Help, I’m The Toxic Person In The Relationship, How Do I Change?

Hey friends,

I hope you are not just surviving this holiday season but thriving. But for some people, the holiday season brings up all sorts of stressors and bad memories. If that is you or someone you know, be sure to check out my latest newsletter.

I just got back from spending five days in Chicago visiting my family and siblings. It’s always hard when you are not close by during special holidays. I was grateful to spend some pre-Christmas time there as well as to get to do some shopping at one of the area’s greatest malls.

I hope this Season you have built in some time for you, friend. We sometimes work so hard making it good for everyone else, by the time Christmas and New Year are over, we feel crabby, depleted and a little disappointed. Don’t’ let that happen.

Today's Question: How does someone who realizes THEY are the critical/toxic person in the family/relationship begin to heal? I don't like who I am & struggle against it, but it gets the best of me SO often!!

Answer: First of all let me applaud you for acknowledging that you are not the person you want to be and you want to heal and change. That takes a huge step of courage. Most destructive individuals fail in this very first step of change, which is admitting the truth. Usually they remain blind to their problem. Instead, they blame others, make excuses, minimize the pain they cause, or flat out deny the reality of their behaviors.

Now that you’re aware that the way you treat people is toxic and critical, your next step is to confess, out loud to God and the people you’ve hurt, that you are aware that your behaviors and attitudes are destructive and you want to heal, grow, and change. A public confession commits you to a course of action and a posture of humility which is absolutely crucial if any real change is going to happen. You can’t do it alone. You need God’s help as well as the help of wise and trusted others. (Tweet this)

At the very least you will need some good friends who will encourage you toward wholeness and hold you accountable. In addition, you may want to speak with your pastor, hire a coach and/or seek a professional counselor who has expertise in this area.

Ideally you would give these people permission to speak with your family members so that they can hear from more than you on how you are doing.

When we invite trusted people to walk along with us in our journey, it is much more likely that we will gain the self-awareness, skills and support necessary to make significant personal changes.

It is also crucial that you invite those you have deeply wounded to give you feedback whenever they experience your critical attitudes or toxicity. When my children were little and I became aware of how much I yelled at them, I invited them to give me feedback anytime they felt scared or I raised my voice. It was humbling to hear them say again and again, “Mommy I’m scared, or you’re yelling at me”.

When they did speak up I would stop, remind myself that this was not the person I wanted to be and then apologize and do what I needed to do to calm down and be the mother I wanted to be. If I didn’t’ know how to do that, then that became the next thing I had to learn. My children’s feedback was good for me because self-control (one of the fruit of the Spirit) is absolutely critical to one’s mental and emotional health. Second, inviting their feedback helped my children trust that I meant business that I really wanted to change. Even when I blew it in the moment, they saw that I would receive their feedback and humbly self-correct or call a time out on myself.

Receiving feedback from others is difficult because it wounds our ego. Plus, in the heat of our anger we are often self-deceived and blind to the log in our own eye. When we’re enraged, it’s much easier to see the flaws in everybody else. Allowing those who love you most to become a mirror to you is immensely helpful in your growth and change.

For healing, it’s also important to explore some things in your own childhood that may be negatively impacting you now. There is a saying “hurt people, hurt people”. In other words, we often lash out at others when we are in pain ourselves. When that pain is outside our conscious awareness, our negative reactions to life seem automatic and outside our ability to change or control.

Below are some questions you need to ask yourself. Pray and ask God to shed the light of truth on some things from your past.

What are some of the events from your past that have significantly shaped your life – good and bad?

After you’ve identified an incident or event ask yourself these questions. What happened? Why did it happen? How did I feel? What did it do to me? What did it mean to me? What decisions or vows did I make? How and where has this old feeling or experience reared itself in my present life?

Remember, self-awareness leads to self-reflection (Why do I do what I do? Why do I feel the way I feel?) Self-reflection leads to greater self-awareness and self-correction.

When that fails, the feedback from others can lead us to greater self-awareness and self-correction.

Awareness can lead to new choices and healing, and self-correction leads to new habits and ways of being.

Friends, when you have recognized the toxic, destructive, or dysfunctional patterns in your own life, what steps did you take to address these so that you could heal and change?


