Toxic Relationships are Painful to Endure

#c0-dependency #toxicrelationship #selfesteem

Toxic relationships. In this article, I  refer to one party of a toxic relationship as the toxic person, or TP. He or she is the individual you cannot let into your life without inviting in a lot of anger, resentment, ridicule, hateful harangues, and exasperating evasions.

John J. Hohn, Writer

John J. Hohn, Writer

Ever wonder why a certain relationship never works. It may show promise from time to time. An affable level can be reached at intervals to accommodate  exchanges about the weather, sports and other breezy subjects, but even at those times, it’s an illusion. There is no neutral ground  in a toxic relationship. It’s a mine field. One false step – a wrong word, a careless observation, an inadvertent facial expression – and all hell breaks loose. You’re distressed. You work  hard to explain yourself and to correct what you see as the misunderstanding. But all your efforts are to no avail. If that has ever happened to you, especially if it’s a pattern and happens again and again with the same person, you’re probably in a toxic relationship.

The relationship is usually an important one – a family member, a relative, or worse yet, a spouse. You feel obligated to remain on good terms. Toxic relationships thrive on an imposed obligation of some sort. Toxic personalities have no confidence in their own ability to attract love and hold others dear. They rely on external pressures on the relationship, the rules of engagement as it were, to bind others to them. It’s an older or younger sibling. It’s a boss you can’t fire or customer you can’t afford to lose. It’s an associate at work or a neighbor you cannot get away from.

When conflict erupts, the TP will find reason to blame you. He or she refuses to understand. Expect attacks on your character with a viciousness that can be disarming and hurtful. Make no mistake. For however strong you feel in standing up to the attack, your self-esteem is at risk. You may begin to doubt yourself,  your self worth. You are tied up in knots because you can’t make mollify the TP, and what’s worse, you can’t let it go. You feel impaled on your own good intentions and compelled to try harder.

Start with Yourself . . .

The best place to start in dealing with a toxic relationship is an examination of your own motives. First, it’s important to recognize that you are not bound to the relationship. You can walk away. It may mean changing jobs, separating from a spouse, moving your residence, or isolating yourself from a family member. It may seem unthinkable, yet others do it all of the time and find happiness and fulfillment . You may need to contend with censure and criticism from family and friends.  No matter what, in order to find the strength to break the strangle hold a TP has on you, you must see yourself as a free agent, someone capable of changing his or her circumstances regardless of how difficult it may be. Marshall your support. Prepare in advance for taking the step. Look at what you do as final. Most of the time, the step away is lasting and that’s a far better thing than staying exposed to damaging attacks on your mental health.

Stop seeing yourself as a victim. The toxic relationship is painful. Don’t translate the pain into “poor me.”  The toxic person wants you to feel one-down. He or she wants you to feel guilty, hurt or misunderstood. That’s how the toxic person maintains power in the relationship. If you’re sorry, if you’re penitent, if you whine about not being understood, the TP laps up. Stay centered. Continue to be diplomatic. Be as thoughtful as you can be. Above all, do not let the toxic person push you into the victim’s position. Accept that he or she has misunderstood, perhaps intentionally. Accept that there is nothing you can do about it and move on.

Another reason that you want to avoid the victim position is that victims often end up seeking revenge. Hurt converts to anger. Anger fuels the need to get even. Getting even means lashing back, and when that happens, you have just put another rock in the TP’s pile to fire back at you. Apologize to set your own feelings right and then move on. Until the nature of the relationship changes, nothing you do will make any difference. The only thing you can control is your own own behavior — your feelings, your thoughts and your actions.

More Instinctual than Thoughtful . . .

The toxic person lives a life very different from you. He or she lives in conflict with several people almost all the time. It feels normal to them. Anger and resentment are close to the surface at all times. It is unrealistic to think that the toxic person wants the same tranquility and peace of mind that you seek. He or she may say as much, but the key is to watch what they do. He or she wants to win; wants to come  out on top. The toxic person’s interactions are more instinctive than thoughtful. Don’t expect a TP to recognize the impact of his or her actions and words have on others. The toxic person is steeled against the reactions of others. They react only as they perceive a threat.

Avoid being trapped into thinking that you can make it right. You may still feel like you should be able to get along. You may still think you can make it work. Maybe by finding the right words, somehow a better approach, you will break the bonds of conflict, free yourself of the pain forever, and you and your problem person will enjoy a full and joyful friendship the rest of your lives. Wrong. That’s not going to happen. Unrealistic expectations are a harmful piece to bring into a relationship. They are your contribution to the conflict and to your own hurt. Let them go.

Be realistic about what is possible. You can only control your half of any relationship. If the bully TP relies on making others feel guilty, or hurt, or inadequate to gain power in a relationship, he or she is not going to change just because your tactics are different. At best, keep your cool, stay centered and don’t get sucked in by all the negatives thrown at you. Set goals that that enable you to exit the relationship with your self-respect intact. Respect your own vulnerability. The toxic person wants a relationship with you as an arena to fuel a need to win out over others. Love is not part of the pay off. Expressing love will not make much difference. It will not prompt the toxic person to treat you differently.

Nothing in Second or Third Place . . .

Your goals for any encounter, or for the relationship itself, almost never  coincide with the toxic person’s goals. You may want to reach a reasonable understanding on an issue  or establish a basis for better communication going forward. The toxic person’s goal in all encounters, consciously or unconsciously, is to defend and protect his or her badly damaged, fragile core self. That comes first. There is nothing in second or third place.

The toxic person’s arsenal of rhetorical and psychological weapons arrayed and ready for conflict are truly impressive. Remember, your problem person has been refining his or her skills for decades. He or she has survived by them. The toxic personality is challenged by intimacy. They are too well defended to allow anyone to get close. Opening up to another means acknowledging his or her own inadequacies, grieving over losses, purging anger once and for all – all tasks that are best completed in the hard work of psychological counseling. Letting people get close, as it does for all of us, means being vulnerable and open to hurt. Do not expect the toxic person to open up. Chances are your have never seen him or her cry. You rarely see them joyful, relaxed and having fun. Most of the time, the toxic person does not live in the moment. He or she is a prisoner of past hurts and disappointments, the painful passages in life that toxic person has not yet made successfully.

Playing in the Fast Lane . . .

If you do not have the credentials and an expressed, mutually agreed upon contract to deal with the toxic person’s psychological and spiritual problems, get the hell out of the way. You’re playing hopscotch in the fast lane. The best you can do is prepare yourself by studying the tactics the toxic person is likely to use against you and learn to deflect them. Additions can be made to any list, but here are some of the most frequently encountered.

Refusing to accept an apology or even acknowledge it.
Holding grudges even after you have apologized
Betraying confidences
Re-framing a discussion – changing the subject
Refusing to forgive
Refusing to reason – playing dumb on the simplest concepts
Never apologizing
Creating a sense of obligation
Using guilt
Never allowing the benefit of the doubt
Character assassination – killing the messenger and ignoring the message
Indifference
Lack of empathy and compassion.
Emotional expression confined almost entirely to anger.
Intolerance
Judgmental view of others
Imputing motives to others
Assuming authority
Fixed, inflexible views on politics and religion – not open to other ideas
Rarely displays uninhibited joy and laughter; or grief for that matter
Rationalizing
Psychobabble
Righteous indignation and defensiveness

It’s an impressive array and challenging to go up against. Don’t let your pride be hurt if you turn and run. It may be the wisest thing to do. Watch this web sites for more discussion.

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