In a toxic relationship with a partner, friend, family member, or work?  Consider four potential coping strategies:

Change. We can ask ourselves: “What in this situation can I change?” Maybe I can work on confronting abusive behavior. If I am criticized, I may try to be less defensive. Can I change how I react to situations in my work environment? Is there anything I can do differently about interacting with other parties at work? Can I change how I allow the situation to affect me?

Accept. Sometimes you can try every which way to make healthy changes, but nothing works. The toxic nature of the situation persists. The next thing to ask yourself is “Can I work at acceptance?” Often things are stressful because we don’t accept things as they are. 

Sometimes people confuse acceptance with preference. Acceptance does not mean you approve of the situation, condone destructive behavior, or prefer things this way. Acceptance means aligning with the reality of the situation. If the boss usually behaves in a selfish and rude manner, acceptance helps me not to be shocked and amazed every time they act in character. We can healthily work on acceptance.

Leave. If things are not changing and I cannot accept how things are, I might consider leaving. One effect of stress, particularly the kind that comes from an unhealthy situation, is tunnel vision—a narrow view that makes it hard to explore options. That can lead to a feeling of being trapped, as if there are no viable options, but that is rarely the case. I might feel that there are no options because I feel trapped by all the givens I take for granted. I take the different elements of my life as fixed and fret about maintaining it, rather than considering that it might be best for me to leave and cultivate a different situation. We can then work on leaving thoughtfully, intentionally and healthily.

Limbo. The last approach is limbo. Limbo is when things are not changing, I cannot accept things as they are, and I am not leaving the situation. Limbo is the only one that we cannot do healthily. Limbo feels like perpetual stress over the same things over and over again.

Change, Accept, Leave or Limbo.  At any point in time, ask yourself “what square am I standing on?”  Let’s just make sure it’s not limbo.