Whether you know it or not, we’ve all been in at least one toxic relationship – whether it’s a friendship, with a family member, or in a romantic relationship. It’s very likely that those close to you will recognize that a relationship is unhealthy before you do simply because they’re outside of the situation. And when the reality fully dawns on you, it often causes thoughts of “I’m so stupid,” or “I should’ve seen this coming,” and other forms of self-blaming. Whether they were the toxic one, or you were, there are reasons why these kinds of connections don’t end sooner and why they’re hard to see clearly.
1. [Insert vice here] changes your mood
2. Engaging in [vice] stimulates your reward system
3. Despite being aware of the negative consequences, you can’t stop
You can literally become addicted to feeling loved. People want to feel cared about, and the negative consequences from the relationship often just make the one being affected work harder to acquire the love they want. When they finally get it, the high is even higher because they know what it’s like to be in a slump. And when they’re in the slump, they want desperately to get back to the love they know they’re capable of receiving from the other person. It’s an addictive cycle that’s not easy to break.
In her TED Talk, Anthropologist Dr. Helen Fisher explains that when she showed people who reported being in love pictures of their significant others, their brain lit up in a pleasure response similar to those who are addicted to opioids or amphetamines. This is just how love works, even healthy love. Falling for the wrong person, however, is what creates the toxic relationship. When they leave or do something wrong, your compulsion to connect with them becomes overpowering.
Some signs of a toxic relationship include persistent unhappiness, if a relationship makes you upset or anxious, jealousy of happy couples, causes shifts in mental health and self-esteem, makes you unable to communicate, if there’s constant undermining of the other, lack of support, competition, and disrespect. More serious signs are that of violence, abuse or harassment. Often these things can be dismissed because “every relationship has its ups and downs.” They might apologize for their behavior (which still continues), they could make a big gesture, or they might start gaslighting, where they convince the other that what happened was just a figment of their imagination. Some of these signs are incredibly subtle and may be almost unnoticeable – like the hiding of possessions or constant teasing.
Sometimes our own human nature can get in the way of what’s best for us. So it doesn’t matter how long it takes you to realize it, but if it’s eventually discovered that your counterpart, or yourself, makes the relationship toxic or abusive (mentally, emotionally or physically) then it’s best to get out of the relationship as safely as you can.
Editor’s Note: If you or a loved one are in what you believe to be an abusive relationship (physical or otherwise), please contact The National Domestic Violence Hotline or The Crisis Text Line. Both organizations have easy-to-access information with browser windows that can be quickly closed. Remember, you are not alone in this and there are people out there who care and are willing to get you out.