  1. Lonely wife on December 24, 2014 at 10:03 am

    After my husbands 2nd emotional affair was revealed to me…I became very afraid and angry, and unfortunately I would yell at my kids…I know now it was because I was hurting, scared and so frustrated with my husband!
    It was only after my youngest son told me that I scared him when I yelled at him, that I was then able to see how I was acting and how hurtful I was being to my children.
    I determined right then and there that I had to STOP!
    So I told my children I was sorry, and that I would try to not yell at them again.
    I find that when I get away from God my anger ramps back up…so I need to stay close to Him, on a daily basis.

    • Leslie Vernick on December 24, 2014 at 10:09 am

      It’s hard to receive feedback from our kids (or our spouse) that we are behaving in hurtful and scary ways. I’m so glad you heard and realized that the pain you were in was causing you to be impatient and angry with your kids. As I said hurt people often hurt people. The best part is that you stopped yourself.

      • Lonely wife on December 27, 2014 at 12:12 am

        “Hurt people often hurt people” Yes, so true. Sad, but true…

        • Herman on June 20, 2016 at 2:03 pm

          I am going through a very difficult time and I am confused. I don’t really know what to do. My spouse is so Toxic. My body is aching and I am so tired. But I have a doughtier who would die if I break off the relationship.

          • Kate on June 21, 2016 at 9:02 pm

            Has your daughter told you that? If she’s old enough, she can see that toxicity and MOST kids would rather have separated parents than live in a house of negativity.

            Admit that change can be scary bc you don’t know what will happen. But ask yourself: could changing *really* be worse than staying.

            You are miserable. (I am too). You are the person that determines your happiness. It IS a choice, but when we are beaten down, that can feel impossible.

            I hope you choose to be happy. No person is worth your happiness.

  2. Dora on December 24, 2014 at 1:54 pm

    Here is my perspective after reading the post. I have had a few friendships go bad and I heard all these words — co-dependant, toxic, idolatry, etc.. etc.. You may be not in the place that I was in at all, but I was really down on myself.

    So I think what I’d like to say to this person is to focus on God’s love for you. Realize how pure his love is unlike any person you’ve ever known. I think really focusing on His love for you will allow you to turn that love on others and it won’t hurt so much if others are disappointing us or whatever. I would say don’t focus on things that you may think are wrong with you, but focus on what God says is right about you and embrace that. Share with others what God (who is kind and loving, forgiving and generous) gives to you.

    I found when I looked that the things in me I perceived as bad, it seemed hopeless. But now I am grateful to God who’s blessings overflow and I am enjoying loving on my friends. I want to leave people with a smile on their face when I encounter them.

    Merry Christmas!

    • Leslie Vernick on December 24, 2014 at 1:58 pm

      Thanks Dora,sometimes we do get rather down on ourselves when we begin to see our “stuff” or others point it out to us. It is ONLY knowing that we are deeply loved and accepted by God that helps us have the ability to then look at our dark side without totally collapsing into a heap of shame and self-hatred. I imagine when Peter saw how he had betrayed Christ, it was only remembering how much Jesus loved him that he was able to truly change and become the Rock that Christ knew he could be.

    • Justine on September 13, 2015 at 2:15 pm

      Thanks dora, I really needed to hear that. I’ve been struggling with a lifetime of abuse which i allowed to turn me into a toxic person. But I’m so done living and feeling like everyone (every man) is going to hurt me. I have wanted to change for so long but I could never figure out how and your words make so much sense. Your perspective is so simple but so true. Thank you.

  3. Kris on December 26, 2014 at 8:38 am

    My ex-husband was abusive, but I did contribute negatively to the family as well by often responding negatively to my ex’s negative behaviors. I discovered that I was toxic myself from emotional abuse received as a child. I have had the help of a great church and great counselor to help me learn how to forgive myself and others, not be so hard on myself, and to love myself….I agree that we need to focus on the positive (love not hate or anger, etc…) and it is helpful to invite others to remind me if I step out of line because learning new behavior is hard and those old, bad habits sneak in easily!!! Just remember that getting healthy is a process and takes time! You will not be perfect….when you mess up forgive yourself ask forgiveness from someone else if you need to…..and keep going. You have a glorious life to live, go do it!

