(this piece is excerpted from my book, Why We Fail At Romantic Relationships)
Toxic Relationships are more common than we would like to admit. If you have never been in a toxic relationship, this piece will not be of interest to you. If, however, you’ve been a constant traveler on the toxic trail, you may see yourself in here. And, you may recognize the fear that permeates toxic relationships.
Say what? Fear? Of what?
People unhappy in their intimate relationships may well consider seeking help, but that’s where the fear often takes over. Let me explain.
A fearful person will not want to discuss personal issues (maybe even sexual issues) with a stranger. A fearful person will wonder how a stranger could possibly know enough to fix their marital problems. A fearful person will wonder what a stranger could possibly say that would make a difference. A fearful person will wonder why they, who are intelligent and competent people, wouldn’t be able to solve their problems on their own.
A fearful person will want their secrets to remain secret. A fearful person will almost always reject help because … well, after all, weren’t we taught that winners never quit and quitters never win? “Yeah … that’s it … I ain’t no stinkin’ quitter.”
And so on … and on … and on …
The usual result in situations like this is strong resistance to suggestions of enlisting help, arguments that escalate from somewhat calm to really, really loud. And both partners – if they are still communicating at all – are left feeling frustrated and hopeless.
Feeling fear can be very unpleasant, but attempting to suppress those emotions is not helpful. Fear like that is also very stressful.
Managing Relationship Stress
Things to consider – or, at least acknowledge – is the important message about detachment as taught by my friends in Al-Anon, and which goes like this:
– I didn’t cause it.
– I can’t control it.
– I can’t cure it.
– I can’t change it – but I can change myself.
I have witnessed a great many people get started on the road to toxic detachment simply because they adopted – that is, really absorbed and believed – that mantra. By incorporating the detachment concept, they were able to begin to move away from suffering as a result of someone else’s behavior. And, then they start questioning the why of it, such as, “Why am I this way?” I’m not entirely certain, but what follows is something I’ve observed on many occasions.
Inherited Childish Shame
The values and beliefs we learn as children – the repression and distortion of our emotional process in reaction to the attitudes and behavior patterns we adopt to survive in an emotionally repressive, hostile environment – create the shame we suffer from as adults. That shame is toxic and never was our own. Never! If we could only see that shame without the emotion that goes along with it, we would be able to see that we did nothing to be ashamed of. Kids have little or no power and learn from the world around them – whether what they learn is helpful or hurtful. Just as everyone else does. Just as it was for our parents when they were little kids and were wounded and shamed. Just as it was for their parents before them… and so on.
So the shame we learn has often been passed down from generation to generation – whether it is passed down through our immediate family or other families. Kids are emotional sponges, soaking up whatever it is they see and hear. And to make it even more complicated, we may learn how to do something from what we’ve seen or heard or how not to do that same thing.
There must be no blame here, as blame does not solve problems. For the most part, the people we usually blame are not ‘bad guys’; they are usually people who themselves have wounded souls, broken hearts, and/or scrambled minds.
If we are reacting out of what our emotional truth was when we were five or nine or fourteen, then we are not capable of responding appropriately to what is happening in the moment; we are not being in the present. When our behaviors are based on attitudes and beliefs that are false or distorted, then our feelings cannot be trusted. When we are acting out of our childhood emotional wounds, then what we are feeling may have very little to do with the situation we are in or with the people with whom we are dealing in the moment. In order to be present in the moment in a healthy, age-appropriate way it is necessary to deal with our unwanted thoughts, feelings and actions. The behaviors we need to change are the behaviors that have been running our lives because we have been unconsciously reacting to life out of the emotional wounds and attitudes, the old behaviors we learned in our childhoods.
And that’s why there are so many toxic relationships. It’s also what makes maintaining an Intimate Relationship so very, very complex.
Bringing People Closer
The surest way to bring people closer to you may be to attract them in through behavior changes. If you decide to look at your behaviors with an eye to change, one way to make it easier to accept is to measure it against your Best Interest, which is served when your plans and/or actions are not intended to be deliberately hurtful or harmful to yourself or others. If others CHOOSE to feel hurt, that is none of your business.
For me, when I apply the principle of Best Interest before I do whatever I am intending to do I can be satisfied that I am doing ‘it’ to help me and not to hurt others. But, I have no control over how other may see my actions.
In addition, I believe that we humans should take responsibility for our own actions – regardless of the hand we were dealt. I can hear you saying, “What? Be responsible for my actions even when there is someone else to blame?
Yup. Why not?
Perhaps, if I had learned to only do those things that are in my own Best Interest I wouldn’t suffer from the effects of my actions. Maybe, if I took responsibility for my own thoughts and actions I could learn to feel better about myself. And, the better I feel about myself, the more selective I can be in choosing an intimate partner. Or, more simply, I will no longer be attracted to those who are naturally toxic. What I will attract is someone who also operates in their own Best Interest and believes in being responsible for all aspects of their own life.
The more you enlarge your perspective, the closer you will get to the cause instead of just dealing with the symptoms. For example, the more you look at the dysfunction in your relationship with yourself as a human being the more you can understand the dysfunction in your romantic relationship(s). As long as you believe that you need to have an other in your life to be happy, you are really just an addict trying to protect your supply – using another person as your drug of choice. That is not a good thing. Nor is it a loving thing.
If we humans fail to get our romantic needs met it is usually because we do not really know who we are and why we are here, and we have not investigated our values and beliefs about the meaning and purpose of our lives. This investigation is important because our human values and beliefs determine how we see the world – our perspective on the world around us. And human personalities are a reflection of our individual perspectives, which will dictate our long-term success with relationships – especially Romantic Relationships.
This is important because we cannot deny our values and beliefs. Most of our relationship failures come about when we present ourselves as someone or something we are not and we maintain the charade through conscious application of willpower. Eventually we may become overtired and our willpower will fail and our true self-takes over. That is when calm becomes angry, reasonable becomes unreasonable, and dependable becomes undependable.
Values and Beliefs
In order to fully understand exactly what your values and beliefs are grab our free book, What Are Your Values