble, but in reality, you are teaching others that your needs don’t count. While you may not be conscious of sending that message, it’s important to see how sacrificing yourself for others hurts you. For instance, if you aren’t standing up for yourself – they will assume that it’s okay for them to go first – all the time!

Healthy behavior: It’s not selfish to put yourself first – in fact you will be able to give MORE if you’re not running on empty.

7. Obsessing over what others think of you is another behavior that creates toxic relationships. 

This is a major struggle in codependency but it’s also the fastest way to lose yourself and your self-esteem. Worrying about what others think of you creates toxic relationships because whenever you become too, you give them all the power! It’s like your self-esteem walks out the door the second they leave – no fun!!!

Healthy Behavior: Redirect your focus back on yourself and remember that the people who really love you want you to be happy.

Final thoughts:

Recovering from codependency means being willing to examine behaviors that hurt us in our relationships. When we can acknowledge our own dysfunctional behaviors and implement healthy alternatives, we have taken a huge step towards healing ourselves in codependency recovery. 

Michelle Farris, Relationship Therapist. Get Michelle’s FREE Journal Prompts for Healing Codependency here: https://counselingrecovery.lpages.co/codependent-worksheets/

1 Response

  1. Diane C Brown says:

    Thank you, I have been struggling with this issue, I have been an active member of Alanon, and this hit the target for me… I have to get out of this destructive mind set!

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