Breaking the Cycle: How Toxic Relationships Can Erode Confidence and Self-Worth


A large part of the work I do is with clients who are trying to overcome the crushing overwhelm they experience as their confidence, self-worth, and esteem hit rock bottom as a result of toxic relationships. In many of the cases, they can't remember when it started, only that over time the relationship deteriorated, and frequently they are left blaming themselves. 

So why do we let toxic relationships do so much damage to our wellbeing?

Our confidence, self-esteem, and self-worth are slowly eroded, often with far-reaching consequences that extend beyond the individuals involved. This erosion can be generational, as patterns of abuse or manipulation are learned and perpetuated. This blog will explore the damaging effects of toxic relationships, how they can lead to generational cycles of abuse, and offer insights into how to escape or stand up to an abuser using emotional intelligence without necessarily cutting them out of your life.

The Erosion of Confidence and Self-Esteem:

Toxic relationships are fertile ground for power imbalances, manipulation, and control to take root and flourish. As victims of these emotionally damaging connections, we often find ourselves on a disheartening journey where our sense of self gradually withers away. The erosion of our confidence and self-esteem is a painful process that unfolds over time, as insidious forms of abuse like constant criticism, gaslighting, and emotional manipulation take their toll.

Constant Criticism:

Toxic individuals often resort to incessant criticism as a means of asserting control. They may target your actions, choices, appearance, or even your fundamental character. Over time, this steady stream of negativity wears down your self-esteem, making you question your worth and competence. You may find yourself perpetually on edge, always seeking validation and fearing judgment.


Gaslighting is a particularly insidious form of manipulation that distorts your perception of reality. An abuser may use gaslighting to make you doubt your own memory, emotions, or sanity. The constant gaslighting can leave you feeling utterly bewildered and insecure, as the ground beneath your self-esteem becomes increasingly shaky.

Emotional Abuse: 

Emotional abuse is a cornerstone of toxic relationships. It can take various forms, including verbal insults, emotional neglect, or controlling behaviour. The relentless emotional abuse slowly chips away at your self-worth, making you feel undeserving of love, respect, or happiness. As the erosion of your self-esteem and self-worth deepens, the impact on your life becomes more profound:

•           Doubting Abilities:

Over time, the persistent negativity and manipulation make you question your abilities and competence. You may begin to believe that you are inherently incapable of succeeding or making wise decisions, which can significantly hinder your personal and professional growth.

•           Questioning Worth:

Toxic relationships lead you to question your intrinsic worth as a person. You may wonder if you deserve happiness or a loving relationship, perpetuating a cycle of self-doubt and self-criticism.

•           Loss of Independence:

The erosion of self-esteem and self-worth can also manifest as a loss of independence. You might find it difficult to make decisions without seeking external validation, feeling trapped in a cycle of dependence on the toxic person.

Toxic relationships are a breeding ground for the slow decay of confidence and self-esteem. The constant barrage of criticism, gaslighting, and emotional abuse creates an atmosphere of self-doubt, leaving you feeling diminished and disheartened. Recognising these patterns is a vital step in breaking free from the cycle of abuse and beginning the journey toward rebuilding your self-esteem and self-worth.

Generational Impact: The Cycle of Toxic Relationships

One of the most troubling and pervasive aspects of toxic relationships is their potential to become generational. This means that the patterns of abuse, manipulation, and unhealthy dynamics can pass down from one generation to the next. The ramifications of this cycle are profound, as the victims of one generation may unconsciously learn that this is how power is exerted in relationships.

When children grow up witnessing abusive behaviour, they often internalise these patterns and may, in turn, use them in their own relationships, either as abusers or as victims.

It can be clearly seen how this can jump from generation to generation.

Learned Behaviour: 

Children are like sponges, absorbing not only the explicit lessons taught to them but also the subtler, unspoken dynamics of their family environment. In households where toxic relationships are prevalent, children may learn that manipulation, control, or emotional abuse are normal ways to navigate relationships. These learned behaviours can become ingrained in their psyche, leading them to replicate these patterns in their own relationships later in life.


Children tend to model their behaviour and attitudes after the adults they observe. When they witness a parent or caregiver engaging in toxic behaviours, they might see this as the blueprint for how to interact with others. This modelling can be particularly problematic because children often emulate the coping mechanisms and communication styles they've been exposed to.


In environments characterised by toxic relationships, the abnormal becomes normalised. The constant presence of emotional turmoil, manipulation, or control can make these behaviours seem standard and acceptable. As children grow up in such an atmosphere, they may struggle to recognise these behaviours as problematic when they encounter them in their own relationships.

Victim-to-Abuser Transition:

Victims of toxic relationships who were exposed to these dynamics during their formative years may themselves become abusers in subsequent relationships. They might unconsciously repeat the behaviours they learned as a means of asserting control or dealing with their own unresolved emotional issues. This transition from victim to abuser can perpetuate the cycle of toxicity.

Cycles of Victimhood: 

On the flip side, those who experienced toxic relationships in their upbringing might become perpetually trapped in the role of the victim. Their self-esteem and self-worth may have been eroded from a young age, making it difficult for them to assert boundaries or seek healthier relationships. As a result, they may continuously find themselves in abusive relationships.

