by: E.B. Johnson
Life doesn’t happen like a storybook, and neither do our romantic relationships. Despite what we’re promised on soap operas and TV, our intimate partnerships are incredibly complex organisms of their that can undergo multiple levels of change as the days and years pass.
Our relationship strides can be both good and bad, but they can also uncover some of our more unpleasant attachment and coping habits — the worst of which is toxic attachment; the bane of happy couples everywhere.
What is toxic attachment?
Toxic attachment denotes the way in which we form our closest and most intimate bonds. More often than not, when we talk about toxic attachment, we’re talking about behaviors like jealousy, dominance, manipulation, selfishness and desperation. These are the behavioral patterns that destroy and undermines the connections that bring our lives joy, and they’re far more common than you might think.
These poisonous relationships center around a “fantasy bond” or an imaginary perception of what their relationship is (or what they want it to be). A fantasy bond occurs when two people form an illusion that is based on individual fears, rather than facing up to things for what they really are. Fantasy bonds replace the real feelings in relationships and replace then with something much more dangerous altogether: a desire to merge identities.
Where does our toxic attachment come from?
We learn our bonding behaviors when we’re young, and we continue to test and refine those patterns over time. The things we take on in childhood can follow us throughout our lives, but there are also a number of other places that we learn the toxic relationship patterns that keep us stuck, scared and searching for some shred of happiness in eternal night.
If you can’t respect yourself, it’s hard to find other people that will respect you either. Feeling good about ourselves is important; loving ourselves even more so. Poor self-esteem is one of the number reasons people find themeselves trapped in relationships that don’t suit them, but that self-esteem too comes from a number of different places.
We might suffer from poor self-esteem because of past relationship experiences, or we might suffer from low self-esteem because of traumatic childhood experiences. Whatever your reason is for feeling down on yourself, it’s imperative that you identify it and correct it in order to thrive and break free of your poisonous passions.
An inability (or unwillingness) to break the cycle
As humans, we’re creatures of habit, but those habits can quickly become corrosive or self-defeating. The real problem, however, is that even when that’s the case — we often don’t walk away. Why? Because the familiar is more comfortable than the unfamiliar; a known bad is perceived to be safer than an unknown potential good.
Our patterns and our routines hold an important role in our lives. They calm us and comfort us and help us get through the things we need to get through. We often put our routines on autopilot, however, and forget to assess them regularly for their effectiveness in our lives. Just because we do something doesn’t mean it should be done, and it certainly doesn’t mean there isn’t a better way to do things in future.
A fear of being alone
We live in a society that constantly tells us that our worth is a direct correlation of our relationship status. From adverts to movies, love songs to storybooks — romantic relationships are made up to the backbone of happiness. Holding those beliefs too dear, however, can get you stuck in some unhappy situations.
Clinging to relationships simply because you’re too scared to be alone is no jusification. As humans, it’s natural to want a partner, but it has nothing to do with our true happiness, as this can only be defined by ourselves alone. Making your happiness dependent on another person will always result in failure. Learning how to make yourself happy, though? That lasts forever.
Signs you’re stuck in a toxic relationship.
Just because you know what toxic attachment is and where it comes from, doesn’t mean it’s always easy to spot those patterns in your own life. Our patterns of belief and behavior are complex, and they can take on a number of appearances. If these common signs of a toxic relationship sound familiar to you — it might be time to take a step second to reassess.
Self-centeredness and demands
Almost all bad relationships are characterized by selfishness and unreasonable demands. If you or your partner behave as though one has power over the other, you’ve found yourself in an unhealthy and unbalanced situation that needs to be corrected before you both lose your sense of self.
Finding yourself with a partner who is unavailable either physically or emotionally is one of the most common signs of poor attachment tendencies. Our partners should be there for us in our moments of need, and that includes both physical and emotional support. Going after those who continue to abandon you is most often a sign that you’re repeating past traumas in an attempt to either confirm or deny the lessons you learned from those traumas.
One of the most toxic (and most common) relationship patterns is emotional coercion or manipulation. This involves using grief, happiness and anger — or the threat of them — to get what you want, regardless of how it affects the other person. This is one of the most destructive patterns going, and frequent on both sides of the partnership.
Behaving like a parent or child
Partnerships are all about an equal give and take, but that balance can be easily disrupted by our unhealthy and toxic bonding patterns. For those of us struggling with childhood trauma, we can often find ourselves in one-sided relationships in which one partner assumes the role of the parent and the other the child. No matter which side of the equation you end up on here, the results are the same: an imbalance and festering resentment for all.
Merging of identities
Those who suffer from toxic attachment usually have a history of unhappiness, disrupt or disturbance in their childhood. For this reason, they often form unhealthy bonding complexes, which can cause them to be clingy or seek to merge their identity to their partner’s. The danger in this, however, is that we must have our own individual identities in order to thrive. Our authentic self is much of what matters in this life, but that version of self can get lost when you willingly bury it beneath the altar of another person.
Confusing love and emotional hunger
When you struggle to tell the difference between true love and emotional hunger, you can find yourself trapped in a desperate situation, in an even more desperate relationship. Desperation for attention or affection is never a good reason to start a relationship, and it will never lead to a healthy relationship. In order to be happy, you have to be whole, but that’s a process that can only be completed with time — on your own.
How to overcome your toxic attachment.
