Can toxic relationship be fixed?
Unhealthy Intimate Relationships
Some indicators of toxic behaviour:
Some indicators of healthy behaviour:
However, this assumes that the other in the relationship is open to and capable of making changes. This will not be the case if the toxic behaviour you are prey to is emanating from someone who is narcissistic. In writing about this on my website, I don’t wish to vilify people who display narcissistic behaviours, but many people who come for counselling do so because they have been on the receiving end of such behaviours.
Signs that you are experiencing narcissistic abuse are: feeling that you don’t know who you are anymore; loss of confidence; feelings of guilt and shame; not enjoying seeing friends anymore; feeling you are never right. The relationship probably started off seeming too good to be true, and now you may be realising that it was. You may have been ‘love-bombed’; told you were their soul-mate; been delighted that they wanted to be with you all the time or give you lifts everywhere. They may have seemed really supportive and helpful and told you that you are the only person who ever understood them. Fast forward to when the loved-up stage is over and the criticisms and control will have become much more apparent.
It is important to note that narcissism is on a spectrum of severity and that there are two different kinds; the grandiose narcissist is extrovert in nature, has a sense of entitlement and feels superior to others whereas the vulnerable narcissist fluctuates between feelings of self-importance and self-loathing and is easily hurt/offended.
If you believe that you are in relationship with someone who is narcissistic, it is advisable to work out what you want to do about it without telling them, particularly if they are violent. Talking about it in therapy can be really helpful because unless friends have direct experience of narcissistic abuse, they are unlikely to understand its devastating effects. You need to be able to talk to someone who understands it and can help you see it clearly for what it is so that you can decide what to do. It is time for the undermining behaviours to be named for what they are and for you to be validated.
Men are also subject to narcissistic abuse
Same-sex toxic relationships
Toxic relationships in the workplace
Am I addicted to toxic relationships?
You may be wondering if you are addicted to toxic relationships. In Patrick Carnes’ book, ‘The Betrayal Bond (2019), he describes how the traumatised brain of an infant is flooded with neurochemicals. This can lead to cravings in periods of calm so that the person might be drawn to traumatic relationships. However, for many people who get caught in a pattern of abusive relationships, it is more a matter of conditioning and self-worth. There are many situations that occur when we are children that lead us to perceive that putting the other first in a relationship is normal. This is highly dangerous.
Conditions leading to this might be: parents telling a child he/she must be polite in all situations; parents who are not loving but insist that what they are giving is love (ie love is unkind); the child witnessing one parent giving everything to the other and the other giving nothing in return; grooming and many more. In all of these situations, the child learns that the other’s needs are more important than their own and that he/she should accept unpleasant remarks and actions. When that child goes out into the world, put-downs from another appear acceptable and so are ignored. If put-downs are occurring at the beginning of any relationship this is already a red-flag.
The good news is that with awareness it becomes possible to recognise the red flags before getting into the relationship or as soon as they arise. Further good news is that if improved self-esteem is added into the equation, then toxic behaviour will be rejected at the first post. If I am feeling good about myself, why would I accept someone putting me down?
How counselling helps
First of all, it helps to be able to talk about what has been going on with someone who understands it. You will have discovered that many people enable narcissistic behaviour by denying that it is happening and minimising the effects. We will look at what may have led you into such a situation. It may be that you have narcissistic members of your family and that you have learned to appease people displaying such behaviours. This conditioning could lead you to put up with the put-downs and rages.
As you begin to understand what may have led you into the situation, it becomes more possible to avoid other relationships like this. We will look at warning signs to look out for in future relationships and how to recognize healthier patterns of relating.
If you are unable to leave the relationship/friendship, we can look at how to help you manage your expectations in the relationship. For instance, Dr Ramini, the leading expert on narcissism in America, says that if you are going to stay in relationship with someone who is narcissistic, you must lower your expectations drastically.
She advises that a good circle of friends is essential for emotional support as you won’t get any in the relationship. You will really be like a carer to the narcissist, providing support for them, but receiving none in return.
The metaphor that I most often use is that when you first play with a narcissist, you might play like you are two frogs until you realise that the other frog has a scorpion’s tail. It is a shock to be stung when you didn’t know the tail was there. Once you know, if you choose to continue playing, you can never take your eye off that tail.