May 17, 2020

The Captivity of a Toxic Relationship.


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Anyone who has walked away from the toxic hold of their abuser is now part of a secret club.

This group of survivors knows too well and understands the internal struggle of leaving and the courage it takes to not return. Ending a toxic relationship is not easy. Those who love narcissists lose more than their heart when they finally break free of the web of their toxic relationships.

As the pieces of their heart fall to the ground, they need more than a shoulder to cry on—they need someone, a friend, a family member, anyone, to believe in them and to not abandon them as they sift through the fog of lies.

Those watching—at times judging them—not only have a responsibility to understand what a toxic relationship looks like, but also to have compassion for the emotional stronghold your loved one is a prisoner to.

Ending a toxic relationship is in itself emotionally taxing. One moment the couple is madly in love, and within a split second the one being hurt does not even recognize the person in front of them, gaslighting and discarding them.

It can take months before the signs show up that we have fallen in love with the wrong person. But, when the rose-colored glasses come off, we are able to see the toxic pool of lies we had been living in. But then, it’s often too late to run!

We get confused and become a mere shell of who we once were. Narcissists are that adept at crazy-making.

I believe we owe it to ourselves and to those we love, to learn all that is possible about this dangerous dance of deception.

By keeping an open mind and educating ourselves, we can have a better understanding of how one gets involved with such a monster, but most importantly why they stay.

“Toxic people attach themselves like cinder blocks tied to your ankles, and then invite you for a swim in their poisoned waters.” ~ John Mark Green

An old friend of mine recently called me, crying, and in desperate need of a heart-to-heart talk. I had barely spoken to her in months. I replied, “Of course, come on over for some coffee.”

I was filled with guilt when she arrived, I almost did not recognize her. Her eyes had dark circles under them and she looked lifeless. I knew immediately something terrible must have happened.

While hugging her, I felt how frail she had become. I poured her a cup of coffee as she slumped down on the couch, bursting into tears. Handing her a box of tissues, I did my best to comfort her. She paused and gathered the courage to tell me what was going on in her life that no one knew about.

She said, “Within the first few weeks of our relationship, I thought I had met the man of my dreams. He was so romantic and attentive. He listened and interacted with every word I said. It was almost too incredible to believe. Do you remember that relationship exercise we did where we had to write out everything we want in a man and a relationship?”

I said, “Yes, I do.”

She continued amidst her sobs, “It was as if someone had read my journal and molded the words I had written to create him. He seemed like everything I dreamed about in a man. He was intelligent, worldly, and so interesting. He was constantly asking me questions about what I like in a relationship and what I did not like. He would tell me story after story about all the trips he had taken. And how none of his family understands him, and how all of his ex-girlfriends had broken his heart.”

Sitting back up she said, “But all that changed pretty soon. He suddenly did not care; he became arrogant and conceited. All he did was boast about himself.”

“How did I miss all the red flags? Looking back, they were so clear.” she continued.

The many red flags that we often miss provide the answers to why it is so difficult to walk away without help.

Red flag #1. Narcissists must be the center of attention. 

They need to feel that they are superior to everyone else. They are usually extremely attentive at the beginning of the relationship. They idolize you by showering you with constant attention and buying gifts. They will lovebomb you. But it is all part of their plan to learn about you. They are clever in their questions to mirror what you want to hear, and even exaggerate their achievements, talents, and success to make themselves look important. And soon, they shift the attention to themselves. They want you to feel sorry for how badly they believe others have treated them.

A huge red flag is that narcissists are never a part of the problem in any of their past relationships, for they are perfect, and will tell you, “I did nothing wrong.” They usually have no close friends, most of their family does not speak to them, and they cannot maintain a healthy romantic relationship.

My friend started crying again and managed to say, “That was the beginning of the end of who I was. I fell into his trap, and I wish I would have seen it sooner.”

I held her hand, and I cried too as her story continued, “I recall, one day he told me he was not going to talk to me for the rest of the day because he did not like the way I was treating him, and I had to be punished. I laughed. I thought he was joking, but no, he was serious.”

“How did I fail to not see the true him? I was afraid to speak up for myself, I felt like a child being punished every moment of every day. Why did it take so long for me to see this?”  

Red flag #2. Narcissists hate being rejected, and will sulk like children if you do or say anything that they dislike.

