Toxic relationships come in many forms. They can include physical abuse, emotional abuse, and more. Most of us, at one point or another, will find ourselves in one… perhaps with a romantic partner, possibly a friend, or even with a family member. Even good relationships can sour and turn toxic. So what do we do when we realize that we’re in such a relationship? Listen for some excellent advice and information.
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About Our Guest
Kati Morton is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist practicing in Santa Monica, CA. Her popular YouTube channel has hundreds of thousands of subscribers and her videos about mental health have over thirty-seven million views combined.
TOXIC RELATIONSHIPS SHOW TRANSCRIPT
Editor’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript has been computer generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you.
Narrator 1: Welcome to the Psych Central show, where each episode presents an in-depth look at issues from the field of psychology and mental health – with host Gabe Howard and co-host Vincent M. Wales.
Gabe Howard: Hello everyone and welcome to this week’s episode of the Psych Central Show podcast. My name is Gabe Howard and with me as always is Vincent M. Wales. And today Vince and I will be talking with Katie Morton about toxic relationships. Kati is a licensed marriage and family therapist practicing in Santa Monica, California. But we like her because of her popular YouTube channel, which has hundreds of thousands of subscribers, and her videos about mental health have over 37 million views combined. Kati, welcome to the show.
Kati Morton: Thanks for having me. I’m excited to be here.
Vincent M. Wales: Yay!
Gabe Howard: Well yeah. You are very awesome and we appreciate you very much. So let’s just dive right in. Can you define toxic relationships?
Kati Morton: Yes. I think often when we talk about toxic relationships, people believe that that means that the other person is the toxic one. And while that sometimes is the case, it’s usually just a bad recipe. That’s how I like to think of them, that a toxic relationship is just when you and another person do not go well together. Either you bring out the worst in each other or the way that you interact it doesn’t jive.
Vincent M. Wales: You know, we’ve had a guest on a couple of times that talks about narcissists. And that’s kind of an extreme end of a toxic relationship. So you’re saying that there are other kinds that are what you might just call mildly poisonous?
Gabe Howard: Mildly poisonous. I like that.
Kati Morton: Seriously, like have you ever had like a friendship where you just find yourself always fighting with the other person or like they just somehow poke your button?
Vincent M. Wales: Mm hmm.
Kati Morton: There’s a lot of that kind of thing where it’s just not a good relationship, it’s not a good recipe, it doesn’t work well. It ends up being a lot more effort and work than maybe either of you is willing to give. And it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s like horribly terrible, you know, like a big blow up. It just means it doesn’t work.
Vincent M. Wales: Gabe, maybe we should reconsider our partnership, here because… [laughter] Kati, let me ask you this. Let’s say you start with a healthy relationship. Everything is just peachy. Can it become toxic?
Kati Morton: Yes it can. Because, as you know, we all change and grow. I mean, thank God we change and grow, but also it can be for the worse sometimes. Or one member of the partnership in a relationship can decide they want to go a different way or choosing a different path and we can then struggle to connect the way we used to. And you know if we aren’t communicating clearly and seeking to understand one another, it can slowly erode and become very toxic.
Gabe Howard: I agree with you, I’m glad that people do evolve and grow and learn different things because 20 year old Gabe should not be on the earth anymore. Replacing him with 40 year old Gabe was definitely best for everybody, myself included. I noticed though that… you know Vin made the joke that you know our relationship may have turned toxic and and I know the audience is going to be devastated but Vin and I are not a couple. We’re not romantically involved. But that does raise the question -.
Vincent M. Wales: It would be a shock to your wife, wouldn’t it?
Gabe Howard: Yeah, my wife and your girlfriend would be stunned. But that does raise the question though, can people be in a toxic relationship with non-romantic partners? And by non-romantic I don’t mean friends with benefits, I mean like can a friendship, a platonic friendship, be toxic?
Kati Morton: Oh 100 percent. I mean one of the… I even have one personally I write about it in my book, about how I had this friend that was like a black hole. She just sucked all the energy out of me. It was like she only got a hold of me when she needed something, when there was some big catastrophe going on and she wanted to fix it or to talk her through it. And it was always very one-sided. And that was just a complete platonic friendship. But it got to the point where it was just so taxing on me that I would avoid her call. I felt resentful when I would see a text. And so yeah, you can have toxic relationships that have no romantic interest at all.
Gabe Howard: And I know you’ve mentioned a few, but what are some general signs that you’re in a toxic relationship?
