Have you ever found yourself getting to know someone, and things were really clicking…
And then, from what seemed like out of nowhere, they showed you a disrespectful, devaluing new behavior that jolted things sideways? If you have, well, you’re not alone. It has happened to me, too.
Emotionally, I felt like I’d been slapped in the face by someone who I built trust with and felt safe with. Suddenly, I was looking at a person who was trying to hurt me, or at the very least, had no real concern with the fact that they had.
It was a slap that attacked my essence, body confidence, value, and my heart, all in one shot. It was a slap that hurt, created confusion, and had me asking more questions than I had answers to.
Questions like—how can someone go from connecting in all the right ways, from feeling seen, valued, and safe, to feeling like we are under attack for reasons we cannot comprehend? How can what felt like a partnering suddenly feel like we’re now an enemy they’re choosing to fight?
And the one question that had me reaching deeper—what did I miss along the way that allowed me to be standing as an active participant, in order to receive this slap, in the first place?
The first thing I took into consideration was something I was already familiar with: personas.
Personas are a type of mask that people wear in order to keep themselves emotionally protected. What lives under a persona, or mask, is unhealed past trauma, wounds that contain emotional pain. A person can only walk around for so long, hiding behind their persona, before eventually, what is masked under it will reveal itself.
People don’t always understand how to own the pain they’re hiding under their persona, in order to start the journey of healing it. So they often do the next best thing for their self-protection: project their pain onto someone else.
Like maybe a slap to the face when you’re least expecting it.
This can be unsettling, but it is also a part of our human complexity. We are all walking-wounded to some extent, and how each of us deals with it will vary.
In this situation, I wanted to go deeper than just my understanding of how personas work, what can lie underneath them, and how this particular person’s unhealed bits were coming out to play.
I wanted to grow from this experience, because even though the metaphoric slap I received was forgivable, it was the kind of slap that was a wake-up call, showing me that the dynamic I was participating in was not healthy for me.
Up until that moment, I believed that this person was a healthy choice for me, and with having such a strong contradiction to show me it wasn’t, I knew I had some personal work to do.
I suspected there was more to embrace that I must have been missing, or conveniently ignoring, for the sake of keeping the fantasy between us alive. So, I processed where we came from in order to sort out how we had gotten to that point. I had to set aside my feelings and look at our dynamic through an unfiltered lens.
I examined the things that bothered me previously, but that I didn’t make any real issue of—which would have stopped the relationship from moving forward. That was almost as painful as the slap because it forced me to step out of the fantasy and see things I really didn’t want to see. It meant seeing this person in a light I didn’t want to, and accepting my part in getting the slap that I did.
The more I processed through my unfiltered lens, the clearer I saw that the slap didn’t happen “all of a sudden” at all. It came with many warning signs; in fact, it was inevitable considering the types of behaviour I was now able to see more clearly.
As the saying goes, where there is smoke, there is usually fire. I was now finally able to see more clearly that it only made sense there was a high potential of this fiery slap to head my way.
Here are five unhealthy behaviours—warning signs—that I found in my processing;
1. They show hot/cold or push/pull behavior.
It was made clear to me that I brought a whole new level to this person’s life. In maturity, consciousness, and in love. I was told how much of a “breath of fresh air” I was and how this person was “in all the way” with me because “they knew I was worth it.” We seemed to connect on things that really mattered to both of us, and I felt a strong, yet intermittent pull from him as the months unfolded.
At random, however, in the intermittent parts, the theme I uncovered was that I was pushed aside and then pulled back in. Like needing “uninterrupted time” and not wanting to be “all in” for the relationship, and then later admitting to overreacting and wanting to continue. I received many mixed messages.
These back and forth type of behaviors are early signs that the person doesn’t know what they want; they are still uncovering who they are. One must know themselves before they can clearly know what they need from another. I didn’t fully see the magnitude of this at the time.
The push/pull behaviour eroded my trust and caused confusion for me. And instead of saying, “No thank you,” I accepted it and stuck around. I didn’t see the big deal until I reflected back and saw the pattern, the number of times it happened, and the increasing severity of the effect it had on me.
If we accept this sort of behavior, it gives the person permission to keep doing it, over and over, and we get stuck in back and forth in drawn-out, unhealthy nonsense—at least until the final push occurs.
2. They play the blame game.
We see this in how a person views their ex-partner and the roles they feel they did or didn’t play in that previous dynamic. When this person talked about his previous relationships, the consistent message I received was that the failure or frustration had nothing to do with him, directly.
When someone hasn’t taken full responsibility for their parts in failed dynamics, we can rest assured that if they’re still playing the victim there, they will play the victim with us too. We’ll be next for the finger-pointing and they won’t be able to own their sh*t in our relationship, either.
3. They prefer attention over connection.
The person I was seeing was naturally social, warm, and inviting. His personality was easy to love, outgoing, and really quite magnetic. But it started to feel as if we were lacking connection. He seemed to be comfortable with providing and receiving attention, but not with creating a stable, intimate connection.
When people prefer to give and receive attention over creating connection, the relationship becomes unstable. I would feel a temporary sense of emotional connection and stability, but it was often followed by distance, and a feeling of disconnection. What felt like solid connection one minute would shift the next, and it had me confused and questioning if any of it was real at all.
4. They can’t take responsibility.
When we challenge what people say or how they act, sometimes they seem incapable of showing humility and of rising to the occasion for growth. Instead, they see themselves as being under fire and they choose to fight back—defending a persona whose existence they might not even be aware of.
A few times, I recalled his need to fight me. Instead of communicating and actively listening to resolve an issue, he chose to create conflict instead. I felt an emotional distance and was missing connection, and when I voiced my concern, I was boldly asked, “What’s with the pity party?”
Instead of listening and choosing to foster resolve, I was met with a fighter side instead. This behavior is frustrating, self-serving, and counterproductive for cultivating healthy connection. Perhaps, what they are fighting for, is for us to get back inside our boxes and not question a behavior that highlights a need to look inside themselves, to take responsibility, to help create a healthy connection.
5. They still have an unhealthy attachment to the ex.
I’m sure we’ve all heard people talking about their exes. How, sometimes, they continue to show up—physically or mentally—and cause frustration. They often feel like an innocent in the situation, which could sometimes be true, but usually is not.
The person I was seeing talked about their ex from a victim standpoint, detailing how she did things he didn’t like, but failing to see how he had encouraged or allowed these things to happen. This highlighted, to me, that he still needed healing and growth to release the lingering, unhealthy attachment that still existed. And besides that, I was right in front of this person, sharing sacred time and space, and he was still living in the past.
In the end, this is what I took away:
Healthy dynamics will not have us feeling like we’re being pulled in one day and pushed away the next. Instead of placing blame, we will take personal responsibility for issues and challenges, and use them for growth. Our conversations will be open, with no need to fight what is said, because we’ll be using healthy practices for resolution. The person we are with will see us for the beautiful creature we truly are, and rather than dragging their past into the equation, they’ll be present. The relationship will include a genuine, consistent, emotional connection that feels safe and stable.
When we experience an unhealthy dynamic, clearly someone needs to let go—and that someone is us.
Author: Krissy Vanalstyne
Image: Jez Timms
Editor: Catherine Monkman