Dr. Ann Clark, a San Diego human services expert who has published books documenting her and others’ experiences with toxic relationships, said the main difference between toxic and abusive relationships is that toxic relationships are capable of causing high physical and emotional stress whereas abuse is an outright assault on a physical level.
Toxic relationships are more widespread, and her definition includes relationships that create a state of internal negativity that could come in the form of negative inner self-talk, self-doubt or judgments. They are relationships where there’s no inner calmness, happiness, joy or clarity of thinking.
“You simply know when you’re in one,” she said. “This person is not your cheerleader.”