Kati Morton: I think the basic signs are, like I just mentioned, if you find yourself like resenting them or avoiding them in general. That’s usually a sign. If it’s one-sided. If there’s no balance and trust me, I know every relationship is going to go through these ebbs and flows right. Some person in the relationship might be… maybe they lost a loved one so they’re just really going through a tough time. We’re going to have that, that’s normal. But if that’s the constant and that’s always the case, then that’s not going to work out. Relationships need to have some sort of balance. Also if there’s any abuse at all. I mean, I know that that kind of goes without saying, but a lot of times people don’t recognize when abuse is happening. If you’re being manipulated in any way, whether they’re… maybe they’re controlling your money or they’re withholding sex as a way to manipulate you to get you to do certain things, like anything like that. Those are just some basic red flags to look out for.
Vincent M. Wales: All right. So are there different types of toxic relationships?
Kati Morton: Yes I believe so. There’s quite a few. But the most common that I see are when someone’s really enmeshed, if there’s a lack of independence in a relationship. This could be friendships or romantic relationships. But anybody who wants to know where you are all the time, calls all the time, texts incessantly asking you what you’re doing and who you’re with, and I know that can sound like jealousy, but it’s more about the enmeshment and the fact that they don’t feel able to make decisions without you or you don’t feel able to make it about them. If there’s no separation, that’s really really unhealthy and I believe becomes a toxic relationship if we don’t nip it in the bud.
Gabe Howard: It’s interesting that you say that wanting to know where somebody is all the time, texting too much, you know things of this… could be signs of a toxic relationship, because our entire society is set up to monitor what everybody is doing.
Kati Morton: I know.
Gabe Howard: I know when my mother gets her hair done and she lives 700 miles away from me, but it’s because she checks in via social media you know. “I’m getting my hair done. Here’s my before and after picture!” I am not stalking my mother, but I know her day-to-day routine. Isn’t this just where we are as a society?
Kati Morton: I mean social media definitely plays into it and can lend itself to people sharing all of the information. But this is more about when it comes to the relationship itself. This isn”t stuff that people put out there, you know, in social media so you just know. This is when the person in the relationship is going to constantly ask you and needs to know and like the other thing I mentioned that I think is important is if you or the other person doesn’t feel comfortable making a decision without them. And these aren’t decisions that are going to affect them, necessarily. These are things that could only affect you, but because you’re so enmeshed and you don’t have any independence, you don’t feel confident enough to make a decision for yourself.
Gabe Howard: So like in the example that I used about my mom, it would be a toxic relationship if I demanded that my mother get the haircut that I want, or send me the options and I’ll pick for her, or if she would refuse to get her hair done without me going with her for fear that I would become angry at her choice, or something along those lines.
Kati Morton: Yeah, exactly.
Gabe Howard: It’s not the act of me knowing, it’s the act of me participating to an unhealthy degree.
Kati Morton: Exactly and neither of you having like a healthy independence. Because yeah, I know in relationships, we can feel close and want to know where people are for safety’s sake, often, but when it gets to the point where we don’t have any healthy independence or feel any ability to do what we want to do, that’s when it becomes a bad thing. Do you know what I mean?
Gabe Howard: I do know what you mean. You started to talk about abusive relationships. Now, I think that many people, when they think of abusive relationships, they think one person hitting or striking or just violence on another person, but that’s not the only way to abuse somebody.
Kati Morton: No. And it’s actually not even the most common. Emotional abuse is much more common than actual physical abuse. And emotional abuse is kind of like what I alluded to earlier, like controlling someone money. You’d be surprised how many people are in marriages or relationships where the person tells them what they can and cannot spend money on. And I know that that sounds kind of silly and people often, you know,brush it under the rug and say, oh it’s not that big of a deal and I don’t really have a problem with that. But again, it goes back to that like healthy independence and with each member in the relationship and if they’re controlling a certain part of your life, that can be abusive.
Vincent M. Wales: Now is this a learned behavior and, if it is, where are people learning this?
