My latest novel, The Couple on Cedar Close, touches upon the issues of toxic relationships and domestic and psychological abuse. When people think of domestic abuse they often associate it with physical violence but emotional abuse can be just as damaging. I’ve used the word ‘partner’ below but these points can apply to any relationship - a friend, work colleague, or relative. It’s a pretty complex subject, but here are a few things to look out for, what to be aware of and how to deal with them.
1. Most people don’t know they’re in a toxic relationship until their feet are firmly in the flames. They rarely start off that way. No doubt your toxic partner came to you packaged as the best thing since the proverbial sliced loaf or your saviour and hero. Toxic people have a way of mirroring your heart’s every desire back to you in a bid to ensnare you – in the beginning at least. This may not be a true reflection of who they really are though. It takes time to get to know someone. Don’t be completely blinded by the light. Go forth with a little caution. Sometimes, if someone seems just too good to be true it usually means they probably are.
2. Do NOT ignore Red Flags. EVERYONE I know (myself included) upon reflection saw some red flags in the beginning. Sometimes they’re not so easy to spot, especially if you don’t know what to look for. And sometimes we choose to ignore them, excuse them or explain them away. Trust your intuition, it’s your soul speaking to you! If you feel like something is off, then listen to your gut. It is never usually wrong. I’ve listed some Red Flags to look out for in the points below.
3. The Mad Exes. Toxic people are NEVER to blame for their toxicity. Listen to how your partner speaks about past relationships. Does he refer to them in derogatory ways, call them names, blames them entirely for the demise of the relationship or has nothing good to say about them? Major red flag. According to my toxic ex, every single one of his past girlfriends was a cheat/liar/psycho/stalker/b**** who hurt him and abused him. This is designed to illicit sympathy and is a manipulation tool. You will want to be the one to prove to him that you are nothing like those dreadful women who betrayed the poor lamb! Bingo! He’s already got you working hard for the relationship and proving yourself! What you don’t know at this stage is that someday YOU will also be lumped into the category of the psycho b**** ex from hell. Hell, you might even be crowned queen!
4. Control. Toxic behaviour is most often very slow and insidious. So much so that you generally don’t know what’s going on before it’s too late. It may begin with the odd derogatory comment about your best friend, or the way you dress, your job or a family member. He will profess to know what’s best for you, or that you’d look better or feel better if only you stayed away from this person, or wore this dress or did this or thought that etc…. These subtle suggestions may seem like observations or well-meant advice at first but the manipulation has begun! These ‘I know what’s best for you’ statements are designed to start making you second guess yourself or your relationships and are all about control and beginning to isolate you from family, friends and even yourself so that you become solely reliant upon them, their opinion and their approval.
5. Mind games. This is the toxic persons favourite pastime, and is one they’re exceptionally good at because they’ve had a whole lot of practice! They simply always have to have to the upper hand. Relationships are about balance, not power play, but to the toxic person it is all a game of chess. Does he deliberately leave you hanging, waiting for him to call or text? Does he blow hot and cold leaving you feeling confused and upset or clinging to him more? Does he establish a routine with you then pull the rug from under your feet, confusing you? Does he triangulate? Play you off against other women or people or try to make you jealous or feel insecure? These are all methods used to keep you on the back foot, second guessing the relationship and have you thinking about him constantly, These are hooks to get you addicted to him and the relationship and pull you further into a trap whereby you become even more emotionally dependant on him and his approval.
6. Punishment. Toxic people LOVE to punish. There’s no room for autonomy in a toxic relationship. There are two people in a healthy relationship, both of who have a voice, desires, needs, and mutual self-respect. This relationship however will always be a one-way street: his! Should you dare to express a thought or feeling or God forbid bring up any issues you may have then expect some sort of punishment coming your way. This is not about you or your needs remember, it is only about him and his! Punishment usually comes in the form being ghosted, stone-walled, ignored, banished or blocked. No one likes to be ignored, not least by someone they love and who professes to ‘love’ them. This form of punishment is particularly cruel and unbearable.– and it’s designed to be! It’s designed to keep you under control and silence you so that you don’t dare ever challenge them or exert your own voice/thoughts/opinions again. Healthy people listen, even if they don’t agree, and will respect you enough to hear you out, they don’t shut people down or threaten to leave the relationship. This is yet another weapon of control in their toxic arsenal.
7. Word Salad. Toxic people enjoy confusing you with their words. They always play to win because everything is a game to them. You may have a legitimate issue or grievance and decide to voice it. Cue major projection, going off topic and a lot of word-salad whereby the original issue you have gets completely lost, turned on its head and flipped upside down. Suddenly, the issue you had with them will be all about the issue they have with you and what you have done wrong. They bait and switch so that eventually you find yourself apologising TO THEM, your original concerns lost, devalued, and unmet.
8. Projection. Toxic people project. If you listen carefully to all the things they say you are or think, accuse you of or dislike about you, what they’re actually doing is telling you who THEY are, how THEY think and what THEY are doing, If they accuse you of being a cheat or a liar - especially without any justification or evidence - then chances are they’re the ones lying and cheating and being deceitful. Do they say you’re weak, useless, a loser, or that you’re jealous, insecure or paranoid? This is projecting their deepest fears about themselves onto you in an attempt to make you own them instead. Rather than looking inwards, they project outwards. They try to dump all the toxic s*** they feel about themselves onto you to make you feel bad so that they don’t have to.
9. But I love you! Ah, those all-powerful, heady three little words that we all so want to hear. Mr Toxic will use them like the rest of us use toilet paper – and it will mean just as much to him. These words are perhaps the most powerful weapon of all. It’s the get out of jail free card on the Monopoly board. He’s upset you, ignored you, devalued you, discarded you, put you down, cheated on you, offended you, verbally attacked you, let you down, lied to you etc... but hey, ‘I love you, babe!’ Toxic people know how much these words mean to you, which is why he will use them. Only they do not mean the same to him as they do to you. He probably used them very early on in the relationship, told you how he had never met anyone like you, and how deeply he has fallen for you, wants to marry you, live with you, have babies with you (all red flags) and a script he has most likely used in all his previous relationships. He prays upon your desire to give and receive love. The only difference being is that yours is authentic love and his is counterfeit, words used simply to recruit you into his toxic world of servitude. Instead of listening to his words look at his actions. People don’t only tell you they love you; they show you.
10. Idolise, devalue, discard. This diabolical merry-go round cycle is often prevalent in toxic relationships. In the beginning he will put you on a pedestal and the biggest high of your life, only to brutally tear you down from it and eventually discard you, often repeating the cycle over and over again in that all-important goal of controlling you and your emotions. He wants you to stay addicted to him and the relationship. He also has to be the one to discard you. If you should get out first then expect to go straight back to the love-bombing phase one of the cycle. If however you should stick to your guns then this is when you will see just how toxic he really is. Toxic people do not except rejection well. Hey decide when the relationship ends! The only way out of the cycle of abuse is to stop playing the game and cut all contact.
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