Breaking the generational impact of toxic relationships requires self-awareness and a commitment to change. Recognising the patterns that have been passed down, seeking therapy or counselling, and actively working on breaking free from these cycles is essential. It's also crucial to foster healthy relationships and communication skills, so the next generation can learn what it means to engage in respectful, loving, and supportive connections. By doing so, we can break the cycle and prevent the damaging legacy of toxic relationships from persisting through generations.

Escaping or Standing Up to an Abuser:

Breaking free from a toxic relationship or standing up to an abuser can be incredibly challenging, but it is possible. Here are some ways to do it while keeping emotional intelligence in mind:


Understand your emotions and recognise when you're being manipulated or abused. Developing self-awareness is the first step in protecting your self-worth.

Seek support:

Reach out to friends, family, or a therapist who can provide you with emotional support and guidance.

Set boundaries:

Establish clear boundaries and communicate them assertively but calmly. Setting boundaries is a crucial step in asserting your own value and worth.

Empathetic communication:

Approach the abuser with empathy. Understand that their behaviour may be rooted in their own insecurities and past experiences. Express how their actions make you feel without resorting to blame or anger.


Prioritise self-care and self-compassion. Rebuilding your self-esteem and self-worth takes time, and it starts with taking care of yourself.

Seek professional help:

In some cases, involving a therapist or counsellor can be essential in breaking the cycle of abuse and rebuilding your confidence.

Not Cutting Them Out of Your Life: Finding Balance in Toxic Relationships

In the challenging landscape of toxic relationships, it could be so easy to cut people off and leave them adrift. The alternative decision to maintain contact with the person causing harm isn't a straightforward one. Crucially it requires setting boundaries and standing up to an abuser. Each situation is unique, and the path you choose should prioritise your well-being and self-worth. This nuanced approach to maintaining or redefining the relationship hinges on a few critical factors:

Assessing Willingness to Change: 

It's essential to gauge the abuser's willingness to acknowledge their behaviour and work on making positive changes. In some cases, they may genuinely want to address their issues and strive for personal growth. If there's evidence of their commitment to change, and if you believe there is a potential for a healthier dynamic, it may be worth exploring ways to maintain a limited relationship.

You also need to consider whether you are allowing them to behave in this way. Whilst many might think this is controversial, the role of not pushing back for fear of losing someone, not only means you are handing over your power to them, but you are also never asking them to think about how their actions are impacting others.

Setting and Enforcing Boundaries:

For any chance of a healthier relationship to exist, clear and firm boundaries must be established. These boundaries are the foundation for a new, more balanced dynamic. Be explicit about what behaviours are unacceptable and communicate the consequences for crossing those boundaries. This process is an assertion of your self-worth and self-care. This might require help from a relationship counsellor, or someone trained in mediation.

Monitoring Progress:

Once boundaries are in place, it's essential to monitor the abuser's progress in adhering to them. Positive change is a gradual process, but consistent effort should be visible. Regular check-ins and honest conversations can help gauge whether the relationship is heading in a healthier direction.   It is also important to reflect on your own thought patterns and beliefs to make sure you are not slipping into accepting your role as a victim. It is all too easy to excuse behaviour or become uncomfortably comfortable as being the victim. When this happens the abuser/victim relationship becomes symbiotic, feeding each other.

Self-Care and Support:

In the process of maintaining contact with an abuser, it's vital to prioritise self-care and seek support from trusted friends, family, or a therapist. Self-care can help you withstand the emotional toll of the relationship, and supportive individuals can provide insight and guidance as you navigate these challenging waters.

Awareness of Red Flags:

Despite the hope for change, it's essential to remain vigilant for any red flags or indications that the toxicity is persisting or escalating. If you notice a return to harmful behaviours, you must be prepared to take further steps to protect yourself.

 Also, reflect on whether you are giving subconscious permission for the this to happen. As tough as it sounds, if you recognise that you are being abused and don’t do something about it, then you are giving them the green light to continue.

Evaluating the Impact on Your Well-Being:

Regularly assess how the relationship is affecting your overall well-being, self-esteem, and self-worth. If the harm outweighs any potential benefits, it may be necessary to re-evaluate your decision and consider distancing yourself for your own sake.

Exit Strategy:

If it becomes clear that the relationship is causing irreparable harm or remains stagnant despite your efforts, it may be time to contemplate an exit strategy. Cutting ties might become the best way to protect your mental and emotional health but only you can decide what is best for you.

Navigating toxic relationships is a complex and often emotionally taxing journey. While the decision to maintain contact with an abuser should be made with care and consideration, your well-being and self-worth must always remain at the forefront of your choices.

Balancing the hope for positive change with the need to protect yourself is a delicate act of self-preservation, and it may involve a series of trial-and-error steps as you seek to establish a healthier, more balanced relationship.   Recognise your own role in this relationship and consider whether your needs are feeding their actions. If there are no consequences for their behaviour then why should they change?

Remember that you deserve respect and a life free from the corrosive effects of toxicity.

Accept that toxicity has had a profound impact on your confidence, self-esteem, and self-worth.

Breaking free from these destructive patterns and preventing them from becoming generational requires emotional intelligence, self-awareness, and the willingness to stand up for yourself. While setting boundaries and seeking support are essential, the decision to cut ties with an abuser or maintain a relationship should be made with your own well-being as the top priority. Breaking the cycle of abuse and rebuilding your self-worth is a courageous journey worth embarking upon.