5.6 Editor's Pick
August 20, 2021

The Burning Carousel Ride of a Toxic Relationship.


View this post on Instagram


The alluring, sex-on-a-stick person who captures your attention, your heart, your time, and your money.

The “bad” boy and the “bad” girl.

How many of us have been caught up in such a relationship?

And how many of us have believed, to one degree or another, the equivalent of this meme’s humorous sentiment?

What’s it like partying with you? Well, it’s a bit like a merry-go-round…oh, that sounds fun. I’m not finished yet.

(And then there’s the image of a carousel ablaze, with fiery horses. That’s fun.)

The burning carousel. Why do we ride the ride, then? If we know it’s harmful, if we’re only going to get burned by it, what lures us in the first place?

The First Burn: Option versus Exclusive

The bad boy or girl can pursue and persuade us by the lack of desperation and confident vibe they throw off.

>> Too cool for school.

>> Someone operating out of abundance.

>> Someone who has it together so much, they have options galore.

They flirt with us. They wink at us. They make us feel chosen like we’re the one and only. Only thing is, we are not.

The harem, the system, and the arrangements are in place to support how we are led to feel exclusive and special, yet we are one of many options in his/her stable of interested parties.

They may choose to steal kisses and embraces from us, all while simultaneously being involved with and impregnating someone else. And they have no shame or conscience about that fact—they may feel they’re entitled to it.

Perhaps they say things like, “You knew the score,” “We’re all adults here,” and “No one forced you to do this.” You know, invalidating-to-our-self-esteem kind of statements.

And throughout it all, we can operate from a place of total commitment, devotion, loyalty, and investment.

We hang by the phone, waiting for their call or text. We abandon our plans and goals, in favor of theirs, because it’s just more convenient.

We give our energy, our time, our resources, all for those intermittent scraps of reward. The look they give us. The embrace in a dark corner. The validation. And they have it to give because it requires nothing of them. They, after all, have their first-choice reserve elsewhere.

They come our way for the ego stroke, the financial perks, the carnal satisfaction—whatever we so willingly offer up.

And sooner or later, the carousel ride isn’t so fun, so thrilling.

We get burned.

It’s the moment of truth when we realize that they didn’t love us. They used us. We were a fun, convenient, easy, advantageous means to an end. And when they are done with us, they move on, sprinting.

And we can be left there, loving them too much without it being mutual or meaningful to them—the way they were to us.

Salve For the Burns:

It can sound like cold comfort to say that we fell for them because we have loving hearts and spirits.

We’re good people and when we get involved with these kinds of individuals, we feel less than. We feel degraded. Un-chosen.

In the 1990 film, “Dick Tracy,” starring Warren Beatty and Madonna, there’s a great bit of dialogue between the two characters:

Dick Tracy: “What side are you on?”

Breathless Mahoney: “The side I’m always on…mine.”

We need to choose our side.

“I choose me.” Really? It’s that easy? It sounds too cliché to work.

After getting burned from an experience with Mr. or Ms. Unlimited Options, we can lick our wounds knowing that we have the life wisdom to now redirect our attention to someone who is truly worth our love, time, and attention: ourselves.

Now, I hear the eye rolls and the sighs. But this fiery carousel ride has done us a favor. It has shown us the power of priority, what it feels like to have top priority, and what it feels like to have little to none.

Now, armed with that experience, we possess the opportunity to practice the overused word, “self-care.” This goes beyond taking a bubble bath.

We have the chance to do a personal, emotional autopsy on what had us starving for that situation with this kind of person.

Did we need attention? Communication? Touch? Excitement?

Whatever our answer is, now we can give ourselves permission to indulge the hunger through prioritizing our needs. We can pay attention to ourselves now.

Soothing, flirty self-talk and expressing ourselves through journaling, art, music, dance, and therapy can ignite our sense of self all over again safely.

When we make ourselves the priority—not the convenient option we may or may not choose consistently—we become a smidge more bulletproof toward the next exploitive individual.

We learn we don’t need to be chosen because we already are. We choose ourselves.

The Second Burn: The Charming Psyche Destroyer

Again, this alluring person can approach us, while disarming us with some form of exciting attention lavished upon us, in an overwhelming way. We feel good about being wanted and chosen.

And this often sets the stage for the predator to inflict damage on our psyches. Eventually, that attention becomes filled with a darker edge or vacillates between two opposing mixed messages of how we are good or no good.

A new acquaintance can initially compliment us, flirt with us, fixating their bedroom eyes upon us. Wow. We feel desired.

