In the past five months you’ve learned about what a Toxic Relationship is, what to expect for yourself or another in the immediate aftermath of leaving a toxic partner, the potential financial consequences and the three primary stages of healing. But if an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, how can you avoid getting into a toxic PLR (Pathological Love Relationship) in the first place?
Unfortunately, you probably can’t. Because these people are charming, usually quite attractive, smart and highly practiced manipulators. If one targets you—no matter your economic, cultural, racial, intellectual or any other station in life—you will likely fall for them. That said, there are things you can do to minimize your vulnerability and step away from the relationship sooner rather than later.
In the early stages of dating, there are some keys to protecting yourself:
- Don’t reveal too much about yourself too quickly.
- Take it slowly, don’t loosen your boundaries too soon and watch for their reactions when you put on the brakes.
- Trust and honor your intuition!
In addition, look for these 15 early tip-offs—called Red Flags. And don’t dismiss them when you see them:
- Overly charming… you have a soulmate feeling about them
- “Love Bombing” – Do they seem to be everything you’ve ever wanted? Are they “too good to be true”? Are you hearing, “You’re the One I’ve looked for my entire life!” (The higher the pedestal, the harder the fall.)
- Blaming others—for everything from their life circumstances to why they are late for a date; does not accept responsibility for their role in past relationship failures; calls their ex “crazy.”
- They admit to spying on their ex on social media or worse. This is a sign of a need for control.
- Disrespect of normal boundaries
- Coming over without notice
- Reading private mail
- Taking things from your home
- Getting into your purse or wallet
- Using your computer or phone without first getting permission
- Not taking “no” for an answer
- Moving the relationship forward fast—pushing for early sex, professing “I love you” within the first couple of months, proposing marriage right away, etc.
- Demonstrating a sense of ownership of you
- Rudeness to others – wait staff, etc.
- Low self-esteem, especially with evidence that they put others down to make themselves feel adequate
- Lack of empathy – this can be faked, especially in the beginning, but take note if they don’t seem to have feelings about other people or animals being hurt or if they seem disinterested, puzzled, irritated or critical when you express they have hurt your feelings.
- Signs that they think they are better than most other people. My ex used to say, “People are morons,” “Men are pigs,” “Women are so easy,” and “Most people are idiots.”
- Bored easily or impulsive
- Withholding information about their finances while demonstrating strong curiosity about yours or shaming you when you’re not ready to answer their questions about your finances…and becoming evasive, angry or insulting when you ask about theirs.
“Every single woman I have ever worked with, for the last now, close to 30 years, has always said to me: “He was the nicest guy I ever met when we first got together.”
~ Kit Gruelle, survivor and advocate featured in HBO documentary ‘Private Violence’ (Interviewed in The Guardian, October 20, 2014)
Red Flags When You’re Already Committed to the Relationship
There is another set of red flags you should be aware of—also very important if you are concerned about a friend or family member since many people in PLRs don’t know they are being abused. The following 18 tip-offs indicate you or a loved one may be dealing with a toxic partner.
These indicators generally get worse over time. But they’re interspersed with “love bombing” or “honeymoon periods” to keep you attached by generating hope. These techniques are also called “hoovering”—after the vacuum cleaner—because they’re designed to suck you back in.
- Blaming you for all problems or disagreements and for their failures; not accepting responsibility for anything
- Isolating you – limiting or sabotaging your ability to work, see friends and family, go places without them, have money or transportation to pursue your interests and limiting your access to information, such as denying you a computer, TV, phone, ability to go to school, etc.
- Gaslighting you
- Insisting on sexual activities or frequency that you are not comfortable with
- “Spying” on you – reading your emails, listening to phone calls or messages, monitoring your social media, checking up on your whereabouts or any other type of stalking
- Not respecting a clear boundary that you have set
- Addictions –all addicts are narcissistic; not all narcissists are addicts
- Double standards – creating and holding you to “rules” they’re not willing to honor themselves
- A need for control
- Rigidity – There’s only one right way of doing things—their way.
