The main qualities of all toxic people are that they are:
- Very judgmental of others and have little or no self-awareness. They will happily strip someone else’s reputation or self-esteem, it is very often the things that they criticise in others that they are guilty of themselves.
- They live off drama and will drum it up whenever and were ever possible. If you share some vulnerability with them in confidence, they will tell everyone, embellishing the story for dramatic effect. Why let the truth get in the way of a good story? If they can weave their way into it for dramatic effect, they will.
- They will only talk to you when they want something from you. This might be a favour, a job that they want you to help them with (as in do for them), money or support in some argument that they have got into and they are trying to elicit sympathy for themselves. This is a one- way street and they will be quite annoyed if you thought that you could count on them. That is not their job it is yours!
- They keep family/social secrets from you, so that you do not send that “congratulations on your 50th anniversary” card they will also “forget” to mention an informal celebration where invitations are by word of mouth only and you find out about it after the event. Of course they will say “I told you about it”, which is gas lighting because they know very well that they specifically and deliberately did not.
- They say nasty things about another person and the then attribute it to you. So, if they want to say something nasty to someone’s face they say “Mary thinks that you are …” or “Peter is convinced that you did…”
- They are never always abusive (unfortunately, it would be so much easier to spot if they were), there is just enough positive reinforcement for you to forgive them again and again making excuses for their behaviour like they are having a bad day or have a problem. Eventually you realise the pattern.
It is for the above series of toxic behaviour patterns that many people seek therapy. However, toxic love brings this type of toxicity to a much deeper level.
Love like narcissism is on a spectrum at the high end of the spectrum is unconditional love. Unconditional love is only really appropriate for babies and children. Emotionally healthy adults do not look for unconditional love from another adult because they were taught to love themselves as a child and do not seek to be that enmeshed with another person, they don’t try to extract the emotional support that they never received in their own childhood from an external and inappropriate source.
At the low end of the spectrum is toxic love, toxic love in words looks like “I need you, you’re useless, take care of me, give me everything that you have got and I will always try to force more out of you than you want to give – as proof of your love for me, but I will never love you back because I do not know what love is or means”. In addition, “I will measure your “love” for me in relation to how much pain you are prepared to take from me.”
The word “love” is used very frequently by people who have absolutely no idea what it means to have a communion or healthy communication with another person. They see attention as “love” and they mistake the attention buzz for something more meaningful than temporary gratification or as a means to get their needs satisfied whether it is “emotional”, financial or sexual. This type of “love” is based in fear rather than any desire to truly and authentically connect with another person.
Many people stay in unhealthy relationships because they are afraid either of losing their “security” within the relationship or from fear of loneliness and vulnerability. Long relationships are considered to be successful ones, but very often it is because both parties feel trapped that they stay together.
The dominant emotions in a toxic love pattern are insecurity and anxiety. This does not only apply to adults it also applies to children of narcissistic parents. They can never feel that they are safe, they are never relaxed in the relationship and never feel like they have a home that will always be there for them. This is because their parents will make sure that their children understand that their acceptance with in the family is determined exclusively on how well they serve their parent(s). They live in fear of what the consequences might be if they misbehaved (unknowingly) in some way, so they mostly try to be as invisible as possible.
Both adult to adult and parent child toxic love relationships are typified by cycles of highs and lows. Just when the adult or child is convinced that the person that they love doesn’t love them, they are given brief moments of bliss where they feel completely accepted and an integral part of a very important relationship but then the mistreatment, the abuse, the lies and the manipulation start all over again and they are left wondering what they have done and where did that person that they loved so much just yesterday disappear to and why? Did they do something wrong? Should they try harder?
There are some signs that indicate that the relationship that you have is toxic whether with another adult or with a family member:
- You are constantly second guessing yourself and doubting your own reality. You will probably have been told that you are “too sensitive”, so you question whether you are over reacting or not.
- Denying your own feelings, telling yourself “it’s not that important, it was only a dinner to celebrate something for me that they didn’t show up for, I need to let it go”
- You continually try to “make things better” between you, working hard to make things “right” and are constantly checking to see “how things are going”.
- Constantly apologising for things that you did or didn’t do or taking responsibility for things that you are not responsible for.
The very definition of a relationship is that a person can relate to you, show empathy, support and compromise. We do not merge into one person but I am who I am and you are who you are and we can relate to each other in the whole form of who we are and our relationship develops we both grow from the mutual experience.
Healthy love vs toxic love looks like:
- Gives the space and respect for the two individuals to grow and be themselves
- Celebrates the other person and gives space for that person to grow and develop
- “Permits” and celebrates the other person’s interests, friends and respects their other relationships without trying to be completely involved with them.
Trusts the other person, without feeling that they have to monitor their behaviour. They expect the other person to behave in a responsible way.
- Knows compromise, problem solves together and works together to find a mutually acceptable solution
- Can see and appreciate the other person’s individuality, they can see the other person’s soul
- Can embrace all aspects of reality, both the highs and lows. There are no no-go areas for discussion or exploration
- Allows both parties stand as an individual and their moods are not determined by outside influences or the other person’s “stuff”.
- There is a healthy concern and investment in the other person without suffocating or trying to control him or her.
- Permits the other person personal space to be alone or with others
- Is not in constant competition with the other person and does not have to feel “better than”.
- Has an obsession with the relationship and a determination to force it into what “it should be” with a total disregard for the other individual
- Tries to clip the wings of the other person, stifle their development to ensure security, maintain a comfort zone and resist all change
- Tries to control all other relationships the other person has such as family, friends, work colleagues, interests, social life and career choices
- Has no trust, tries to control, pathologically envious, dismissive of relationships with friends and family members
- Is a power/control dynamic it seeks drama and discord, not solutions. It is manipulative and often cruel
- Tries to turn the other person into what they want them to be using shame and blame as their primary tools
- Is based on how things “should be”, not how they are. There is a tape playing in their head that over rides or rewrites anything unpleasant or uncomfortable
- Expects that the other person will take responsibility for and rescue them when things don’t go according to how they “should be”
- Is where one person is enmeshed in everything that the other person does. They take independent action and as a personal insult and try to draw that person back into their orbit
- Cannot be alone, is clingy demanding and invasive
- Needs to feel superior to the other person at all times and will go to lengths to tell them so