Kati Morton: I do think that abusive behaviors are something that can be learned, whether we already grew up in a household where abuse was happening, like emotional abuse or physical abuse. We often don’t know another way to show or receive love, because that’s where we learn it is from our parents or whoever our primary caregivers are. And even, I think that when we are struggling ourselves, if we don’t work too… I know this sounds really therapisty, but I can’t help myself… it’s like if we don’t search out better ways to manage all we feel and all we’ve been through, kind of like in the therapist realm, I would say, you know, if we haven’t taken time to process through all the stuff we’ve been through in our life, then it can leak out into others and we can, you know, in essence create toxic relationships because we’re not in a healthy place to begin with. Does that make sense? Kind of like we’re not building a healthy foundation that we don’t even know how to healthfully communicate because it’s possible that the emotional abuse we could be putting on to someone else is really just us crying out for help, saying, I need more support. I don’t know how to get to tell you that I need you. So I’m just gonna kind of force you to be with me.
Vincent M. Wales: Well, a lot of it comes from insecurity.
Kati Morton: Yes. 100 percent I agree.
Gabe Howard: It almost sounds like… and I hate to use this example on adults… but you know it’s like when a 5 year old says. I hate you and I want you to go away. They’re just testing to make sure that you’re going to stay. Now when you’re five. that’s that’s understandable. You’re five and you don’t know how to… Hopefully you have good adults in your life that say. you know telling somebody you hate them and go away is not the best way to have them prove that you’re in a trusting and stable relationship. But you know we have 25 year olds that are doing this because they never learned better.
Kati Morton: Because no one was there to say it’s OK or this isn’t the way to communicate but I will be back. OK. You know and kind of that reassurance that builds a healthy self-confidence and self-assurance.
Gabe Howard: We’re going to step away to hear from our sponsor. We’ll be right back.
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Vincent M. Wales: We’re here talking about toxic relationships with Katie Morton.
Gabe Howard: You have a new book coming out it’s called Are U OK and the first question that I have to ask is… you spell “you” with the letter U, which which makes me cringe because… you’re supposed to spell out Y-O-U. Can you talk about that for a moment? Let’s talk about the title, not not the contents.
Kati Morton: Well, I actually… it’s funny that you wanted the U spelled out because I initially pitched it with just the letter R, so that probably would’ve made you feel worse.
Vincent M. Wales: That would have actually been better, in my opinion. Cause if you’re going to do it, do it the whole way, right. Just have the book be titled RUOK. You know that’s, that’s good.
Kati Morton: RUOK. Exactly.
Gabe Howard: I like the name of the book. I understand where it comes from and how it ties in and language is constantly evolving and even I have to admit that that’s a good thing or we’d all be talking in you know 14th century British English and you know that’s just the most annoying version of English, in my opinion. So the book is about these toxic relationships and how they go and everything that we’ve been discussing and it’s… Is it a big book? I mean it seems like this thing would need to be 20,000 pages to properly cover it all.
Kati Morton: It’s actually not that long. I think it’s around 250 pages, I forget the exact number of pages, but the whole book is essentially a Mental Health 101 guide. So I obviously get into relationships, toxic relationships, and the red flags, and ways to communicate more clearly because I truly believe that communication can solve like 90 percent of our problems when it comes to relationship building and mental health. But the first portion of the book before I even get into relationships is just, where to start? How do you know if you need help? What are the different mental health professionals? How is it what you look like. Because I think for, at least in my experience being online for seven years, the thing I have learned over and over is that people just don’t know what they don’t know, which I know sounds silly and obvious but it’s like people don’t understand what therapy even looks like, because nobody even knows how to act. And people don’t know what’s the difference between mental health and mental illness because people use the words interchangeably and no one’s really coming out talking about it in a real way.
Gabe Howard: That is the bane of my existence.
Kati Morton: Yes.
Gabe Howard: Yes yes. People ask me like, how long have you had mental health? Since I was born.
Kati Morton: Yeah, my whole life.
Gabe Howard: They’re like, oh, you’re born with it? Yeah. Yeah, everybody is. It’s it’s mental health. I was also born with physical health.
Kati Morton: Yeah. And they should be treated the same. You know I mean not the same when it comes to treatment, but you should consider them the same. You know we get physicals. We go to checkups. I go to my dermatologist to make sure that mole wasn’t cancerous. We should be doing all of those types of things for mental health and we just as a society, we’re getting there but we’re just not there yet. People talk about it and think about it totally differently.
Vincent M. Wales: Absolutely.
Gabe Howard: I agree completely. One of the things that you said earlier is that you’ve been online for seven years and I know what it’s like to live online, not to the tune of 37 million people but I’ve probably got at least 37, and… all jokes aside, though, you don’t share a lot of personal information. I mean you share a lot of great information and you’re very giving of your knowledge. But in this book you sort of share some more personal stories. You come out a little more to why you’ve chosen this line of work and how it relates to you. Why did you make that choice and was it difficult? Because it’s new for you.
