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In the last year and a half, I’ve had the opportunity to give relationship advice to women and men alike. One trend I noticed was that many of them were dealing with a toxic partner. A lot of them, even if they realized it somehow, stuck around longer than they should or got into another toxic relationship afterward.
A lifetime can be spent with a toxic partner (or a series of toxic partners). They might use it as a cover for whatever it is they are running away from, consciously or unconsciously, and even tell themselves that things are okay when they’re not. They might even find a scapegoat to blame everything on just to deflect the real issue at hand.
It’s also dependent on what kind of coping strategies a person has. If a person has healthy coping strategies, then they are more likely to come out of a relationship okay. Otherwise, they’re more likely to come out of one wrecked only to return to more of the same. Additionally, they can take longer to acquire a newfound awareness about themselves and the relationship.
Like in any field of learning, even as you become more aware, it’s difficult to fight the bad conditioning you’re used to. Conditioning is embedded pretty deeply. It’s like the common expression states, “My body is saying let’s go, but my mind is saying no.” You have to find ways around your impulses to detach yourself from the many learned bad habits we accumulate over our lives.
These days, attracting toxic partners is a ubiquitous topic. It’s a mild case for most of us, but we can learn a lot from those who have dealt with highly toxic partners. Instead of going over the science of biochemicals, which many tend to blame or focus on as the reason for addiction and why we are predisposed to toxic people, let me give you six other reasons why you attract toxic partners. As they say, feelings follow behavior. The moment you allow yourself to be conditioned to being in a healthy relationship, the more you will find toxic relationships less desirable. If you think about it, it’s up to you to allow your biochemicals to work for you. You’re still the one in charge.
1.) YOU DON’T QUESTION EVERYTHING, INCLUDING YOURSELF
Are your friends honest with you? Or are they only there to reinforce your lies? While it’s natural that we tend to associate ourselves with like-minded people, it’s possible to also associate ourselves with people who reinforce our denials, toxic perspectives, and beliefs. It gets worse when you don’t question yourself and choose to be ignorant. By doing so, you’re only telling yourself what you want to hear because it’s convenient.
As days, weeks, and years pass, we build a lot of false pretenses with the people we are surrounded by. We deceive ourselves, and in the process, we are deceived by others. There will always be people who agree with one another. Even the crazy ones get their own following. But there may come a time where you realize that whatever you’re agreeing about is no longer true, or never was to begin with.
We tend to go along and settle for the default. Sometimes we unconsciously choose people who we think we can control. What makes it difficult is that we’re brought up to be this way. We’re taught to believe in ourselves above all else, as if questioning ourselves (or anything for that matter) is a bad thing. Deeply held beliefs are also responsible for this, and we’ve been pumped full of the whole self-esteem narrative because we can never be wrong. We have to be right because we’re too fragile to be wrong. It’s as if questioning everything including your beliefs automatically makes you a disrespectful heretic, and admitting to a wrong makes you less of a person.
Of course, like anything in life, nothing is ever certain. We’re all working with what we have, and we’re bound to make mistakes. But questioning ourselves gives us better odds at finding and fostering a healthy relationship.
2.) YOU ONLY STICK WITH WHAT’S FAMILIAR
Sticking with what you know or what you’re comfortable with limits you. Familiarity can only serve you for so long until it doesn’t. Familiarity is dangerous. Being comfortable is not necessarily happiness. Just because it’s something you have gotten used to it doesn’t mean you should only stick with it. Even past success is not always a guarantee of a successful future. You have to go beyond what’s familiar. You have to go beyond the suffering that is not serving you at all, a suffering you may still be justifying.
In any field of learning, things you are unaccustomed to are to be expected. Victims are drawn to the same abusive people and circumstances because they don’t know what a healthy relationship or circumstance feels and looks like on a daily basis. To be treated with respect would be something unfamiliar.
That is why after a break up, it’s recommended to go out and have some fun, move or reorganize your room, date someone with a different personality, find a new hobby, make new friends, and so on.
By not allowing yourself to feel and see what has always been unfamiliar (to go out of your usual routine), you fail to give yourself a chance at understanding a different perspective and learning something new.
That is also why couples who have been together for a long time know that they must constantly evolve. They try out and learn new things. They must evolve individually and together as a couple. They do have familiarity in part but leave another part open as they welcome growth.
I once met a dude who jokingly told me how attraction can be messy. He shared the story of how he got out of a very toxic relationship, which involved a few of his teeth getting knocked out by his ex-girlfriend. He said that even though he knows she’s no good for him, the thought of her still gives him a boner and he would still smile for her, even with missing teeth.
Attraction is also an acquired taste. Attraction is a lot like looking at a mirror. You attract who you are being or a version of yourself. You’re not just attracted to positive traits that you have or wish you had. You’re also unconsciously attracted to the insecurities and behaviors that you display and that the people you are familiar with display. For that dude in the previous story, that’s the kind of relationship he’s been accustomed to. He could only work within his limited dating options and perspectives.
The real goal is to be attracted to a healthier version of yourself. To accomplish this, you have to go beyond things that you have always been familiar with. Keep learning and experiencing. Improve upon your world view. If not, you’ll fall into the same cycle.
