How to Identify Toxic Relationships?

Recently the case of Johnny Depp suing his former wife, Amber Heard, became one of the hot news all over the world. In the 2018 op-ed she wrote for The Washington Post, she described herself as a “public figure representing domestic abuse.” Even though Johnny Depp was not named in the article, it was affecting his career and he claimed it cost him lucrative acting roles. The case has just ended with Johnny winning the defamation case.

With the case being broadcasted around the world, it brought a light on toxic relationships – which is also experienced by many singles and couples. In most cases, the victims or even both parties did not realise that they were both toxic and hurting each other throughout the relationship, even if it might seem obvious to other people.

Violet Lim, the Chief of Cupid and CEO of Lunch Actually – Asia’s pioneer and biggest dating agency in Asia, shares her expertise about how to identify narcissists, the signs of toxic relationships and how to identify toxic relationships.

How to identify narcissists according to Violet:

1. Lack of empathy

The centre of the world is supposed to be themselves. Narcissists really love to control everything, they exploit and manipulate the conditions to be under their control.

2. Entitlement

A narcissist believes that they have the privilege to have special treatment. They need to feel that everyone agrees with how they behave and if others bring up an opposing view, then it’s wrong and silly.

3. Grandiose/vulnerable

A narcissist can be very extroverted and vulnerable at the same time. They actually are insecure, but instead of admitting it, they’d rather hide it by pretending like they feel victimised by someone else that doesn’t share the same opinion with them.

4. Superficial appearance of themselves and others

Narcissists want to look good, and they want those surrounding them to look as good as well, especially for their partner. Narcissists initially will make you feel good, they will treat you like a king or queen in the early period of a relationship but it will disappear. Their true self is revealed after that.

5. Don’t regulate emotions

They play with their emotions and are not trying to control it. They behave like 3 year-olds. When they are angry, they will show it without considering the situations of others. But when everything is under control, they will be happy and don’t hesitate to praise their partner for it.

6. Hypersensitive to criticism

They’ll get offended easily when they get criticism, especially when it doesn’t please them. You’ll fear saying anything negative towards them because you already know the consequences for criticising them beforehand.

All of these behaviours seem horrible for someone to have, but if someone experiences being involved with a narcissist, the person normally won’t recognise it at the first since narcissists have their own patterns before showing their true selves – such as love bombing. Narcissists will make you feel wonderful, they know how to treat you like a queen or king as long as you’re useful. But once you are no longer needed, they will diminish and devalue you and discard you. They give you the silent treatment and make you feel worthless.

Violet emphasised that we need to understand ourselves first before getting involved with someone else. Based on Lunch Actually’s philosophy that before meeting the right one, we need to be the right one ourselves: understanding our true self is definitely required before being involved in deeper relationships with someone else. Thus, we can recognise earlier if we’re actually a narcissist and try to get help from professionals and not include someone else before we become the best version of ourselves.

What then are the signs of a toxic relationship and some tips to identify whether you’re in a toxic relationship? The signs are:

1. Jealousy and lack of trust

Relationships are supposed to be our safe place to be vulnerable, having someone to rely on, and growing together in every aspect. In a toxic relationship, They will be very competitive, not in a healthy way because they don’t let you be better or be with someone better than them. One of the party will be afraid for their partner to leave them. Thus, they will control you on who you see, who you like, etc, and not let you grow to be the best version of yourself.

2. There is no ‘Take and Give’ just ‘All Take, No Give’

Healthy relationships are being happy together with fulfilling each other’s needs and wants. When you feel like you’re always pleasing your partner and revolve only around what makes your partner happy without considering yours, you need to stop.

Frequently, you will think it’s normal and you will be considerate of your partner’s behaviour, hoping that they will change. But, in reality, you are only giving them emotional needs or support, without taking something back.

3. Making excuses for your partner’s behaviour

If you ever hear your close friend criticise your partner, and you always argue that ‘you don’t know him/her like I do’ but you don’t really feel it, then that is a red flag. When you ever feel like you are forced to defend your partner, you need to think again about your relationship.

Perhaps you do not ‘see’ some of the above obvious signs but how you feel in your relationship is also key to identify whether you’re in a toxic relationship:

1. Communication feels exhausting

In any relationship, communication is the key. When you feel everything you say is being turned against you, you slowly stop trying to even say what you feel because you know where it’s going to lead to. When you say things such as “I’m feeling really down about work lately” and the type of response you get would be along the lines of “You seem perfectly fine when your friends are around.” Everything feels like it’s your fault.

2. You’re constantly set for a trap

Every question, every statement feels like a trap. A path laid out where at the end your partner “proves” a point. For example, instead of asking, “Do you want to have dinner with me?” The question is phrased as “Would you rather be glued to your laptop or have dinner with me?”. By any chance, if you answer anything other than what your partner is expecting, it becomes a generalised war with opening phrases such as “You always…” or “You never….” However, it’s an entirely different result if the roles are reversed.

3. My way or my way?

A controlling behaviour can grow into something very ugly. Just because you’re a couple doesn’t mean you need to agree with everything your partner says. It doesn’t mean you love them any less just because you have a different point of view. A supportive partner would respect what you have to say if they don’t agree with it. As much as everybody wants to be two peas in a pod, you’re still very different peas and that’s okay.


Having toxic relationships is not a sin, you don’t need to hide it from another person, especially the person you trust. We as a person, cannot change someone else’s character and behaviour. When we love someone, we often think that we can handle their bad behaviour and fix it if we are patient enough to stay, but that is not true. Before you’re involved too deeply with someone who has characteristics that can cause a toxic relationship, make sure you identify the red flags and leave. And if you are already involved, seek the help from someone you trust or even a professional.

Contributed by Violet Lim, CEO of Lunch Actually

Images: Envato

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