Kati Morton: Yeah it is new. And I think it’s probably just the therapist in me because we’re trained to not share about ourselves, really, much at all unless we think it’s going to aid in our patient’s process. And so I think just out of the fact that I do have a mental health channel, I think that was just kind of… it lended itself to that. But when it came to the book, I felt like reading a book is such a… at least, as an avid reader… it’s a much more intimate thing. I don’t know why that is. But I think it’s because it lives in our own head. You know, it’s something about reading that it’s just… I felt like it it was one of those opportunities where I felt that would give more to the reader if I had personal stories to share in the same way kind of relating it to therapy where I would only share if I thought it would benefit the patient. I thought that it potentially could benefit the reader more versus it only being stories from my audience or from my work that I’ve done.
Vincent M. Wales: Well, as a writer, I’ve got to agree with you that books are more intimate than TV, movies, podcasts, what have you… ’cause you’re more actively involved. You know, these other things are passive, completely passive and when you’re reading, you are putting yourself into it, as well. So, thanks for saying that!
Kati Morton: Yeah. No, it was hard for me to do though, to finish, I guess to answer the last question, it was hard for me to make the decision to put personal stories but because, I mean I’ve done my own work in therapy for many many years off and on, and I think I chose… I was very particular about the story that I chose, so that I knew that I wasn’t going to feel like I put too much out there. Does that make sense? Because you can’t take it back.
Vincent M. Wales: Right.
Gabe Howard: Very much so, yes.
Vincent M. Wales: All right, so let’s say you’re a person who thinks that you might be with a person who is toxic. What do you do?
Kati Morton: First, talk to them. Communicate. Like I said earlier, I think communication is just such a key to healing anything in our life and your relationship. Obviously, only communicate if it’s safe. I mean I say that in the book a lot. Like if it’s abusive or if anything… if you worry for any amount of your safety, emotional, physical, whatever… do not. That’s not going to be the best thing. In that case the first step would be getting help yourself. But I think try to communicate with the ones that we love and if something is upsetting you, if you feel like they’re trying to control you in some way, practice what you want to say ahead of time and make sure there’s no blaming. Like in the book I give kind of the most common communication blunders and how to make sure we don’t do it, which you know, no blaming. No keeping a laundry list of the things you’ve done and keeping track, you know we’ve all had people who’ve done that. Well I did this for you and you know where you paid for that, and I need to pay for this. Just don’t keep track. And so I go through kind of the things you should try to avoid and just try to communicate what you feel is going on and why it’s upsetting to you. And then try to move forward. And hopefully, if it is a healthy relationship or it can be turned around… and the only way it can be turned around, by the way, is if both parties want to make it work. One person cannot work hard enough for both. Just throwing that out there. So if you both want to work on it.
Gabe Howard: Makes perfect sense.
Kati Morton: Yeah. Because you know otherwise, a lot of people think they can love enough, give enough for both and you just cannot. It’s not possible. So if you communicate, you both decide to work on it, then it can get better.
Gabe Howard: I’ve noticed that when you answer all of these questions, it’s about the other person being the abusive one, the toxic one, or causing the problems and how to handle them. But what if you’re the toxic person? I mean, what if you have the awareness to realize that you’re the toxic person? What then?
Kati Morton: Well I mean, and that’s awesome if you do realize it, because a lot of people, I find, aren’t as self-aware or can take a lot longer to come around and admit that we are part of the problem, which in most relationships, toxic or not, it takes two people. It’s like I said, it’s a bad recipe. And so I think if you do have the awareness to recognize that the things you’re doing in your relationship aren’t making things better and they’re actually making it worse, and you might be the one that toxic, you should see someone, like see a mental health professional. Because usually, I don’t know, like, let’s say 90 percent of the time, I would estimate, when people are doing things that are toxic in their relationships, it’s because something else is going on and they just don’t know how to communicate. They don’t know how to cope and they’re you know that’s seeping into the relationships that they have.
Vincent M. Wales: So how do we overcome a toxic relationship?
