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  • Writer's pictureLindsey Max

It's Okay to End Toxic Relationships

Illustration credit: Ella Byworth/

Despite how staggeringly divided our country is at the moment, there is one thing everyone can still agree on: 2020 has been the absolute worst.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, economic recession, natural disasters, the highest unemployment rate since the Great Depression and an already controversial and contested election, it’s safe to say that most people are experiencing some level of stress, anxiety and depression. At a time when emotions are so high and human contact is so low, fostering strong, healthy relationships is more important than ever.

The last thing we need right now is added stress, and, when it comes to toxic relationships -- whether they be romantic, platonic or familial -- nobody has time for that.

Luckily for us, unlike COVID-19 or raging wildfires, toxic relationships are something we have control over. And while, no, we can’t control others, we can control how we react to them. We have the power and the right to set boundaries in our relationships. And, if those boundaries are ignored or violated, we also have the power and the right to end them.

This can be a difficult concept to accept, and an even more difficult concept to enact. Many of us struggle to assert our needs and boundaries. It’s rare that we confront issues head-on, in part because such assertiveness is often misinterpreted as aggression. When it comes to our relationships, it seems that many of us would rather discuss any problems we’re having with someone else, as opposed to talking to the person we’re actually having issues with themselves.

Whether we avoid confrontation because we don’t want to be seen as aggressive, or our confrontation is seen as aggressive because so many of us aren’t used to it, the bottom line is we need to teach ourselves that setting boundaries is assertive, not aggressive, and it needs to happen in order to have a healthy relationship.

It’s not aggressive to say, for example, “Hey, I don’t appreciate when you comment on____. Moving forward, I don’t want you to bring this up with me.”

It’s not aggressive to say, “Hey, when you do ____ it hurts me, and I need you to not do it anymore.”

It’s not aggressive to say, “Hey, I support you and want to help you, but right now I can’t devote as much time to you as you’re asking from me. But I can do this instead!”

Expressing our boundaries is an effort to improve and maintain our relationships. If the person we have a relationship with ignores these boundaries, violates these boundaries or accuses us of being a bad person for trying to set these, or any, boundaries, the relationship between us is unhealthy, and it needs to end.

I am acutely aware that this is easier said than done, and I don’t judge anyone for not doing so. As an extreme perfectionist, empath and people-pleaser, I never want to do something wrong or hurt someone, and I hate feeling like someone is mad at me.

There are numerous other factors that complicate our ability to cut someone out of our lives, such as having kids with that person, having a large group of mutual friends, having a long history with them or being related. In many of these situations, we feel obligated to maintain these relationships, regardless of how harmful they may be.

The truth of the matter is this: No one is entitled to our time, and no one is entitled to a relationship with us, no ifs, ands or buts.

We need to prioritize our own well-being. But, sadly, some people think we’re selfish for doing so. When the relationship in question is with a close friend or a relative, the risk of becoming the “black sheep” of the family or friend group can exacerbate that feeling of obligation to stay in a toxic relationship. It can make us sacrifice ourselves for others.

I want to be clear that I’m writing this piece not to tell you what you must do. I’m writing this piece to tell you what you can do, what you have the right to do, because we don’t hear this enough, if at all. I don’t judge anyone for putting others needs over their own, because I’ve done so my whole life. It’s a habit that’s not easy to break, and it’s a habit that’s uncomfortable to break.

But after years of taking care of everyone else’s needs at the expense of my own, I came to this realization:

I’d rather be the black sheep, than the sacrificial lamb.


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