View this post on Instagram
“I’m not crying because of you; you’re not worth it. I’m crying because my delusion of who you were was shattered by the truth of who you are.” ~ Steve Maraboli
You see her, the one who looks as if she has it all together.
She’s a light wherever she goes and beauty radiates from her soul. She helps others, forgives easily, and laughs heartily.
But then, she finds him. You begin to notice the shadows in her eyes and the tension in her shoulders. She doesn’t laugh as easily, nor does she love as heartily, because she is so busy doing the work of keeping the relationship alive. She is exhausted from the effort of keeping him happy. And, in fact, you may be exhausted from watching her try to keep him happy.
So, you talk to other friends and family members and whisper concerns behind her back, but she swears she is okay. “You just don’t know him like I do. He’s just having a bad day. He isn’t always like that, you know. He needs me.” As her light dims, you grow more concerned. You think, “She is way too good for him! Why does she put up with that? Why doesn’t she just leave?”
She doesn’t leave because she is optimistic. The toxic partner knows how to keep her trapped in her optimism. The toxic partner knows that no matter how badly he treats her today she will go to sleep thinking that tomorrow will be better. The toxic partner knows that she will assume he is giving as much of himself to the relationship as she is. The toxic person knows that her hopeful heart will assume they have communication issues rather than control ones. The toxic person knows that she will hope for the best and, therefore, he can avoid giving her his best. The toxic person knows that when they finally say something nice or connect with her that she will say, “Ahhhh! Finally! The real version of you is back,” and forget the anger from the day before.
Through this process, wonderful and optimistic women waste years on someone who has no interest in changing. These women continue to believe that combining hard work and patience will result in the type of relationship they dream of—if they can just keep holding on.
They believe things will get better with time. Optimistic women don’t give up easily and stick it out when things are tough. They are self-motivated and willing to keep getting up even when life (or their relationship) knocks them down. Optimistic women find the silver lining no matter how dark things get. They stay in unhealthy relationships despite being treated in ways that seem inconceivable to others.
In most cases, we consider self-reflection and a willingness to change as good qualities. However, these qualities are actually detrimental to positive, confident women in toxic relationships.
Optimistic women are certain that if they can work on themselves, then they can transform the relationship. The fact that these women are so willing to change makes it easier for the toxic person to convince her that she should change. She will evaluate the way she communicates, she will explore her moods, she will check to make sure she isn’t being needy, she will see a therapist, she will explore her past for where her trauma is affecting her present. In fact, she will analyze everything except for this simple fact: If the toxic person can get her to change, then the toxic person won’t have to change.
So, when a fight occurs, the toxic person blames the optimistic woman, the optimistic woman creates a plan for personal growth to make the relationship work, and then the toxic person tells her she changed the wrong thing or didn’t change the right way, despite all her efforts.
It’s a sick dance in which the optimistic woman is working and the toxic person is telling her to work harder. Her optimism blinds her to what is happening and the toxic partner’s mask, as well as their intermittent reward system, prevent her from seeing the truth: she is in a game that she doesn’t realize she is playing. A game in which her strengths are being used against her. A game in which optimism is actually a weakness.
If you Google “Why I stayed?” you will see 244 million or so results with people explaining why they didn’t leave a toxic relationship despite horrific behavior on the part of their partner. These posts reveal women admitting they stay because of their vulnerabilities, as well as very true fears regarding the severity of their situations. Many of these posts contain text about financial abuse, fear for children, and isolation from loved ones.
While these factors may be true, these women are also missing out on one of the main reasons they stay: they had an unrelenting hope that things will get better. As a society we are missing the fact that so many victims are having their hope used against them. The toxic person knows that hope will result in wonderful women making excuses for horrible behavior.
Sadly, many therapists don’t understand this process either. They are paid to find out what is broken, not what is working. When counseling women who experienced a toxic relationship they find a weakness to fix rather than a strength to build on. Daddy problems, abandonment issues, low self-esteem, codependence, and a variety of other things that are broken, fill the conversation rather than drawing on the real characteristics that can help a woman change all aspects life: her strengths.
If a woman has experienced success in other areas of her life, and yet wasted years in a toxic relationship, then she was not in a toxic relationship because of what was wrong with her—she stayed in the relationship because of what was right with her. She was so hopeful that the future would be better that she forgot to make the changes she needed to create a better future. It isn’t as if she wasn’t working. She was just working on herself rather than working on seeing the truth of what was happening.
Anyone who has loved a toxic partner or parent can tell you that seeing the truth is devastating. In many ways, our optimism protects us. To finally realize you have loved someone you thought loved you back, and then realized you were in game that you didn’t understand is shattering, as Steve Maraboli so eloquently tells us in the quote above.
Women often feel like the sky is falling and the ground is splitting beneath them when they finally see the reality of their situation. So often you hear, “I can’t believe I’ve been so blind.” These women find their worldview shattered when the circumstances become too bad for the optimism to stand. Shattered when they realize they have continued to hope in someone who obviously didn’t love them back. Shattered when they realize that despite their incredible strength and intelligence, they were still willing to give up so much of themselves to make a relationship work, simply because of their naive (not stupid!) belief in another human being.
But, as an optimistic woman myself, I do see a silver lining for hopeful women who have experienced toxic relationships. The same traits that can be used against you in an unhealthy relationship can be used to create a healthy one.
Being optimistic, kind, forgiving, hopeful, and seeing the best in people are the building blocks for something beautiful. There are amazing people out there who will realize these amazing qualities are too precious to manipulate. And, too precious too lose.
Those are the types of people you can be optimistic about.