3.) YOU THINK FAMILY & LOVE ARE EVERYTHING
By now you have probably heard that love does not conquer all. It’s the same thing with the idea of family.
When we finally move out of our family environment, it’s common to realize how messed up our families truly are. I get that family is everything. But if you think about it, it’s not literally everything. Family is just one thing. When we over-idealize the idea of family, we indirectly condone a lot of bad behaviors that we experience and see within our own family, no matter how subtle they may be.
The most difficult thing is to challenge our childhood conditioning because this sets a lifetime precedent. If you grew up with parents who have highly narcissistic traits, like being too controlling, or always making you feel responsible for them, you’re going to be conditionally drawn to narcissistic sociopaths who don’t take any responsibility and are manipulative or controlling. Narcissists will be drawn to you because you’ve been conditioned by your own family setting to be responsible for someone else. It’s a perfect arrangement for them because they want someone else to be responsible for them and someone they can easily control.
For instance, emotional blackmail is predominant among families. No matter how subtle, it is still very manipulative. One famous line is: “I’m getting old and I have no one else around. You should visit me more often.” This comment may seem harmless, but what it reflects is a parent who doesn’t take responsibility for his or her own emotional and social life. Getting old is not an excuse. They still have to take responsibility for their own lives, not just rely on their kids as their means of support. This is the part where the child becomes the parent and the parent becomes the child. I call this a regressive family cycle/pattern. The needs of the parents end up being placed above the needs of their children.
If you have been conditioned as a codependent by your parents, it makes you the perfect victim for that narcissist. You’ll have many unmet needs, and you’re more prone to deception. You’re predisposed to finding a partner who shares the same toxic behaviors. You may end up letting a lot of the toxic behaviors slide, covering for your toxic partner and even taking the blame for him or her. You’ll be trapped by the whole ego play where you feel the need to prove something, even if you aren’t aware of it, because underneath you still need some validation. You can’t get any validation from vampires because they are too hungry to ever share or give some.
As mentioned, the same idea applies to love. As we grow older, we eventually learn that love does not conquer all. Love is not necessarily everything. Both love and family are just two things that make up life experiences.
4.) YOU DON’T KNOW HOW TO ESTABLISH BOUNDARIES
Manipulators are banking off of the one thing that they have very little of (maybe even none at all): your empathy. That is why it is under the family setting that our boundaries are first developed, conditioned, and tested. As a codependent, your boundaries are conditioned to be shaky. You let toxic behavior slide because it’s family. And when you get to finally move out and find someone who is just as toxic, it’s because of love.
Love and family are two commonly used excuses for staying in toxic relationships. What many of us fail to see is how the over-idealization of the two is the very thing that allows for such unhealthy boundaries.
As you set out into the real world, you’ll carry this bad habit of not knowing where boundaries really lie. You can become afraid of having your own voice. You can get confused because you can be easily guilt-tripped into thinking that you are always at fault. It’s the learned helplessness that develops while growing up that keeps people to continue to live with that toxic family or partner because of love.
Caring is okay. But you can care too much at your own expense. Instead of empathizing with that emotional vampire, empathize more with yourself. Start saying no more often than yes, especially to that alcoholic cousin who keeps borrowing money or to that partner who’s just using you for free rent and food.
Learning this is critical. But be careful because you can enter into a period of overcompensation, just like the many men who have been pussy-whipped most of their lives and end up building a “wall” or some sort of bravado. It only reveals how fragile they still are underneath. In the process, you’ll have to find that healthy balance for your boundaries as well, because you can end up putting the good ones on the chopping block for the sake of protecting yourself. You can end up believing that all women are gold diggers or all men are pigs.
5.) YOU STILL THINK YOU CAN CHANGE SOMEONE
We all tell ourselves we can’t change anyone, but underneath, our insecurities and needs can still get the best of us. Sometimes we wish we could somehow change or even control someone. Considering that you can care too much and be attracted to something familiar but still toxic, you can end up believing in the delusion that you can change the way someone treats you. At a minimum, you begin with the simple idea of influence, but at most it can become a full-blown game of control or imposing wills.
Narcissists are incapable of taking responsibility for themselves, which is why the disorder at a clinical level is incurable. Personal responsibility is key because only you can make a choice for yourself and no one else. Thus, you can’t make a choice for that toxic someone. He or she has to make that choice.
If you ever wonder whether people change, the answer is yes people change, but not all of them do. What science tells us so far based on how our brains develop and are wired is that our neural networks tend to be more fixed as we get older. The older we get without learning our lessons, the harder it is for us to change. Now, clinical narcissism is a different story. Some neural networks may have stopped developing at childhood.
6.) MAYBE YOU’RE TOXIC TOO
As previously mentioned, you attract who you are being. If you want to attract that stronger and healthier version of yourself, then you need to be as strong and as healthy as the person you wish to attract. You don’t need to be rich. If you’re the kind of person who takes care of themselves well enough, the rest should follow. Find a way to condition yourself and make peace with your needs, fears, and insecurities.
If it’s always the same story, there’s no other answer but to see that the common denominator you always find when you’re dealing with someone toxic is yourself. And by continuing on with the pattern of attracting toxic partners, you too become toxic.