We all have that toxic relationship we know does us little good.
Yet we still stay in it, even though we know that we should leave. Others have also told us to leave.
But we’re still there.
How you know the relationship is toxic
You don’t need a checklist of signs to tell you that it’s toxic. Deep within, you already see signs such as:
- You find yourself more drained after meeting the person
- The person criticises you and leaves you feeling worse about yourself
- You feel like you’re walking on eggshells around the person, afraid that the person might just explode
Months ago, I asked myself,
Why do we keep going for relationships that we know are harmful?
This passage explains why. It’s such a beautifully written passage that I quote it out in full.
We don’t fall in love first and foremost with those who care for us best and most devotedly; we fall in love with those who care for us in ways that we expect.
Adult love emerges from a template of how we should be loved that was created in childhood, and is likely to be connected to a range of problematic compulsions that militate in key ways against our chances of growth.
Far more than happiness, what motivates us in relationships is a search for familiarity – and what is familiar is not restricted to comfort, reassurance and tenderness; it may include feelings of abandonment, humiliation and neglect, which can form part of the list of paradoxical ingredients we need to refind in adult love.
We might reject healthy, calm and nurturing candidates simply on the basis that they feel too right, too eerie in their unfamiliar kindness, and nowhere near as satisfying as a bully or an ingrate, who will torture us in just the way we need in order to feel we are in love.
We stick to what’s familiar
If you look at the above passage, we realise that much of how we search for relationships today is formed by how we ourselves were shown love when we were younger.
We don’t look for what’s healthy, we look for what’s familiar.
This is a really big change and mindset shift.
Because it forces us to consciously move against that, so that we can actually build something better for ourselves.
We need the relationship so that we can feel useful fixing others
Have you ever found yourself trying to fix the toxic person in your life? Maybe you’ve been trying to change him. Or you’re trying to help him.
We often keep toxic relationships in our lives because we want to feel useful. It serves the purpose of keeping us distracted from looking at ourselves, because that’s scary.
Over the years, as I’ve gone for more and more of Al-Anon, the support group for the friends and family of Al-Anon, I’ve realised that it’s helped me to see how fixing the alcoholic in my
life distracted me from the real issues in my life that needed attention.
Even though I didn’t know what to do with my life, I would still insist that I knew better what was good for the alcoholic… like stopping drinking, even though I did have my own flaws too.
When you fix someone, you feel strangely, useful.
We are scared that we can’t find something better
I had a scary relationship when I was in university. She was fierce, and demanding. One afternoon, as I was sending her off to London, she threw a tantrum. She refused to talk to me for the whole day.
Yet I stupidly carried her bags, thinking that I was serving her and loving her.
But frankly, I was scared that I just couldn’t find love anywhere else.
It was really really scary.
When we find someone who shows us affection, we find something that we’ve never experienced much before in our lives.
All of us innately crave that sense of belonging and love, that is hard to find elsewhere. And we end up latching strongly to the first person who shows us that.
Even when they might not be very healthy in showing their love.
We still see ourselves as the kid who got left behind
Growing up was scary.
You were small, tiny, and you could get lost.
Remember that time? When you would lose sight of mummy and end up crying and screaming till mummy came to carry you?
We are all scared. To a certain degree.
And we need to recognise that we’ve grown up and can now find love, healthy love, as an adult.
Finding a way out of the toxicity is first being aware
When you’re aware of how you’re reacting to your current toxic relationships, bear in mind that leaving might require you to change, a lot more.
It requires you to move against what’s natural for you, into something that may be painful for you.
Write a letter of love to yourself where you remember the qualities in yourself, and how you’ve shown that in the past.
Then you will realise that there is still much good in you.
Then take the effort to leave.
You will thank yourself for that.