How can we escape a toxic relationship when we’re clinging for dear life? Why do we stay when logic, actions, reactions and the constant knot in our gut testify that our relationship is not good and not getting better? Doesn’t toxic mean poison? So why do we want to stay? How do we set ourselves free?
If you asked yourself any of these questions, you’ve taken the first step. You have to begin somewhere and asking how to set yourself free is a solid beginning. Educating yourself is the next step and not as hard as you may think. You can tiptoe in. Not make a bunch of waves, just continue to ask questions. Google is your pal. Ruthless honesty inside your mind and heart are a huge help at this point, too. There’s no harm in asking, right? Use internet resources to search for trauma bonds, toxic relationships from narcissism to psychopaths, sociopaths in intimate relationships. Search for a qualified therapist or counselor if you are able to do so. Then brace yourself, because the truth can rock you to the core.
Could we really be that blind? All this time? That’s scary in itself. Learning about the dynamics of toxic relationships, how we make excuses for them to protect ourselves from having to face the truth and the need to redirect our lives is that kind of awakening. Brutal. We want to fix it because we don’t want to face the world without them…single…on our own. Shatter our families. There’s guilt and shame to wrestle with. Expectations. We’ve often become programmed to believe if we were better, they’d be nicer. We want the life we’ve worked, sacrificed for, dreamed of. We want to believe if we hang in there long enough, are strong enough, it will happen. All will be okay.
We live for the moment they’ll look in our eyes and ask, “What have I been doing? How could I have betrayed you, devalued and lied to you, hurt you, when you are the one who loved me in spite of it all?” Their next sentence…the one we don’t want to hear is, “But I’ll do it again. And again. And you’ll stay.”
If you’re truly in a toxic relationship, you need to understand the dynamics of manipulation. Emotional manipulation is abuse. Interacting in relationships is not the same thing as being emotionally manipulated and they can be masters. These are some of the realizations to be confronted:
Lesson #1. They don’t change. They may tell you those things to get you to stop making waves, but it isn’t genuine. Won’t last. Will escalate after you’ve made them vulnerable.
Lesson #2. They don’t think and feel the way you do. You feel love, are attached, bonded. They are not capable of this. They value the image you help them project. Resent you because you want the passion and love you feel returned. They don’t know how. Never will. You’re pissing them off by asking for what they can’t give. Don’t relate to. It makes you look weak. Needy.
Lesson #3. There may be a very real neurochemical addiction at work inside you. It is often the result of intermittent reinforcement, the high of oxytocin and other chemicals your brain mainlines when they hold you, tell you what you need to hear, make all the bad things go away. The rush is stronger than a hit of heroin. You crave it. During a downturn when they back away, hurt you, the desperation for reinforcement is just that…desperation. That’s why you want to stay…for the hit of the high that feels like love. Logically you know better than to stick around for the abuse, but the brain is a fascinating thing. Programmed to want the high enough to endure the lows. This is when love can become an obsession. Educate yourself. It’s the only way to recognize what’s happening.
Lesson #4. You are not crazy, stupid or alone in this. I rode that roller coaster till I have callouses from holding on. Now nearly 4 years out, calm, content, drama free, I can truly tell you there is a dazzling world beyond dysfunction, but you have to find your end game. Have to believe you’ve done all you can before you walk away. If they left you…ignite that search engine. Figure out exactly what you lost and come to embrace what you are now free to achieve. Free is a cool word. Freedom is opportunity.
Lesson #5. We generally walk away 7 times (on average) before we leave for good. That’s a long story. We’re either slow learners or our emotional bank account has extraordinary resources before we bankrupt into emotional Chapter 11.
Keep asking questions, reading, learning…check out my website, or my book, LEAVING YOU…for me. Visit other websites: Kim Saeed, Meredith Miller, Dr. Elinor Greenberg, a Facebook Group called Covert Narcissism. There are so many resources. Mostly survivors who are here to help. You’ll relate to more than you want to. Stay open. Take care of yourself because you matter in this world too, but you need to embrace and believe this truth.
My best wishes and encouragement,
This blog is inspired by a question I answered in Quora.