Most of us have experienced that relationship.
You know that relationship. It’s the one where at first you think how great it is for someone to really appreciate you. After some time passes you find yourself thinking how great it would be just to have one day to yourself. What you once viewed as the attention you deserve now feels like obsession. Sure, they don’t want to hurt you. They’re not “stalking” you- they love you! They want to see how you’re doing, they want to be a part of your life because they care! Every time they argue to you how good their intentions are, you become more and more uncomfortable- perhaps even scared. Eventually you don’t think you can take it anymore and you try to get away. This is when the ugly truth reveals itself.
You’re in a toxic relationship.
Leaving a toxic relationship is a lot like battling depression. There’s the co-dependency factor, for example, that we’d rather not admit we’re contributing to. You want to say, “they push and they push and I just can’t fight back,” but deep down you feel yourself letting them push, just a little, just so you don’t have to constantly push back. It’s exhausting constantly fighting! No one should ever have to live that way. But by allowing someone to push you, even a little, you’re sending a mixed signal that they can and will exploit. Like depression, toxic relationships are extremely emotionally draining. Sometimes it feels like it’s all your fault and you should just let it encompass you. It feels like you’ll never escape its grasp. This is where I’ll share with you what a therapist once told me.
Only you can decide how others treat you.
Usually that’s obvious to me. Of course only I can say what is and is not acceptable! In the throes of a toxic relationship, however, I can’t wrap my head around the thought. It’s something I’ve doodled inside notebooks and on my arm, set as a reminder on my phone, drawn on a piece of paper and hung up on my wall. I’ve forced myself to think about that constantly because it’s so easy for me to let go just a little, for all the wrong reasons, but with all the best intentions. If there’s anything we should all have learned by now it’s that good intentions have no place in a relationship. Love is about action, not intention. Anyone who hurts you and says they meant well instead of taking accountability is waving a big red flag in your face, and all you have to do is notice it.
Nobody wins in a toxic relationship.
This can become an endless cycle if you’re not careful. You’ll say you want out, then they’ll tell you how much they need you and how selfish you are for leaving. They’ll say anything to make you stay, no matter how hurtful, because they’re the victim and if you can’t see that, you are selfish. It’s manipulative, and it works. You feel so guilty leaving them alone because they need you. They don’t want to hurt you, their intentions are good and they just want a role in your life. You’ll stick around because you’re convinced it’s the right thing to do, but you’ll quickly feel as though you’ve made a mistake. This cycle can repeat as itself as many times as you let it, but one day you’re going to have to accept that what they want is your only option.
Toxic relationships aren’t exclusive to romance.
A toxic relationship can happen anywhere. A partner, a friend, an employer, or even a family member can be toxic. The most difficult toxic relationship for me to end was with my mother. In all honesty this is one that I had been trying to ease out of for several years before I even had the emotional intelligence to understand toxic relationships. I love my mother very much, and she’s been through a lot in her life. I never want to hurt her or see her hurt. When I realized that cutting ties with my mother was crucial to my happiness, I cried for days. I still cry sometimes when I think about how much pain this must have caused. My thoughts spiral out control when I think of everything she’s lost. Then I stop and realize I’m thinking about her feelings, not mine. I deserve happiness.
Before we go any further, let me tell you a little about my mother.
She’s not a bad person, not at all. She’s kind, sincere, optimistic and can see the humor in any situation. My mother taught me acceptance, something not every mother imparts on her children. Much like my own, tragedy aggregates her past. Most people don’t know this because the face my mother chooses to show the world is an unfaltering smile. Everyone who meets her loves her, and she them. My mom loves me unequivocally. I have a tendency to fall off the map for months, not speaking to anyone unless forced into their company. When this happens I always lose friends, but my mom has always been there for me, like it never happened. She’s an incredible person, and you’d be lucky to have her as a friend.
Good people can be toxic, too.
