How Do You Avoid Toxic Relationships?

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by Annie Kaszina on February 6, 2017

How do you avoid toxic relationships when those are the kind of relationships you know best?

Aged 18 I had all the answers

Aged 18, I thought I had all the answers. (How’s that for the arrogance of youth?) I had just escaped a toxic relationship – before it really got underway. Aged 17, I met Charles. He was smart, self-confident, and funny.  (Another way to describe him would, be pseudo-intellectual, full of himself, and sarcastic.)  Charles wore his wounds like badges of honor.

Charles’s parents had divorced acrimoniously. Both had remarried. However, that did nothing to ease their resentments.  They still each attacked each other at every opportunity.

Charles introduced me to both couples. Each was thoroughly uncomplimentary about the other. In fact, their behavior was the red flag that led me to walk away from Charles before our relationship became toxic.  He had yet to kick the pedestal from under my feet.  However, having met his horrible parents, I really could see the future.

Unfortunately, one lucky escape made me think I was too smart to end up in a toxic relationship.  (As if intelligence had anything to do with it! D’oh!)

During my university years, I dated Mr Boring (several Mr Borings, actually) Mr I-Want-To-Marry-your-Father, Mr Quaint-Notions-of-What-Women-Want, and Mr Rugged Individualist.

“Reader, I married him.”

Then came Mr Not-Like-Any-Of-The-Other-Men-You-Know. He had plenty of wounds, and a strong sense of his own specialness. He was willing – he said – to include me in his tiny circle of special people. So, in the words of Jane Eyre, “Reader, I married him.”

Like Mr Rochester in “Jane Eyre”, he excelled at being darkly brooding.  Unfortunately, as a husband, he revealed himself to be mean, moody, and malevolent.

After I finally showed him the door, I had decisions to make about my own life. I decided that labelling myself “broken” was not a great career – or life – decision. So, I decided to pick up the pieces, and rebuild my life. I would find a partner and do all the nice things that loving couples do together – like speak to each other, smile at each other, and go places together (any place from the supermarket to the Ritz)  – without psycho-dramas.

 “I didn’t know where to start.”

However, the prospect of having another relationship was terrifying.  How could I avoid toxic relationships? How could I trust myself not to make the same mistakes again?

I was hardly reassured by what little self-knowledge I had.  It told me,

  • I ticked all the Relationship Disaster boxes. (That was long before I understand that my marriage fitted into the Domestic Violence category, because the wasband was a textbook emotional abuser.)
  • I could fall in love with a pebble – or a jerk, creep, or narcissist – at a moment’s notice.

How scary was that?

It’s like trying to handle a Ferrari on the motorway when you have only ever had one or two lessons – and SUCKED at controlling a car.

All I had was a Ph.D. on a thoroughly useless topic (Italian Literature, for Heaven’s sake).   I also had plenty of experience at, and talent for, research.

Plus, I attended a seminar with a personal development guru that I did not like (he looked like an abuser to me).  However, he said something incredibly helpful. Here’s what he said,

“Start from where you are with what you have.”

“Start from where you are with what you have.”

So, I started with research.

I learned hard information about emotional abuse. Also, over time, I learned how to heal myself. I learned, to my amazement, that I was not alone – much as I had felt totally alone in my emotionally abusive marriage.  Rather, there were unbelievably large numbers of other women who felt just like me; women who needed healing and who needed to know how to avoid toxic relationships.

13 years late, I reckon I know a fair bit about how to avoid toxic relationships. What I’ve learned has – thankfully – been enough to transform my clients’ lives as well as my own.

Learning is not unlike an avalanche, inasmuch as it is a process that starts relatively slowly and then gathers momentum. So, over the years I’ve discovered faster, more effective ways of getting clients to believe in themselves, fall in love with their future, and revise their relationship expectations upwards. (Way upwards.)

Whether or not clients are in a rush to find another partner   they worry about trust, and avoid future damaging encounters.  (For the record, I’m a great fan of putting affairs of the heart on the back burner for a while after an emotionally abusive relationship.) My clients almost invariably ask, “How do I avoid toxic relationships? How can I be sure not to make the same mistakes again?”

How to avoid toxic relationships

The answer comes in three parts.

  • You have to know yourself first. You really need to understand and accept that you have been attracted to a very harmful kind of partner. You need to know why that is, and how not to repeat that dreadful experience.  You also have to like yourself, and see the value in yourself. If you are going to continue to trash yourself the way Mr Nasty trashed you, you might as well be transmitting SOS signals on Abuser Radio Inc.  Abusers will pick up the signal and rush to your rescue/downfall.
  • You need to know what you want. You don’t want someone like your abusive ex with the bad bits removed.  You might as well try picking the nuts out of pralines prior to eating them when you have a nut allergy.  It won’t work too well.
  • You need to recognise – and above all HEED – the red flags. Red flags in a beach are not intended as optional danger warnings. Nor are the red flags that come with every emotional abuser. Those red flags are there to tell you, “This man is dangerous to your physical, emotional, and spiritual health. Venture there, and you will go down.”

The deepest fear of emotionally abused women

Normally, when women ask how to avoid toxic relationships in the future, their deepest fear is that they will fall into the same disastrous mistake again. That only happens when they cannot trust themselves, and their judgement.

There will always be abusive men around, unfortunately. They prey on the vulnerable. When you do the work of healing, they will not prey on you.  They will not prey on you because you will never, EVER let them prey on you. They persist when they sense that your “No” means “Yes” or, at the very least, “Maybe”. They fade away when you reject them.  After all, they specialize in wounded prey  – because wounded prey does not have the strength to get away.

The way to avoid toxic relationships is to be the person that you were meant to be – the person it is never too late to become – who can keep herself safe, no matter what.  You already know how to protect your loved ones. Now you need to include yourself in the circle of loved ones you protect.

 

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