    • Patty on December 28, 2014 at 12:54 pm

      I do find that I have the worst attitude and most selfish when I don’t spend time in God’s word and prayer. When I say the Serenity Prayer and read good devotionals that remind me that God is in control and I need to work on myself rather than worry about others. It really does pick me up and help me get the right attitude to move forward with my day , one day at a time!

  4. […] By Leslie Vernick […]

  5. Salena on March 9, 2015 at 7:23 am

    I am so thankful for this website ..I have lost the love of my life by my toxic effect and I know I don’t like me but I now have hope to not keep the cycle going to my kids …thank you

    • Leslie Vernick on March 9, 2015 at 3:44 pm

      Salena you are courageous in admitting that you’ve been toxic. Now do what you need to do to get healthy, heal your own wounds, learn better relationship skills and teach your kids, through your example of healing, that change is possible and even when you mess up, you can do better.

  6. Ari on April 26, 2015 at 3:42 pm

    While I agree with most of the points in this article, I do want to acknowledge that you don’t NEED God to help you in any of this. It’s great that people find comfort in religion but it’s also a curse because you’re relying on something or someone other than yourself to guide you. YOU should be the one guiding yourself. Have faith in yourself. Don’t JUST pray for things to happen; go out and make them happen.

    • Leslie Vernick on April 28, 2015 at 7:21 pm

      Relying on yourself makes you god and you the one who decides what is the right way and wrong way. We don’t believe that. That doesn’t mea we should be passive, but God’s word, The Bible gives us guidance for living life well and a wise person listens and doesn’t think he or she contains all wisdom within.

  7. […] Ideally you would give these people permission to speak with your family members so that they can hear from more than you on how you are doing. …read more […]

  8. Elizabeth on July 18, 2015 at 3:08 pm

    I’ve tecognized im the toxic/critical person in my relationship and our family has too. Even though im trying, I still disappoint them deeply and cause a lot of pain. How do I show them I “mean it this time”? How do I make them understand this isn’t how I want to be and I’m trying to change? I’ve scheduled therapy and made them aware. Sometimes they want to pretend everything is ok, and that’s usually when they can tell im hurting.

  9. Greg on August 25, 2015 at 12:07 pm


  10. Kassy on December 3, 2015 at 11:38 pm

    I’ve learned recently that I Ann a very toxic person, I grew up in a broken home being abused, molested, exposed to many things I shouldn’t have I’m 19 now, it stopped when I turned 18 because I finally fought back I’m married now but I’m not a good wife, I have major anxiety anger and depression issues I’ve seen a counselor for and I’m on pills but I’m really abusive physically and emotionally but he’s still with me I need help figuring out who I am I don’t know where to start our how to fix myself, will you please help me?

    • Leslie Vernick on December 4, 2015 at 6:58 am

      Kassy, the first step is being honest about your own destructive behaviors and emotions and getting help. Pills may calm you down or help you think a little more ahead of time but you will need to work hard on you. I’m glad you are seeing a counselor and you may also want to find a 12 step group – like Celebrate Recovery – that will help you put into practice the new skills you are learning in your counseling. You also can’t totally fix yourself, but with God’s wisdom and help he can heal the inner hurts and holes you have so that you can more fully become the women he’s calling you to be.

  11. Kassy on December 4, 2015 at 7:45 am

    Thank you do much, I’ll look into that

  12. Diana on January 22, 2016 at 3:04 am

    Today I made the conclusion that I was a toxic person in my relationship. My ex left me 3 months ago with out a word and this month he blocked me on Facebook. It’s very hard to realize it now that he’s gone but I honestly I didn’t trust him and it showed in my actions, he and I have both been hurt so much. I just wish things hadn’t ended with his silence.

  13. Diana on January 22, 2016 at 3:05 am

    *we have both been hurt so much.

