Noxious Needs and Poisonous​ Pals

I know a guy. He’s in his early 40s and very unhappy. I have tried being a friend off and on for years. But after several unsuccessful attempts, I had to walk away. All of our exchanges spiraled into some toxic cesspool. For the preservation of my own mental, emotional and physical health, I had to accept we were never going to be friends. Sometimes letting go is hard but the alternative is worse.

I was reading an article on Mindbodygreen, that deeply resonated with me.

“The idea of unwrapping yourself from someone you love or are supposed to love seems decidedly masochistic, regardless of the toxicity of the relationship. Love’s grip on us has proved itself to be a force stronger than all others. It holds every part of us; it takes rule of our minds, clings fiercely to our organs, grasps relentlessly at each piece of our insides, and its aggressive efforts always prove successful.

We justify unreasonable actions with last-chance defenses, and we grapple with our inner demons in an attempt to convince them out of what we already know. We beg our souls to find another angle to the truth, one that rewrites the story without any missing pieces so that we may hold on longer.

Our heads know it’s time to let go far before our hearts are ready to do so.

We resist. Solid ground never seems close enough, and the impact of hitting it can be so shockingly harsh.”

Sometimes we stay because we hope things will improve, or we’ve invested so much time and money. Sometimes it’s because of the kids. I make several stabs at a relationship I know is toxic because I don’t want to be seen as a failure. The fighter in me wants to conquer the situation. Maybe it’s my ego who doesn’t want to let go.

Whether you have a relationship with a partner, friend or parent, if you aren’t sure if you are in a toxic relationship here are a few flags to watch for.

1. Passive-Aggression

Instead of saying what’s actually making you mad, you find petty ways to irritate the other person. You are expecting them to guess or figure out why you are upset in the first place. It exposes a communication problem. State your feelings and desires openly. Don’t be manipulative.

2. “Keeping Score”

“Keeping Score” is when you continue to blame each other for past transgressions in the relationship. Each of you starts keeping tally when the other messes up. You find it necessary to remind each other of those violations (usually during an argument). There is nothing wrong with criticism if it comes from a good place, but let’s be real, keeping score is not from a good place. It’s a form of manipulation. In the meantime, the issue at hand is not being resolved. Are you keeping score as a way for you to make yourself feel better while making the other person feel worthless? Deal with each issue as it comes up. This is an opportunity to forgive. Be the bigger person. Forgive and let go.

3. Jealousy

Getting angry when your partner talks, touches, or texts, another person of the opposite sex is nothing more than revealing your own insecurities. The jealous person generally tries to exert a suffocating amount of control over the other person. They manipulate in a way that shows a lack of trust. What is a relationship without trust?

4. Emotional Blackmail

If every time you do something wrong the other person threatens to walk out, they are holding the relationship hostage. Emotional blackmail creates unnecessary drama. Every minor bump in the road is perceived as commitment crisis. A common expression is, “Well since I can’t do anything right, I might as well leave!” Be adult enough to communicate feedback and criticism without the emotional blackmail.

4. Blaming Your Partner for Your Own Emotional Issues

If you have a bad day and your partner is not responding the way you expect them to, you perceive them as uncaring. You expect them to drop everything and attend to you, even though you didn’t ask them to. Let’s face it when we have a bad day we can be demanding and selfish. The other person is not responsible for how you feel at all times. Don’t be codependent. They aren’t responsible for making you happy and vis-versa. Instead of becoming resentful, take charge of your own emotions. Dissapointment breeds resentment. If you read my poem about disappointment, you’ll inderstand that it comes from our own unmet expectations.

6. Throwing Money at the Problem

Making a purchase during a time when there is major conflict usually covers the issue up with the excitement of the purchase. There’s nothing wrong with doing nice things for someone after a fight to show solidarity. But one should never use gifts to replace dealing with the underlying emotional issues. Not only does not address the problem but it sets an unhealthy precedent. You are only delaying the inevitable. Deal with the problem.

7. Not Being Yourself

Setting aside your own desires, dreams, and goals to please someone else. Your partner should want to have a relationship with you. Not the person they want you to become. Relationships need boundaries. If you don’t like something about yourself, change because you want to change. It won’t last if you are merely doing it to please someone else. By the same token, growth and change should not be seen as threatening to your partner.

If you are not ready to deal with the issues within the relationship, you may not be ready for a relationship. If you are already stuck in a toxic relationship, Dr. Jeffrey Bernstein suggests these three steps in Psychology Today to strategize an exit.

1. Have a mantra. Jean, a forty year old client of mine, tried to leave a relationship with a man who was highly manipulative and emotionally abusive. Each time she attempted to leave, he showed her remorse and lured her back with his charming and seductive displays. This was maddening for Jean who felt demoralized each time after not being able to extricate herself from this coercive, destructive cycle.

To help Jean begin to break free, she came up with a phrase, a mantra of sorts that she repeatedly told herself: “He may be good for someone else, but he is a wrecking ball for me.” Jean paired this mantra with a visualization of a big crane swinging a wrecking ball every time she thought of him or saw him.

2. Stop all possible contact. If you really want out, then contact with your about-to-be ex needs to be very tightly managed. Strive for no contact. Most highly toxic partners have softer sides and this can hold strong allure. If you are feeling vulnerable, you will likely be at risk to go back to your toxic ex if you reengage contact with him or her. In Jean’s situation, we discussed how she could minimize contact with her ex given her difficult challenge of him being a work colleague. This involved having her be courteous and say nothing more at business meetings. We also came up with the “not breaking stride rule” when she was saying “hi” to him in the hallways.

3. Keep knowing your value.  Feel good about who you are, how you have grown, and what you offer in your personal and professional relationships. Jean realized that knowing her value meant putting her emotional health first. Have compassion for yourself if you want to go back into your toxic relationship. It’s normal to miss your ex, Stay mindful, however, that missing times that felt good does not mean that he was, or is, good for you. If you have trouble remembering your own value then think about what you would say to a family member or close friend who wanted to return to a toxic relationship. Thinking about how you may value or advise someone else can help you treasure yourself and to move on.”

In 2018 let’s endeavor to do better for ourselves and others. If you are attracted to toxic relationships make this your year to change those unhealthy behavior patterns. If you are already in a toxic relationship, make this your year to break the cycle. There are a number of resources out there to help us misstep less often. I know I have some work to do to avoid future toxic pitfalls. Be encouraged, we are a resilient species, we are capable of growing and learning from our mistakes.

What experiences have you had with toxic relationships? Please share in the comments below. No judgment here, let’s just encourage each other to do better!


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