Unhealthy Relationships: Toxic or Abusive?

Are we permitting certain levels of abuse and only defining it as abusive when it hits a certain threshold? Do some people view their relationships as abusive, when their relationship may actually be toxic? Do some people view their relationship as ‘normal’ when it is actually abusive? Or does it all come down to perspective?

Last week I read a post about defining the differences between toxic relationships and abusive relationships. It was something I hadn’t really considered before and it really got me thinking; putting physical violence aside, is there a difference between toxic and abusive? And if there is a clear difference, how can we define that difference, when so much of what makes up any relationship is perspective? We all know that certain behaviours are recognised as criminal. Within an abusive relationship, this allows charges to brought against acts of violence and for these to be defined individually as single acts of violence, from common assault to GBH to murder, but what about all the other stuff that exists and goes on in between?


Let’s remember that people are complex beings, with complex behaviours, and behaviours that one individual may view as abusive, another may view as perfectly acceptable. This does not however mean that these behaviours are at all acceptable or healthy; it just means that their perspective is that it’s ‘ok to behave this way’. Sadly, many people are unable recognise their own behaviour; some may have grown up in an environment where certain toxic behaviours or violence have become their normality and although this by no means makes their behaviour justfiable, it does help us to understand why some people may have come to believe that certain behaviours are acceptable. Many of those individuals may find they struggle to form healthy relationships as they get older, and may enter into abusive relationships themselves as adults; whether as a perpetrator or a victim.


So is a toxic relationship defined by particular negative behaviours and characteristics, that are consistently expressed throughout the relationship, or is a toxic relationship defined by the perspective of those within that relationship? And if so, how can we define what is abusive and what is toxic, when the perspective of both parties in that relationship will be very different?

A toxic relationship can exist without being abusive but an abusive relationship cannot exist without also being toxic… thoughts??

Healthy- both parties

  • Based on mutual respect and trust
  • Recognising owns behaviours
  • Open communication
  • Ability to compromise
  • Problem solving together
  • Building each other up
  • Admiration
  • Independance
  • Ability to disagree and accept other view points

Toxic- can be one individual or both parties

  • Limiting each other’s independence or independence of one partner
  • Over reacting
  • Criticism becomes routine
  • Projecting blame on other partner or each other
  • Deliberately secretive
  • An in ability to compromise
  • Lack of respect
  • Insults/put downs can become common place
  • Deliberatly triggering each other or one partner

Abusive-one partner

  • All behaviours that appear in a toxic relationship, plus…
  • An unequal power balance
  • Relationship based around control
  • May involve physical acts of violence
  • Manipulation
  • Unwanted or non-consenting sexual activity
  • Exercising control over money, where you go, who you talk to
  • Limiting physical needs; food, money, warmth, clothing, sanitary products
  • Constant feelings of anxiety and/or fear
  • Humiliation, degradation, gaslighting are commonplace

What do you feel defines the above relationships?

Coercive control has now been made a criminal offence in the U.K. but what I hear all the time from many women is, ‘How do I prove it?’ Good question; how do you ‘prove’ someone’s perspective in a court of law, in order to bring criminal charges? Because without an evidence base, that is how it is viewed, as two different perspectives on one relationship. The truth, as hard as it may be to hear, is that you may never be able to ‘prove it’. You may never be in a position to bring criminal charges or to make everyone else believe you, but what’s important to remember is that this isn’t about everyone else; this is about you! You cannot force others to see things from your perspective. Just because you feel a certain way, does not mean that others will recognise, respect or understand your trauma; this leaves many survivors of domestic abuse, feeling voiceless, powerless and unable to prove the existence of their abuse at all. I hear you. You cannot change someone, but you can choose redirect your energy back into yourself. This is about your experience, whether past or present, and your unique perspective allows you to label your experience in anyway that feels true to yourself. Doing this can help you to process your experience, understand what has happened to you, work through your trauma and move forward into a place of acceptance for yourself; so that you can truly begin to heal.

Be kind to yourself 🖤


Feel free to comment or get in touch, I would love to hear your thoughts!


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