3 Ways Toxic Relationships Hurt Your Career and Professional Success… (and What to Do About It!)

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By Andrea B. Clement

When discussing and learning about toxic relationships, people most often think of toxicity in the context of romantic relationships, and it is true that many romantic relationships could be characterized as toxic.

However, did you know that toxic relationships can impact more than just your love life? Toxicity, co-dependency, and dysfunction can also impact your friendships, family life, and even your work life.

How do you know if you are dealing with a toxic relationship? Here are some common signs:

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  • You are criticized frequently and constantly reminded of your shortcomings and mistakes, to the point that you apologize frequently – even daily or multiple times daily.
  • You are given the silent treatment or other forms of “punishment” when you make a mistake – for example withholding affection or attention, etc.
  • The person’s expectations change constantly and without communication, so you never know when you may be accused of a transgression or mistake of some sort.
  • You feel unseen and unheard, yet when you try to communicate your perspective on any issue, you are silenced and/or made to feel that your opinions and emotions are unreasonable, unwarranted, even “crazy,” or attention-seeking.
  • The entire relationship is on the other person’s terms at all times. You have no power or agency to think, feel, or do what you want as an individual. You have to ask permission to do many basic things that typically wouldn’t require permission as an adult.
  • You feel anxious or nervous around authority figures of any sort. (Parents, teachers, bosses, etc.)

Consider the above in the context of work, and the challenges these traits and patterns present in your professional life become alarmingly evident.

If you feel “stuck” at work, like you just can’t seem to get ahead, no matter how hard you work, toxicity in your life and relationships may be to blame. If work makes you feel unsettled and discouraged and anxious, or you feel as if you can never do anything right at the office, this could be caused by toxic relationships at home and/or at work. Toxic relationships with people in your personal and professional life can impact your career in multiple ways.

  1. Toxic relationships drain your energy and motivation, requiring all your time and attention, leaving you with nothing left to give to your career. Especially if your toxic relationship is with your significant other, this can completely consume your time and energy, night and day, every waking moment. Being in a toxic relationship could (and often does) eventually cause your performance at work to decline to the extent that you could soon find yourself in jeopardy of losing your job.

Even if you do manage to keep your job, it will take everything out of you to keep burning the candle at both ends and keep up with your responsibilities at work. When you’re being controlled and/or abused by a toxic person at home, you likely won’t be excelling and advancing your career because you’ll be too tired from giving all your attention to your significant other, meeting his or her every need, and probably fighting and dealing with extreme drama too.

  • Toxic relationships with people at work hold you back in many ways. If your tendency is to unwittingly gravitate towards (or inadvertently attract) narcissistic personalities or bullies in your personal relationships, the bullies at the office will be able to detect your insecurities which make you a prime target for them. Additionally, many women who have been victims of abuse or narcissism have a fear of authority figures which can make it more challenging to stand up for yourself at work and have a healthy, functional relationship with your boss . Women in toxic relationships often end up there because they’ve developed unhealthy relationship patterns and coping mechanisms (often due to past trauma, neglect, or abuse) and these poor relationship skills carry over into work relationships too, including the one with your direct supervisor who has a lot of control over your success or failure at work.

A dysfunctional or toxic relationship with your boss can cause you to get passed over for promotions, recognition, key projects and more. Toxic relationships at work, or a dysfunctional relationship with a boss, especially one who is a bully, can hold you back from advancement and success at your job if you’re unable to form multiple healthy connections and conducive relationships with coworkers, team members, direct reports, and bosses at work.

  • Imposter syndrome, insecurity, and low self-esteem. If you’re mired down in a toxic relationship of any kind in your personal life, you are likely being criticized and emotionally abused on a regular basis by the toxic person, whether it’s a parent, a significant other, or friend. This constant negativity wears down your self-esteem and creates a vicious cycle of more abuse and criticism from bullies and abusers, including those at work. It’s nearly impossible to get ahead at work when you are constantly doubting yourself due to the continual criticism and verbal insults you may receive from your toxic partner.

So, now what? What do you do when you realize that toxic relationships and dysfunctional relationship patterns are holding you back at work? How do you fix it and get back on track in your professional life? You may feel stuck – but you can break free and learn new healthier relationship skills and patterns for work, too.

  1. Awareness – Congratulations! If you’ve made it this far into this article, and if you’ve been nodding your head in agreement as you’ve read this, you have made it to the first step towards freeing yourself from toxicity and getting your career and life back on track – AWARENESS. Now that you’re aware of the unhealthy relationship patterns and their impact on your life, you can start to take action! This may be a good time to start keeping a daily journal (if you haven’t already) to document interactions and achievements at work, and in your personal life too. This can help you track patterns, setbacks, progress, and stay accountable to the healing process.
  2. Understand & address root causes and patterns – Most people who end up in a toxic relationship tend to have developed patterns in their life whereby they gravitate towards toxic people and unhealthy dynamics such as co-dependency. This could be due to childhood trauma, or a flawed parental bond earlier in life, such as a narcissistic or alcoholic parent, for example. Experiencing emotional or physical abuse as a child or teen can also cause unhealthy coping strategies, poor relationship patterns, and low self-esteem. Once you can understand how your past experience and relationships shaped your personality, communication skills, and relationship patterns, you can begin to learn ways to work around your poor habits to learn new healthy interpersonal skills. You may see how the cards were stacked against you, and that’s okay – you can now shuffle the deck and play a new hand moving forward!
  3. Advocate / Mentor – If possible, identify and enlist a mentor and cheerleader at work who can help you navigate office politics in a healthy way. This should be someone you trust, who has influence at the office, and understands your accomplishments and what you bring to the team, so that s/he can help you get the recognition you deserve from the key people in charge.
  4. Professional help – If you’re struggling to make progress or break free from toxicity on your own,a licensed therapist, counselor, and/or life coach can help you learn healthy ways to set boundaries, and remove yourself from toxic relationshipsonce and for all, at work and at home too. A therapist can also help you process and deal with past trauma, so that you can heal and move forward in a healthier way.

For more about toxic relationships, visit www.TheDOAproject.com. For career guidance, or a free e-book about toxic relationships – Addicted to Love, email Andrea directly at abc@clem.co or visit her other sites at CareerCollateral.com and Clem.co.

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