Overcoming our toxic atachment patterns takes a lot of time and it takes a lot of introspection. More often than not, we fall into toxic patterns because we never take the time to fall in love with ourselves. If you really want to break free of your poisonous relationship habits, try shoveling down a dose of some radical self-acceptance followed by a dollop of reality.
1. Admit that things have gone wrong
When we’re stuck in a bad place, it’s not uncommon to move in and out of denial. The first step in any journey to healing is admitting that things have gone wrong, and then taking the steps that you need to fix the issue.
Even if it revolts you, steel yourself and admit that things haven’t turned out like you wanted. Brace yourself, and take a good hard look at the reality of your situation; a situation which — one way or the other — you helped to put yourself in. Stop jusifying your behavior, and stop justifying theirs too. If you’re engaging in actions that are undermining your happiness or the happiness of your partner — fess up — and fess up if they’re giving you less than you deserve as well.
We all deserve more than a partner who embarrasses us, humiliates us or makes us feel less worthy than we are. Refusing to admit that things aren’t right is doing nothing short of sowing more bad seeds in infertile ground. If you’ve found yourself stuck in an emotionally or physically barred partnership, admit it. The healing can’t start until you admit that healing is needed.
2. Let go of the belief that this is the best you can do
Many of us find ourselves chained to less-than-ideal situations because we truly believe that it is the best that we can do. This often stems from our fear of being alone, along with the constant societal pressures that tell us we have to be paired-off in order to be happy. You might also come to this belief on the back of emotional abuse, dolled out by a partner who is unable to see the worth in themselves, let alone you.
Toxic relationships can make us shut down and they destroy that authentic sense of self that’s so important when it comes to defining our happiness. They also leave us in a panic-striken state which can cause us to pull away from others and isolate ourselves in a way that confirms the believe that we’re not good enough, or we’re unable to find anyone else.
Build up your support system and get back in touch with your confidence by getting back into the habit of doing things that you’re good at. By reconnecting with your passions and the other people in your life that you love, you’ll be able to rebuild your belief in yourself and therefore the knowledge that there is always something better out there for you.
3. Practice self-care
All too often we overlook the importance of self-care when it comes to our mental states and reestablishing our self-confidence. Often, this occurs because we lose ourselves in our toxic behaviors, losing any sense of what we need in order to be happy. Self-care allows you to tap back into this knowledge again, and it does it in a way which also empowers you to do better for yourself and the people that actually matter.
Pursue your own self-growth and take care of your body, mind and soul. You can take up a new hobby, have a little retail therapy, or even start meditating or journaling. What truly matters is that you take time to get to know yourself, and nurture your body and your spirit while you do so.
Approach yourself more thoughtfully, and approach the way you address the needs of others more thoughtfully too. It’s all good and well to help your partner, your spouse, or your family — but it’s another thing entirely to give all of yourself away before you’ve even had the chance to save a piece for yourself. Avoid future disappointments by taking care of yourself now, in this moment. After all, that’s all we really have.
4. Learn how to be present
Our toxic behaviors are (more often than not) rooted in the past, and in the fear and phobias that we harbor in our memories and traumas. The problem, however, is that there is no power in the past. The only power that exists is in the current moment; the right here and now. If you want to undo the damage of the past, you have to start living in the present — a monumental task for even the most enlightened.
Loosen up and realize that no one has all the answers — not even the people who told you they had all the answers. Savor the things you have in your life right now that bring you joy, and pull away when you need a breath to think how you’re feeling in the moment. The only way to make the most out of the time you have is to embrace where you are right now, but that takes some effort and some radical acceptance that can be hard to swallow.
Learn how to move toward the things that upset you, rather than away, and seek to empower your actions rather than your inactions. Everyone makes mistakes and everyone falls from time-to-time. The important thing is learning how to let go of those mistakes in the past and learn how to affect things right now in the present.
5. Get help
It’s not always possible to overcome our toxic attachment patterns alone. Many of the unhealhy ways in which we have learned to connect are learned in childhood, meaning they can be buried away beneath layers and layers of hurt and misunderstanding. Sometimes, it takes the help of a mental health professional to overcome the burdens of our toxic behaviors, but that’s a call that can only be made by you and you alone.
Seek out the help of someone who specializes in the trauma or issues that are plaguing your mind and body. If the issues involve another person, seek out the assistance of an experienced family or relationship counselor, and never be afraid to ask them the tough questions you’re too afraid of otherwise.
People who are trying to heal toxic relationships and toxic behavorial patterns need the help of family and friends, in order to stay accountable and committed to their journey through healing. Don’t shy away from reaching out to someone just because your pain tells you not to. It wants you to stay unhappy. Do you want to stay unhappy too? Is that really working for your current path?
Putting it all together…
Holding on to toxic forms of attachment only serves to hold us back in life from our happiness and our authentic and natural sense of joy. When we commit to habits that don’t suit us, we defeat ourselves in a cruel game of emotional rummy that can leave us beaten down and stuck in relationships and situations that destroy us more than they build us up.
In order to overcome your toxic attachments, you have to take some time getting to know yourself and the wounds that keep you stuck, sick and scared. Take a deep breath and admit that things have gone wrong. Reconnect yourself with the people that matter and don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. Coming back from a toxic relationship is possible, but it takes time and healing which only you can connect to. You deserve to be happy. Empower yourself to believe this by letting go of the toxic relationship patterns you cling to out of habit. No one can keep you stuck but yourself. Start living life for you before it’s too late.