  14. Michael on February 5, 2016 at 4:56 am

    I am the toxic one and my wife is done with dealing with it. After five years she says she is done, that we are just co-parents. We still live together and she is still making plans like talking about which dishes to pick out (we need new ones) and stuff like that that implies that I may be around if I change. I have known that I need to change for a long time now but it is so very hard. I have invited her to be there with me but she has refused stating that she has been my support for the last five years and she honestly doesn’t believe that I will ever change. What to do? Just go at it alone and pray?

  15. Paul on May 8, 2016 at 2:56 pm

    A few hours ago, I ended my relationship with my fiance. I realized and came to close grips that I was provoked to such anger on a regular basis that I had no self control over the hurtful things i would say to her. My toxic behavior has destroyed my love for her and I fear that with my lack of self control, if i continued in the relationship, that I may even get worse or escalate. I dont like this person that I am around her, i feel trapped in Romans 7. I ended things for our benefit, realizing that I have much soul searching to do and that I am by no means ready for marriage that would have taken place this coming october. Im not afraid to admit that im emotionally and verbally abusive because i know my God still loves me, Im not sure why he would but i know he does because i have seen his marvelous power in my life before and in those around me, knowing full well that none could merit such favor. It’s time for me to set my eyes on Christ again and again, as a single man, for fear that I would hurt her any more.

    • Leslie Vernick on May 10, 2016 at 2:55 am

      Paul, thanks for sharing. I hope you have gotten yourself some help to learn how to express yourself in more constructive ways as well as how to deal with all the feelings inside that get triggered. YOu are wise to not marry anyone until you figure yourself out more and can be in a loving relationship that disappoints sometimes without resorting to abuse.

  16. Roxana on June 9, 2016 at 5:52 pm

    Hello, is the first time… i think i may be a toxic person… and i don’t know how to change… i’m very confused… my fiance recently lost his job and he expected some support from me, but instead, i pointed out his flaws… is a long story, but to make it shorter, he said i have destroyed him and ever since i’ve realized that i’m a toxic person… I’ve been searching about signs of a toxic person on internet and i have all the signs i could find… now what? I don’t wanna be that person and i wanna fix mi relationship… what can i do?

  17. Geoff on July 5, 2016 at 9:10 pm

    Frankly the way that organised religious prey on the weak disgusts me.
    No one needs god in order to be a good person and no one needs god in order to change themselves.
    It is dishonest to conceal your religious agenda inside other issues.
    For anyone out there struggling with issues of toxicity on either side you should focus on boundaries, do not violate the boundaries of others and do not allow others to violate your boundaries.
    You do not need any body.
    You are responsible for what you think and feel.
    You have probably heard it said that with great power comes great responsibility, well the reverse is also true, you cannot be responsible for something that you do not have power over, taking responsibility for yourself creates the power to change yourself.

  18. Allen on July 6, 2016 at 10:58 am

    Hi my name is Allen and well thanks for putting this article out there. My wife and I have been struggling with my behavior lately and I keep asking myself why did I say that? or why did I do that? I do not want to be that guys anymore it hurts my to watch my wife hurt when I start to act stupid and I don’t wanna be that guy no more.

  19. trish on July 26, 2016 at 2:58 pm

    I was married to a psychopath for 4 years he one day when i thought everything was great just vanished without a trace and i never saw him again . i was in shock and then found out this is what psychopaths do D&D about a year in a half later i got involved with this very goodlooking man and i new he was a narcississt and for some reason i thought i could deal with it cause he and i really hit it off and had so much fun. alot of bs happened and now to find out this idiot can’t fend for himself and blames everything on me and wants me to be responsibalbe cause i thru him out and he is homeless and its my fault. i feel bad for him but wont let him know this but he won’t go away and threatens me, damaged my car, no one likes him cause they figured him out and he is a drama queen and says its me. He bugs my friends and we all just want him to go away but he insists i owe him for some reason. He threatens to go to the police and get me in trouble there is no end to his bs will he ever go away

  20. Ri on December 10, 2016 at 5:09 am

    My S/O and I have been fighting a lot lately and I don’t what’s the solution to this. But I feel like maybe I’m the toxic person. And I’m so grateful that he is patient and willing to help me out no matter what. i just need help and advice with how i should go about this. Additionally, I’m a chronic over-thinker. Furthermore, I’m pushing away a few people due to my toxicity. Please advise me.

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