We may long to “bump into them” at school, work, or in our community. We live for the bits of attention that build us up.

They have a way of making us feel so good. However, after a short period of time, the attention they pay us becomes laced with some backhanded compliments.

Maybe they make a comment about our personality, our appearance, or correct us for making a mistake:

“Are you sure you should wear that?”

“When someone asks you, ‘how are you?’ you don’t respond, with ‘Fine.’ You say, ‘I’m well.’ The word, ‘fine’ is used to describe food or hair, not your current state of being.”

Suddenly, now, those remarks undermine us. But again, these people may be exciting, desirable, popular, and even experts. So, we reason, maybe their points are valid. And, after all, they have paid such intense attention to us, validating us in other ways. Surely, it is we who are taking things “too personally.”

Salve For the Burns:

Life is filled with misunderstandings and honest mistakes. But there’s a major difference between those circumstances and instances in which we have felt zapped, gutted, and slimed. When it seems to be indirect, passive-aggressive, and a means to “take us down a peg,” we genuinely feel it. We feel the smirk and the power imbalance.

Therefore, we need to recognize this is real for us. And valid. Perhaps, it may not have been intentional once, but if it keeps happening, that is a pattern, not a mistake.

And, bottom line, we still feel awful about ourselves. Why do we want to keep experiencing that?

We can approach the person, address them about the incident, and calmly observing their reaction. Remorse? Defensiveness? Superiority? Or do they even double down, aiming even more severely, for our throats?

Watch. If it’s no big deal, and the person is not a sadist, he/she will apologize and that behavior won’t happen again.

But if they are a psyche destroyer, they will not take ownership for their actions and find a way to make us feel wrong, stupid, ashamed, and worthless.

How do we feel when we’re around them? How do we really feel? That reaction is real, informative, and protective. Let it be the bodyguard that can keep us safe.

The Third Burn: The Narcissist in Plain Sight

This can, perhaps, be the most disturbing person we come across.

This person declares, “I’m a narcissist.” With that unnerving statement, they can come across as brazen, self-aware, self-deprecating, even refreshingly honest. But are they?

We are drawn to this person, possibly impressed by their self-assessment.

We may believe there is honor in them knowing they have these flaws. Hey, at least they’re aware of it and working on it, right? They may spout phrases like, “work in progress,” “nobody’s perfect,” and “I’m focused on becoming a better person.”

These are all lovely sentiments, tickling our ears with hope and the perceived need to extend patience to our fellow human beings. Those of us codependent types may even desire to save him/her.

We just need to support them until they figure out their issues and transcend their narcissism. No problem. Everyone enjoys a project, right?

But we wait and wait and wait and wait. Meanwhile, they keep being the narcissist.

And if we dare complain, they retort with such arguments as, “You knew, going in, who/what I was,” “I’m trying my best here,” and “You said you’d support me. Why aren’t you doing that?”

We can be made to feel like the unhealthy, maladjusted ones. After all, they were upfront and honest. We didn’t need to get involved with them; we chose to do so.

Therefore, this fun, refreshing honesty of the narcissist is now weaponized against us. It is no longer fun.

Salve For the Burns:

It can help to get some perspective on the motives of this supposedly refreshingly honest narcissist. They declare they are the way they are. Not to warn us for our best interest, but for theirs.

It is in their best interest, using their self-aware declarations, to manipulate others. It can serve as a “get out of jail free card” to allow them to keep doing what they do, without any pesky accountability or expectation from us to, I don’t know, actually change.

They won’t. They can’t.

Our best friend, concerning that disturbing tidbit, can be radical acceptance. The cessation of romanticizing hope, of fashioning them into our fantasy as the cute, little fixer-upper. They are not that.

They are, instead, “the taker downer.”

Shy of getting out of the relationship, which may not always be possible, it would serve us well to realize their declarations are designed to help them, not us. What we do with that stark reality is up to us.

The common burning denominator? Us.

That’s the jarring, inconvenient answer. We are the participating bystander here. We are engaged. And we are responsible for seeking our own help, for changing our responses to these tempting, fiery people if we want to get off the ride already.

And some of us need to deal with another fun possibility: we may not want to stop riding the ride.

Whatever the case may be, we do not deserve to be burned by harmful relationships.

We deserve fun that doesn’t damage us.


Leave a Thoughtful Comment

Read 0 comments and reply

Top Contributors Latest

Sheryle Cruse  |  Contribution: 27,320

author: Sheryle Cruse

Image: MUHAMMEDSALAH/Instagram

Editor: Brooke Mundell