When do we order a toxic relationship from the menu of the Universe among all the infinite possibilities out there?
Scenario 1: When we start believing we cannot bear ALONE the consequences of our decisions, which are a direct result of exercising our free will. We may be too scared to face on our own the responsibility of our past actions projected into the future. Ultimately, we believe in life's justice, and so we fear it.
Scenario 2: We fear life in general and living on our own in particular because there was always a figure of higher authority in our lives (а parent/ doctor/ teacher/ girlfriend/ boyfriend/ sibling/ school bully, etc.) that we never wanted to or dared to question - it was too risky or too demanding. Consequently, we never managed to rebel against that authority successfully to impose our ways/ visions/ dreams/ hopes/ likes upon them even when their authoritarian decisions hurt us. We got so accustomed to having someone to make decisions for us that we cannot imagine life without such a commanding factor to gravitate around. We simply have not nurtured the strength to listen to ourselves (our instincts, ideas and preferences, and creative impulses) louder. So by silencing these, we silenced ourselves and killed what was authentic and vital in the name of conformity (to a future toxic partner that reminds us of and feels "home"). We cannot imagine our freedom to the point when loneliness is scarier than tyranny, oligarchy, and anarchy combined. What's more, we don't want to be partners with equal shares, we want to be enslaved. And when we cannot slave anymore, we want to be tyrants - we move away from our tyrannical teacher in tyranny because we have finally recognized the pattern, but by moving away, we do not arrive at freedom and partnership because we have neither seen nor practiced these things; we start teaching the lessons on tyranny we have learned from our masters.
Scenario 3: We don't believe in life's justice, and we don't trust the world and its' people. We don't trust our capacities enough, and we want to figure out the perfect plan to stay secure and survive. By necessity, all of these plans include supporting roles for actors to complement and make up for our imperfect performance by adding to our project of a lifetime the qualities we believe they possess. So we start an audition for the cast of our movie we want to believe we can direct but deeply doubt about and chase that special someone to give worth to our production or share responsibility for its failure with.
In all 3 scenarios, the 2 underlying motives are 1) escape from individual responsibility and, as a consequence, 2) the exploitation of another human being as a tool to accomplish this same selfish end. So the classic recipe naturally starts from there:
Classic Toxic Relationship Recipe
1. We start running away from responsibility for our own case: happiness or unhappiness/ destiny or misery/ development or stagnation/ action or inaction/ decisiveness or postponement/ initiation or procrastination. In short, we run away and hide from ourselves.
2. We are on the lookout for someone to be responsible for us. We confuse this with the search for true love. What we really want is not someone to love us but someone to adopt us during this turbulent time of psychological infancy/ immaturity.
3. Instead, we find someone just like us – an irresponsible and immature fugitive out on the same hunt for the responsible, mature, and stable one that we have undertaken.
4. So we play pretend we are all that they want while they pretend that they are all that we want: “When I am what you want me to be, I am not myself (for I am weak really, but you/ anyone will not accept, understand, appreciate, or love me if you knew my true self). So, instead of being honest, I will try to hide as best, be as unnatural and untrue to myself to please you so you can stay motivated to keep on playing the same deadly trick on me."
5. We want to believe in the ingenuity of our partner’s perfection, but the more we get close to them, the more flaws we discover – the exact same flaws we have. And so we feel simultaneously repulsed by their trickery and attracted to them for their resemblance with us. The familiarity brings a sense of comradeship and partnership in the crime against us both committed by both of us upon unspoken mutual agreement for the assassination of our freedom to release our potential in the world.
6. True intimacy is regretted as it spoils the image we try so hard to maintain before our partner, hoping that if they believe that embellished image, we would also believe it because we trust their judgment more than we trust ours. We need their validation to give meaning to our existence because we have already given up the quest for the meaning of our existence before point 1. As a magnified side effect, we trust anyone more than we trust ourselves, so we become victims of everyone’s scheme that prays on our insecurities. The more we reasonably get disappointed, the more mistrustful of ourselves and others we become.
7. The moments of true intimacy expose the weaknesses of both partners and exacerbate our self-doubts, low self-esteem, and the sense of being inadequate in the relationship – we either feel too good or too insignificant to deserve our partner. They feel the same way just as well, but never simultaneously with us: When we look down on them, they look up to us and vice versa.
8. The constant misalignment of thoughts, feelings, and sensations renders decision-making impossible, the relationship - dysfunctional, and finally toxic enough to be identifiable as such from afar. However, instead of healing the relationship to the core, starting with responsibility, both partners prefer to buy a delusional idea of their past, present, and future to keep away from the sense of deep remorse over their wasted potential, energy, and resources, and ultimately lives on each other. This stubbornness to see the truth feeds the toxic relationship further down its way and makes it hard for the partners to let go of each other.
9. But time reveals all hidden things, and the lack of progress in the relationship starts signaling its barrenness around every corner. We start recognizing that what used to feel like falling in love was actually falling from grace. (More on this in the next post, "Toxic Relationships (3): Why They Taste so Good but Hurt so Bad.")
10. The way out is to acknowledge the mistake and turn around towards the self ASAP. You will know that the wind of change is blowing and you are heading in the right direction when you start remembering who you were before the toxic relationship. We start plotting our comeback to ourselves at any price (with or without our present partner).
Be brave to get to the end, as the only way out is through. What can feed your courage is the faith that a healthy relationship will knock on the door before long. Just keep the faith (in yourself), and a trustworthy one will come around looking like nothing you would expect based on the previous "toxic" experience.
With this short overview of the recipe, I hope you will be more careful in your orders next time in this great restaurant called life, where we really can get the right thing for our taste and needs. Just make decisions with your inner authority, and you will not leave hungry or poisoned. If you wonder why we continue to choose unhealthy food before the healthy one on the menu even when we are aware of the side effects, you can read my understanding of the phenomenon in the next post as well.
If you are already eager to start "running towards yourself" as the only way to "run towards someone else," you can go directly to Toxic Relationships (5): How to Make them Healthy for my tips. If you don't find any of them useful, don't give up on this most important job! The web and the world are full of (free) coaching on personal development and self-rooting in countless offline or online sites, libraries, forums, seminars, courses, churches, support communities, therapy groups, live events, and so much more. I will soon post a list of some that I have encountered.