In our lives we come across and engage in various types of relationships: romantic, professional, familial, casual and many more. Relationships can be many things... but always fall under the categories of healthy or toxic.
How we relate to others and the relationships we have, come under our 'Relational Dimension'.
What is a toxic relationship?
A toxic relationship is a relationship that doesn't nurture our personal wellbeing. Instead, it hurts and disempowers us. Over many years, a toxic relationship can weaken us, killing our vitality and manifesting itself in the form of disease or psychological misalignment. A toxic relationship makes us shrink and impedes us from recognising and unleashing our innate power. A toxic relationship doesn't permit us to be fully alive or find our true purpose in life.
Besides dealing with toxic relationships in my profession as a coach and counsellor, I've dealt with several of my own toxic relationships. During my self-awareness journey I realised that I had a real addiction to toxic relationships, which led me to begin my search for why and how one can become addicted to them in the first place.
What is an addiction?
An addiction is a negative cycle or behaviour, also known as a vice. It's a repetitive pattern that over time becomes compulsive and takes control of our lives. We develop addictions because we want to overcome unresolved pain, chronic feelings of emptiness or overwhelming emotions such as fear, anxiety, anger or sadness. We know a lot about chemical addictions and society is very accepting of a few, such as caffeine and cigarettes. Emotional addictions are a lot less talked about. Both types of addiction help us to dissolve feelings of pain and emptiness temporarily by offering instant relief and gratification. Emotional addictions are the root cause of chemical addictions although not everyone who has an emotional addiction goes on to develop a chemical addiction.
I myself have never had a chemical addiction. The addictions I developed were to food and shopping and later on in life, overworking and the compulsive need to help others. And of course, the biggest addiction of all... to toxic relationships. Toxic relationships helped me to both cover up and trigger my addiction to anger and sadness / melancholy. I used the addiction to protect me but it would also lead me to revisit the original deep pain that my distant and toxic relationship with my parents had made me feel.
Why do we become addicted to toxic relationships?
And why do we keep consciously and (mostly) unconsciously attracting them? Psychology recognises that a history of toxic relationships with our parents leads us to attract men and women with whom we can recreate that familiar toxic cycle. Our destiny is dictated by a subconscious desire to somehow resolve those unresolved issues with them by continuing to fall into relationships that mirror those early experiences.
If a parent wasn't there for us, for example, the father who fails to protect their child from abuse from the mother and is emotionally distant, the tendency is to attract men in our adult lives that offer a similar experience. The cycle then commences when we are brought to feel those familiar, painful feelings and try to alleviate them by entering another relationship, unaware that it is not too different from the last... the toxic cycle repeats.
Another scenario is when a son has an overbearing mother who doesn't give him the space or independence to grow autonomously. He will likely repeat the same cycle in his adult life by attracting controlling and needy women. Occasionally, he might rebel in adult life and instead attract the opposite of what we experienced. Although he doesn't recreate that familiar feeling of suffocation, he has swung to the opposite side of the pendulum and the unresolved issues with his mum remain unduly unresolved.
The truth is, it all stems from how we were raised and the relational experiences we had as children. It begins if we weren't properly able to develop self-esteem or a positive self-image, and therefore self-love. In their place, we piled up self-hate and grew into adults completely oblivious.
The point then, is not our addiction to external toxic relationships, but our addiction to something that runs much deeper and is far more dangerous. Our addiction to a toxic relationship with ourselves. The relationship could have started from the very moment we were born and if so, would have been heavily influenced by the relationships we had with our parents and the relationship we witnessed them having with each other.
We get to know and become very familiar with toxic relationships during our formative years so that by adulthood we find ourselves only knowing that kind of relationship. We then nurture our emotional craving for that familiarity, that emotional climate that we know best. It works like a chemical addiction, one or two hits and suddenly we are no longer in control. We become addicted to what gives us pain, like a toxic relationship, and subconsciously search for that next 'high'. We search for that experience of neurotic pain from our past, search for the old companion we'd found in self-loathing as we were children.
How do we overcome our addiction to toxic relationships?
- We must start looking at every relationship that enters our life as an opportunity to heal, grow and become more self-aware.
- Our focus has to shift from the outside, in. Every relationship is manifested into our lives to mirror the relationship that we have with ourselves. If we are attracting toxic relationships, or continue nurturing our addiction to them, it's because first and foremost we have a toxic relationship with ourselves. One we might just be addicted to.
- Investigate the roots of this internal addiction to your toxic self (the dark side / black wolf / shadow). Be aware that healing an addictive, toxic relationship with ourselves doesn't happen over night. Accept and welcome the process -a constant work in progress- of uncovering and resolving the toxic childhood experiences and conditioning.
- Start building a connection with your healthy self (your spiritual self, your essence, your light). At the beginning this will be more of a cognitive relationship and effort but it will become more emotional as time goes on, sometimes more spiritual too. Find the light in you and then love it madly. How? Start with positive thinking and words. Then further down the line, add visualisations so you can feel that love in your emotions and body as well as thinking it in your mind.
The conclusion? We need to recondition ourselves and become addicted to our healthy self, who is immensely valuable, colourful, vibrant and strong.
header image by Craig Whitehead
This article was featured on Thrive Global
If you are experiencing toxic relationships and would like some guidance on how to overcome them, Elisabetta can help you work through this.