Kati Morton: So first we can start with like, what if you’re in a toxic relationship, you both decide to work on it. I think just being aware that all relationships take work and if you both are continuing to put the effort in and recognize your faults – because both of you have faults, it’s never just one-sided – then it will get better and it will grow. But we have to continue putting the effort in. This isn’t just something that you do once and forget about it. And so if that’s the case, just keep working on it, keep communicating, that could be, you know if it is a romantic relationship, that could be couples counseling, it could just be you know having a time each week we get together and you know communicate clearly and talk about things and this upset me and this is why, you have like a debriefing. Some people do that, especially in friendship. But then let’s say you’ve been in a really terrible relationship and you’ve ended it. And it was too toxic and they weren’t going to work on it or you weren’t able to or whatever. I think the the best thing we can do even personally, I’ll say, is being in therapy, because I’m sure everybody can agree that often with our friends and family it’s like the blind leading the blind. They don’t know any better either. So my friends would say, yeah this happened and you know I was just really upset and they’re like, you’re such a joke. I never liked you, anyway. And they don’t really offer any help. They’re your buddy, right there in it with you, but they’re not offering any assistance.
Gabe Howard: They’ve got your back. But that just means they’re agreeing with whatever preconceived notion you came in with, because that’s kind of what we want from our friends.
Kati Morton: Totally. And that’s why friends are helpful but it’s not enough. And so if you find yourself still struggling or let’s say you’ve been in two or three back-to-back toxic relationships, that tells us something, right? That’s like a little red flag of our own to say, hey maybe I should do some work on myself so that I don’t continue this pattern. Because we all do have the power to change. I mean that’s what my whole… everything I’ve done in my career is all about is the ability to change and grow. And so if you get into therapy, you start working on yourself, then we can prevent that pattern of unhealthy relationships from continuing.
Gabe Howard: Kati, thank you so much. I have one last question before we find out where to find the book and where to find you and that’s, what’s your hope for this book? What do you hope that people get out of it? When you when you sat down on day one to write it, what what was your end game?
Kati Morton: I think my hope is that it gives people a resource to empower them to make educated decisions about their mental health. I think that there is so much like pop psychology out there or just information for clinicians, from mental health professionals themselves. And I hope that this book reaches people where they’re at. And it’s you know, it’s it’s easy to digest and understand. All of the writing is very simple. There’s no what I call a hokey pajokey therapist talk. There’s none of that. It’s all, you know, hopefully very relatable and common language so that people can get the help they need when they need it.
Vincent M. Wales: Fantastic.
Gabe Howard: Hokey pajokey is now my new favorite term. I just… you may see that in an upcoming video by me. I will give you credit, I promise.
Kati Morton: Feel free to do that. I think it’s a good one.
Vincent M. Wales: That’s awesome.
Gabe Howard: Thank you.
Vincent M. Wales: All right, Katie tell our listeners where they can find you online, including your book.
Kati Morton: Yeah. My YouTube channel and all my socials are KatiMorton, and find me online on Twitter on YouTube, everything. And then as far as the book, Are U OK – A Guide to Caring About Your Mental Health, you can find on Amazon, Barnes & Noble or wherever books are sold.
Vincent M. Wales: Excellent.
Gabe Howard: Wonderful. Thank you so much for being here and thank you everyone else for tuning in. And remember you can get one week of free, convenient, affordable, and private online counseling, anytime, anywhere by visiting betterhelp.com/psychcentral. We will see everyone next week.
Narrator 1: Thank you for listening to the Psych Central Show. Please rate, review, and subscribe on iTunes or wherever you found this podcast. We encourage you to share our show on social media and with friends and family. Previous episodes can be found at PsychCentral.com/show. PsychCentral.com is the internet’s oldest and largest independent mental health website. Psych Central is overseen by Dr. John Grohol, a mental health expert and one of the pioneering leaders in online mental health. Our host, Gabe Howard, is an award-winning writer and speaker who travels nationally. You can find more information on Gabe at GabeHoward.com. Our co-host, Vincent M. Wales, is a trained suicide prevention crisis counselor and author of several award-winning speculative fiction novels. You can learn more about Vincent at VincentMWales.com. If you have feedback about the show, please email [email protected].
About The Psych Central Show Podcast Hosts
Gabe Howard is an award-winning writer and speaker who lives with bipolar and anxiety disorders. He is also one of the co-hosts of the popular show, A Bipolar, a Schizophrenic, and a Podcast. As a speaker, he travels nationally and is available to make your event stand out. To work with Gabe, please visit his website, gabehoward.com.
Vincent M. Wales is a former suicide prevention counselor who lives with persistent depressive disorder. He is also the author of several award-winning novels and creator of the costumed hero, Dynamistress. Visit his websites at www.vincentmwales.com and www.dynamistress.com.