Are you in a toxic relationship?
“After she moved out, I learned she had taken out a credit card in my name and left me $40,000 in debt.”
“I lost my professional practice, because I couldn’t concentrate anymore. I thought I was going crazy after he left.”
“When I met him, I was a happy, self-confident, financially and emotionally independent executive vice-president. Ten years later, when I finally asked him to leave, I was an empty shell who thought my life was over.”
You might think this article doesn’t apply to you, but I encourage you to read it anyway. I haven’t met anyone yet who doesn’t know someone who is or has been in a toxic relationship. You can help them if you understand…or at least keep from hurting them further.
And it doesn’t do much good to Get Out Of Debt and create Financial Freedom if you end up being manipulated by a toxic partner because you didn’t recognize what was happening, slowly but surely, as they took control of your perceptions and sense of self.
Plus, isn’t it time we educated ourselves so we can teach our teens how to recognize warning signs, maintain boundaries, build trust?
So…What Is A Toxic Relationship?
The simple answer: A relationship that pulls you down and makes you feel worse about yourself is toxic. If continued for a long time, it damages your core self-worth and is harmful to your own mental health.
Technically speaking the term “toxic relationship” usually refers to a relationship where one of the partners has a Cluster B personality disorder, as defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5) used by mental health therapists. The Cluster B disorders are better known to the public as narcissism, sociopathy (or antisocial) and borderline personality disorder.
Cluster B refers to personality disorders that are “dramatic and erratic” and are considered the most damaging to partners. Other close relationships—such as with bosses, parents and adult children—can also become toxic. A person does not need to be diagnosable. Even if they have just some of the common traits of the Cluster B disorders, they can still be very toxic.
S/He Wasn’t That Bad
Many people struggle with putting a label on a partner, either trying to figure out “what he is” or resisting a particular label because “she’s not that bad.” Once you realize there’s a reason for what you’re experiencing’ and that you’re not going crazy, applying a diagnosis or label is not really important. What is important are your own symptoms, the extent of damage you experienced and how you feel about yourself.
Abuse does not need to be physical to be extremely damaging. It can be devastating if your partner is smart enough to engage in “subtle abuse’ because it is so hard to recognize it as abuse. You are much more susceptible to missing the early warning signs and being convinced later that you are “just too sensitive.”
According to Robert Bacal, a conflict expert with a Masters Degree in Psychology (Canada) who specializes in the use of language and psychology in human relationships:
“In some ways, subtle verbal abuse is actually more damaging than more obvious forms. Why? Because subtle verbal abuse is something you may experience every day, perhaps dozens of times a day. It works its damage beneath the surface affecting the way you think and feel about yourself and about the people using subtle abuse techniques.” (Bacal, Building a Healthy Relationship)
To me, this is the worst part of being in a toxic relationship. Bit by bit you give away parts of yourself, sometimes out of confusion and manipulation and sometimes just to keep the peace.
Our Perceptions Of “Bad” Are Not Reliable
A Cluster-B toxic partner is generally well-practiced in minimization, manipulation and confusion. It’s not unusual for their partners to not know they’re being abused and to continually question or blame themselves.
When you’re caught in the web of a relationship with a toxic partner, you’re not the best judge in the world. You become accustomed to the abuse (normalize it, a therapist would say). “Not that bad” to you is probably not an accurate description in the eyes of anyone else who could really see what is going on in your relationship. You’re much more likely to be minimizing the abuse than exaggerating it.
This is why, if someone you care about can’t pull themselves away, keeps going back or is falling apart after a toxic relationship ends, your support and presence in their lives is so important. If you can be there and listen with patience, without judging, perhaps gently educating (for example, sharing a link to SurviveTransformSoar.com)—you’ll be providing an immeasurable gift, even if it takes them a long time to see that or act on it.
Was Your Relationship Toxic?
Sometimes the hardest thing to admit to ourselves is that someone we loved, trusted and wanted in our future forever is not capable or worthy of that.
The longer abuse occurs, the less able we see it as abuse. At least until it gets so bad or goes on so long we finally realize our lives are in danger. Still, the loss of self is a form of losing your life.
How do you recognize subtle abuse? It’s not easy! I like the description by David Hayward, author of The Naked Pastor blog: “When we don’t respect people as they are and allow them to be as they are, this is a more subtle form of abuse, the logical conclusion of which leads to a kind of violence against the human spirit.”
And therein lies the answer to the question, “Was your relationship toxic?”
- What did it do to you? What is the state of your ‘human spirit’?
- Are you mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually healthier than you were when you met that person?
- Are you happier now than before you met?
- Do you love, care, like and respect yourself more?
- Have you expanded and thrived as a person or, as one woman put it, been squashed like a bug under a thumb?
No diagnosis is needed. You don’t have to know if your partner or former partner is a narcissist, anti-social, borderline or psychopath. Answering the questions above will tell you if that relationship was toxic to you. And that’s all that matters. Still not sure? Or know someone who needs to figure it out? You might want to review the symptoms in my free report: Does My Former Partner Have a Personality Disorder?
Next month I’ll share with you the reality of the aftermath—when you finally leave a toxic relationship—and it isn’t relief! Then we’ll look at the three stages of healing that can turn a nightmare into post-traumatic growth. We’ll end in July with an article on prevention. That’s how to recognize the red flags early on when a toxic person is still trying to romance you into thinking they’re the Prince(ss) Charming you always hoped for.
If you’d like more information or sooner, I invite you to visit SurviveTransformSoar.com where you can also subscribe to a free, weekly inbox magazine that will support you (or someone you care about) on your journey.
The views and opinions expressed are those of the guest author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of MindShift.money.
image credit: Bigstock/marjan4782
Dawn Aegle is the founder and publisher of Survive, Transform, Soar!, a leading magazine and website designed to support toxic relationship recovery through three stages of post-traumatic growth: Surviving the traumatic aftermath, cocooning with self-care to Transform and Soaring into a new life that is Better Than Before (BTB4™). Featured topics include personality disorders, emotional abuse, post-traumatic growth, personal transformation, somatic healing, regeneration after financial rape, art therapy and more.