My mom has good intentions, and she doesn’t want to hurt me. She does, though, in many ways. What amplifies this is my mom’s blatant disregard for reality. The last time she came for a visit, an argument escalated to her chasing me around my townhouse, yelling at me that it’s not over as I yell back that I don’t want to argue. I ended up locked in my son’s bedroom for hours, afraid to leave. I’ve never felt more disrespected in my own home, and believe me when I tell you, that is saying something. I’m sure if you asked my mom, though, she would say I started it. I refused to listen. She only chased me because I ran. I could have left his room, she would have left me alone. She only sees things from her own misguided perspective.
Ignorance is bliss, but more importantly, it’s dangerous.
My mom, that sweet likeable person? I’m terrified of her. She has never respected my privacy, and it has always made me feel extremely uncomfortable. I asked her so many times to stop adding all of my friends on Facebook, which she refused. They like her, they’re her friends too. She has good intentions. When she began liking comments I left on friends’ posts, I felt so violated that I devoted an entire session of therapy to it. The question was, do I unfriend her or do I delete Facebook? A simple “I statements” confrontation was not going to happen. I knew if I unfriended her I would never hear the end of it, how I’m shutting her out and she just wants to be part of my life. She has good intentions. Why can’t I see that? I went home and deleted my Facebook.
It’s not even that she’s invasive, it’s that when you tell her she’s being invasive she unflinchingly denies it. Without batting an eye she turns it around on you. She only invades your privacy because you won’t include her in your life more, you know she means well. She has good intentions. Whether or not you feel violated is of no concern to her, and that makes her dangerous. Since cutting ties with her (again I chose to avoid the stressful one-sided argument) I have had to block her on virtually every social media platform. I’d block her on one and she’d message me on another. Never a, “did I do something to make you upset?” Always a, “Why won’t you let me be part of your life?” Actually those questions came after almost a full year of no-contact that she spent acting like nothing was amiss.
Even writing this, I feel scared.
To be honest, it’s not just fear. It’s disrespect that I feel. Rather than accepting that for some reason I have chosen not to share my life with her, she has looked for every opportunity to invade it however possible. For the last year or so I have been scared that I would come home one day to find her waiting for me, a “fun surprise” for me, I’m sure. I worry that she’s asking my Facebook friends for updates on my life and pictures of my child, which is, for lack of a better word, creepy. Now that I have this website I have a whole new set of fears. Honestly she’s probably reading this and, if I had to guess, she’ll spend the next several weeks complaining to anyone who will listen about how I selfishly portrayed her as a monster on the internet.
The “family first” mentality has been nothing but damaging for me.
They’re my family and I love them all, but a lot of them are very emotionally manipulative. They yell and tell you it’s because they love you. They defend one another for being hurtful and say you have to love your family, that family is all you have. No. If my family was all I had, I would have nothing but a broken self-image and an addiction to painkillers. I am so grateful for the friendships I have made in my life- the real ones, the healthy ones, the trusting ones that have stood the test of time. These friendships have saved me more times than I can count and without them I don’t know where I would be today. These friendships saw me through the painful experience of cutting ties with my toxic family. This is my true family, and I am lucky to be a part of it.
It’s been extremely difficult and painful to remove my mother and others like her from my life. In truth, I am so much happier now than I was before. The level of stress and self-doubt in my life has decreased drastically. I no longer have to worry about the environment my son is raised in, because I know I’ve built it on my terms with his safety and emotional well-being in mind. Gone are the days of checking my phone or my social media with dread. No more do I have to worry about the guilt of feeling angered over the actions of someone who has good intentions. I am free, and I hope they can find this freedom and happiness in their lives as well.
The family tree I’ve built will always have space for healthy branches.
If my mother ever does change- really change- I’ll be here, happy to have her back in my life. I don’t know if that day will ever come, and I can’t waste time worrying about it. Our mental health is our choice. I cannot control my mother, I cannot change who she is. All I can control is how I allow her to treat me. In time I hope she learns to see things from a perspective other than her own, but if that day never comes, at least I know my son and I will be healthy and happy.
Have you had to remove any difficult relationships from your life? Are you struggling to detach yourself from a toxic relationship? Let me know in the comments. Please share this story if you think it may inspire someone you love to leave a toxic relationship of their own. We are all in this together, and we all deserve to be happy.