Toxic – adj. 1) containing or being poisonous material especially when capable of causing death or serious debilitation 2) extremely harsh, malicious, or harmful (merriam-webster.com)
“By definition, a toxic relationship is a relationship characterized by behaviors on the part of the toxic partner that are emotionally and, not infrequently, physically damaging to their partner. While a healthy relationship contributes to our self-esteem and emotional energy, a toxic relationship damages self-esteem and drains energy.” (Thomas Cory, http://www.healthscopemag.com/health-scope/toxic-relationships/)
I’ve been thinking about toxic relationships a lot lately. Thankfully, I’m not a participant in any myself, but they seem to be on the rise all around me this spring. Spouses, siblings, parents and children all spouting nasty venom in various ways, hurting the people who love them and often shocking those of us who are just observing. I’ve seen so much of this stuff lately; I’m starting to recognize patterns.
Pattern 1 – Observers can usually see both sides of the situation. At first. Both parties usually start off looking justified. Those around them begin discussions appraise both sides equally. He’s a hot mess; she’s an enabler. She’s mentally ill; he’s trying to keep the family together. Initially, both parties strike observers as contributing equally to the problems.
Pattern 2 – One of them goes off the rails. Cheats on the spouse and abandons the family. Goes off on a terrible rant and starts talking about the other person behind their back. Runs off and spends the family’s entire savings.
Pattern 3 – Once Party A goes around the bend, they usually lose the support of people around them. In most of the toxic relationships I’ve witnessed, Party A is the one who comes off as the cause of the toxicity. Maybe he/she didn’t start it, but they go too far. They become so self-absorbed and self-justified, they indiscriminately hurt everyone around them.
Pattern 4 – Party B tries to salvage the relationship, often at terrible cost to their own self-esteem, physical health, financial well-being, or other relationships.
Pattern 5 – Party A moves on and tries to cover his/her tracks. They break past connections and attempt to keep new friends from knowing about their previous behaviors. They may also try to vilify Party B to deflect any blame.
Pattern 6 – Some people, even some who are Party A, never have another toxic relationship; they were just part of a bad combination. Other people are just toxic themselves. They repeat these patterns over and over again during their lives. They leave a wake of destruction, divorces, broken hearts, arrests, bankruptcies, and abandonments wherever they go.
I would never presume to offer expertise on this topic. I am no psychologist, plus I’ve had little personal experience with these types of relationships (just lucky, I guess). If you need help, the internet is actually a pretty good place to start.
If you do a little research and realize you are in a toxic relationship, take steps to protect yourself. But don’t fall into Pattern 2! You can back away from a toxic person without hurting everyone around you. And remember – if Party A walks away, they are doing you a favor. Yes, it will hurt. But think of all the future pain you will avoid. Let them go.