- An intolerance of you having a different opinion from them
- Treating you like an object they own
- An uptight feeling of needing to be on-guard; feeling a subtle need to please them; anxiety when anticipating doing or thinking something they won’t like
- Feeling surprised by a negative reaction when you were relaxed and “being yourself”
- Minimizing, criticizing, demeaning or dismissing you or others
- Not keeping commitments – showing up for a date, going to work, paying child support, not doing something they said they would do…with no explanation or apology
- Living in a state of confusion; learning to mistrust your own feelings and perceptions
- Having disagreements where problems are discussed round and round but not resolved
- Unpredictability – they change on a whim to keep you de-stabilized about yourself and the relationship
- Of course, any physical abuse or threats of it toward you, your children or pets
Financial Abuse Red Flags
MindShift.money is a perfect place to address indicators of future financial abuse. Because people who get involved with pathological partners often find themselves in devastating financial circumstances.
- At an age when this would be expected, a lack of success or financial self-sufficiency. This might be living with a parent past age 30, “couch-surfing” at friends’ houses, beat-up old car, no job or career aspirations, etc.
- When dating, learning that they have exaggerated or misled you about their real financial situation
- Hoarding their own money and expecting you to spend yours on joint expenses or when going out
- Refusing to get a job or making excuses for not working
- Insisting on complete control of all money coming into the household – putting you on an allowance; making you account for any money spent
- Ruining your credit – using your credit cards, taking out loans in your name, ignoring bills
- Stealing money from you or others
- Making rules about working by saying you can’t work, dictating types of work you’re allowed to do or sabotaging your success at work
- Withholding money you need for basic expenses like food, rent, medical care, clothing
- Forbidding you from having any credit cards or bank accounts while keeping your name off of their accounts; requiring you to turn your earnings over to them or deposit your earnings in their accounts
- Gaslighting you about your ability to invest your own money as a way to get you to turn over management of your assets to them so they “can make you a lot of money.”
Hold to your own values and don’t react to them in the same way they treat you, which only plays into their hands and makes you look bad. –Rick Hanson, PhD
It’s Not Just PLRs
Toxic people can show up in all areas of your life.
I was badly damaged by a friend, a former therapist who sought my friendship and support while divorcing her husband. And let me just say, she taught me a lot about Borderline Personality Disorder.
Most of us spend a lot of time in our workplaces and pathology shows up there, too, often in circumstances where it’s hard to remove yourself. You may face demands that you work late, urgent projects at impossible times or sabotage of your advancement to keep you under their control in their department. They backstab just about everyone and thrive on creating drama.
About the best thing you can do in a workplace is distance yourself, minimize time and involvement with them, avoid participating when they try to groom you as a cohort…and as Rick Hanson, PhD, taught us in the July 6 issue of Survive, Transform, Soar!: hold to your own values and don’t react to them in the same way they treat you, which only plays into their hands and makes you look bad.
As we regain confidence in ourselves, red flags are no longer red flags…they are dealbreakers. –PLR survivor
Oh No – I Recognize These In My Partner!
The natural question is, “What do I do if I spot these red flags in someone I’m dating or living with?”
Most survivors of PLRs would yell, “RUN!”
The sooner you can get away, the more likely you avoid becoming trauma-bonded, suffering damage to your sense of self and feeling like you’re stuck with no options.
I’ll leave you with a caution, though. Abuse is never the fault of the abused. And if you missed the red flags that you might see now in hindsight, that is no cause for judgement. You’ve just learned a lesson the hard way—and that’s okay. According to an article on DomesticShelters.org:
The reality is abusers are cunning, deceptive and manipulative. They can start out as the most romantic and thoughtful partners. Their tactics of power and control begin with earning a survivor’s trust and then slowly eroding that trust through psychological, verbal and even physical abuse.
A PLR survivor on Pinterest expressed her learning best: “As we regain confidence in ourselves, red flags are no longer red flags…they are dealbreakers.”
I hope you’ve learned from this series on PLRs and other toxic relationships. I serve as a door through which people can enter a room filled with resources that can support them wherever they are in their journey away from a toxic partner. There is no entrance fee, but inside you’re introduced to experts of all kinds with the training, services and heart to help you or one you care about rediscover your true self and create a life that brings you joy.
If you would like more information, 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 away from pathology…or visit this link to request the free report ”7 Secrets for Reclaiming Your Life, Yourself and Your Sanity.”
You may also wish to visit the STS Facebook page which provides inspiration and hope as you continue your journey toward a New Dawn.
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/artfotodima
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.