Deep down they are often depressed and know their shortcomings, and this internal struggle infuriates them. They get impatient and filled with rage if anyone laughs at them or challenges their superiority.

Nothing matters to them but their own needs. Everyone else exists merely to make them look better. They expect you to obey their wishes and be compliant with their demands. If you dare to stand up to them, you will be punished—for they must control you by ripping you apart emotionally with their mind games.

Later, they will use gaslighting, a form of manipulation to fill you with doubt, and act as if they did nothing wrong. It was all your behavior that must be corrected—that is why you were punished.

She went on, telling me what had happened over the last year of her life. I listened in disbelief as she said, “He would be amazing, and then in a split second, be throwing my things out the door and screaming at the top of his lungs, to get out of his house, over and over again. When I would head for the door, he would start to cry, ‘I knew you would leave me too, you are just like everyone else.’”

“I did not know what to do. Do I walk out and leave him? Or do I show him I’m not like everyone else?” she said in a desperate voice.

Red flag #3. Narcissists are control freaks and are unable to control their emotions or behaviors.

They lack empathy and feed off your pain. They are unable to love. They only feel hate and anger, and get great pleasure out of hurting others. They often have a terrible temper and fly off the handle at anything and anyone who challenges their superior image.

She proceeded to explain, “Every day, I put on my mask of happiness for my family and friends, but I am starting to give up on life. I don’t love myself anymore. I figured if I hide who I am, long enough and deep enough, I will be safe from the truth.”

She fell back in a heap on my couch and in an emotionless state told me, “I am so f*cking lost. I don’t even know who I am anymore.”

“Blameshifting and projecting their malignant traits onto their partners during conversations while using a false charismatic self to make their victims look like the ‘crazy’ ones. It’s almost as if they hand off their own traits and shortcomings to their victims as if to say, ‘Here, take my pathology. I don’t want it.'” ~ Shahida Arabi

I would have never seen this. She seemed to be happy the last time I saw her. Who would have known the hell she was living in? All of her posts on social media showed a different story, of how deeply in love they were.

The details she told me of her relationship were hard to believe and I did not even know what was going on—no one did.

All I could think of was how did this happen. She was an intelligent, beautiful, confident woman. How did she fall for these lies?

Then I stopped and remembered how I had fallen in love with the wrong guy once, and how I had little support from my friends. How I was judged for staying and told , “why don’t you just leave him.”

I knew what she needed from a friend.

When anyone you know falls into a toxic relationship, there are a plethora of ways to help:

1. Do not forsake the people who are hurting.

They are emotionally, and might even be physically damaged. They are not thinking clearly. Listen to them. Do not give your opinions because you are not in their shoes. Do anything and everything you can do to get them the emotional support they need to get to safety. But, please do not abandon them, judge them, or make them feel any smaller than they already do.

Know it might be a long road of emotions for you and them.

One day they might be ready to leave, and the next moment they are back in love with this person. Again, stay strong for them. They need us in this terrible emotional transition they are going through. We may not understand it, but it is our responsibility to be a support to them and show our concern for their safety in a gentle, non-judgmental manner.

2. Read up on what they are going through and offer books to read to help them understand that their struggle is real and they are not alone.

Knowing others have walked similar paths gives them the courage to see an end to their struggles. I highly suggest reading Your Brain on Love, Sex, and the Narcissist: The Biochemical Bonds That Keep Us Addicted to Our Abusers by Shahida Arabi, to start with. Two other amazing titles are The Smart Girl’s Guide to Self-Care, and Power: Surviving and Thriving After Narcissistic Abuse, also by Shahida Arabi.

3. Most importantly, make sure they are safe.

Help them with any and all resources you can find for their safety. Never doubt your gut feeling. If you believe they are in danger or you have put yourself in danger, call the police. They might tell you they are fine and beg you not to call the authorities, but you are their only hope in the dark tunnel of lies being fed by the monster they are living with.

After removing her rose-colored glasses, she did find the courage to walk away. But not without a lot of support from her friends and family. It was a long road of tears, but she found the strength to pick up the pieces of her life and began her journey of healing.

By learning who we are, that we are worthy, and by befriending ourselves, we can heal.

Also, let us not forget that sometimes even our closest friends are going through rough times and we may fail to see it. If your friend is lost in the darkness of heartache, please do not abandon them in their time of need.

“Life is an awful, ugly place to not have a best friend.” ~ Sarah Dessen


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