Healing from toxic relationships
by I. Michael Akbar
Created on: January 25, 2008
To heal from a toxic relationship you must first come to understand just how damaging such a relationship can be. Emotional vampirism might be an apt description when it comes to toxic relationships, where one partner continually drains the emotional life from their partner in order to sustain their own weak self-image and damaged self-esteem. Few relationships are completely equal and balanced between partners, but when a relationship is tilted dramatically toward the control of one partner, it is toxic and very threatening to the health and well-being of the weaker partner.
To maintain control and feed a self-image that was probably damaged in childhood or a previous toxic relationship of their own, a toxic partner will use weapons such as intimidation, guilt, shame, seduction and playing the victim.
Intimidation can include a number aspects. Not only is there implied and actual physical harm, but the toxic partner will also use threats of withholding affection, abandonment and denying financial support.
The toxic partner tries to heap guilt on his victim by blaming them for all the problems of the relationship: lack of income, his own inability to handle responsibility or any lack of intimacy. They claim the victimized partner is not caring enough or is too self-centered. This is especially effective with people who have previously developed the codependent traits of putting other people’s needs first and always trying to fix things. Their toxic partner’s claims will seem to ring true in their minds.
A controlling partner will also use shame, belittling their partner directly, insulting and using sarcasm to make their partner feel inadequate. This way they stay in power as the other person weakens. This is probably born out of their own sense of inadequacy and their attempt to bring their victim down to their own level so that they can feel better about their own poor self-image.
It is truly frightening to me that the toxic, controlling partner will use charm and seduction to maintain their grip on the unhealthy relationship. They will dole out just enough good feeling to make their weaker partner feel that there is something worth holding on to. This gives the victim the false hope that the relationship just might be worth saving.
When all else fails, the dominating partner will try to turn the table, playing the role of victim themselves. They will play on the pain and damage that they may have suffered to pull on their victim’s heart strings to get what they want. By making themselves the victim and putting their partner on the side of all those who have inflicted pain, they move right back into the guilt that they so effectively put in place throughout the toxic relationship.
THE DAMAGED VICTIM
All of these methods undermine a person’s confidence and their ability themselves and their world as it truly can be. This constant assault on one’s psyche can result in:
- Loss of identity: the victim may begin to see themselves only as their abuser sees them or dictates that they are.
- Constant fear: a victim may no longer need a specific reason to feel fear, they simply come to live with being afraid all the time. Their resent personal history of abuse might seem to justify being afraid.
- Escape fantasies: escaping might sound like a good alternative, but when coupled with the fear of not being able to run away from an abuser, escape thoughts often turn to thoughts of suicide or murder as the only means to truly escape.
- Isolation: controllers work to isolate their partners from family, friends or anyone who might undermine their authority over their victim.
- Denial: out of their shame and fear, a victim may deny to others the reality of their abusive relationship, defending him their abuser and even protecting them from legal reprisals.
HELP AND HEALING
Even when a victimized partner comes to realize the type of relationship they are in, they may still believe that they can change their partner; that somehow their love or improved efforts will magically bring out the best in their damaged partner. The truth is that no one ever changes unless they truly want to change. And as long as the emotional vampire has a victim to feed off of, they have no reason to want to change.
Therefore, the only solution for the victim is to get out of the situation. Ironically, while little focus or energy is placed on the abuser’s need to heal, being left on their own is probably the abuser’s best, though faint, hope of healing themselves as they learn to look at themselves and their behavior as the reasons that they are now uncomfortably alone. Unfortunately it is probably easier in their eyes to find a new victim than to find help.
More importantly, the victimized partner needs to find help and support to heal, even beyond just finding the strength to leave. If they don’t take the necessary time to heal, they will probably find themselves back in another toxic relationship.
There are community support centers that a healing victim can turn to for counseling and life support. And we shouldn’t underestimate the value of the Internet when seeking help. When still recovering from the perceived shame of being in such a relationship, the initial anonymity of chatting or posting online can be a big help and comfort.
It is best to seek professional help in order to heal the emotional scars of past relationships, all the way back through childhood. You have to learn to love and value yourself fully before attempting to share yourself with others. You also will have to learn to trust again, hopefully with the support of friends and others who are also healing.