I was recently interviewed by Sam Elliott (who lives in the United Kindgom) for her college paper about toxic relationships. With her permission I am sharing her paper with all my followers. I hope that you find some encouragement and hope in Sam’s words. I was really blown away when I saw just a part of my story in her paper – it made it so very real. ~ Cheri
DOSSIER: LOVE AND REFLECTION
The path to toxic love Like a drug, toxic love is obsessive, compulsive, and full of delusion. Samantha Elliott looks at the power and destruction of addictive love and examines why it can take so long to recognise its poisonous charm. They say love is blind, and for reasons unknown he is the one. The urge to be with that special person can make you go crazy, which is fine when the feelings are mutual. However, when the relationship is poisonous, and you still can’t give it up, you know that you are in trouble. Susan Peabody, counsellor, and author of Love Addiction – Overcoming Obsessive & Dependency in Relationships explains that being in a toxic relationship can mean having an unhealthy dependency on love itself. She says: ‘It all begins with what seems like an innocent attraction to someone, which quickly turns into an infatuation. You can be somebody who is insecure and hungry for love and taking this infatuation much too seriously and easily becoming blinded by the exhilarating effects of love at first sight.’ Have you ever wondered why you keep falling in love with the wrong type? Peabody adds: ‘You will think that attraction, chemistry, sex, and romance are far more important than compatibility in relationships, because you want to get high from the start.’ Jumping into a relationship through physical attraction can happen before getting to know someone. It only becomes toxic when you become trapped and alone with the feeling that you just can’t leave the relationship.
A toxic relationship causes pain and suffering and can make you feel that you have nowhere else to go. Peabody believes this is the dark side of romantic love and relationships. She says: ‘Once cupid has hit his mark, you quickly become excessively preoccupied with your lover. Every other aspect of your life becomes less important, and endless hours are spent fantasizing about how your relationship is going to develop.’ Being irrational and rushing into things can make us forget who we really are. Becoming addicted to someone makes it harder to leave.
Cheri, 49, found out the hard way about toxic love. She says: ‘The marriage was doomed from the start. I met him on the internet in June 2004 and married in August 2004. Way too fast. I know that now.’ A toxic relationship can mean losing the people that care about you. She says: ‘He told me that I could not have single friends. I lost all of my girlfriends, and I lost my family because they did not like him.’ Being with someone who is toxic can set off emotions you don’t expect to feel. This can influence your decisions that you can later on regret.
Sometimes, you choose only to see what you want to see and hear what you want to hear when you know the relationship isn’t working. This becomes an easier option than dealing with the pain of separation. Michael Josephson, ethicist and author of ‘The Best Is Yet To Come,’ says: ‘Toxic relationships not only make you unhappy. They corrupt your attitude and disposition in ways that undermine healthier relationships and prevent you from realizing how much better things can be.’ Rarely do you choose a toxic relationship before it starts. It’s only after that can you experience the damage it has caused.
So what happens when you realise the person you love isn’t who you think he is? Sometimes it can be too hard to accept that you’re in a relationship that isn’t working. Cheri knew soon after an argument with her daughter that the man she had married was different to the man she had dated. She says: ‘He marched down to her bedroom, and bounded on the bathroom door, until she came out. He got all up in her face and yelled at her, that she will never speak to me that way and to apologise immediately. I was shocked and scared and did not even know what to do.’
Abuse can come later in the relationship. A toxic person is well aware of what they are doing to you. They know full well you will find it hard to leave and letting go. Being a victim of abuse is common in toxic relationships. Peabody believes that guilt is something you feel if you reject someone even when you are being abused and is a misguided sense of loyalty. She says: ‘When you are addicted to love you make a commitment and feel you must be loyal no matter what. You have no right to change your mind.’ Abuse was a part of Cheri’s every-day life and violent fights were a regular occurrence. She says: ‘The first time he hit me, we’d had a fight. He knocked me down in the closet, and I just cowered like a baby, crying and shaking. He promised he would never do it again. The issues kept on with the fights and I learnt how to fight. I hated what I had become.’ It’s when you begin to accept the abuse unknowingly that it becomes a pattern of behaviour. This is when the relationship starts to become destructive. Robert Burney, co-dependence counsellor and author of Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls, believes that if you feel that someone else has the power to make you happy, then you are setting yourself up to be a victim. He says: ‘As children you are taught that boy meets girl in a fairy tale story and there’s a happy ever. You are already setting yourself up for expectations and failures and a belief system that isn’t real.’
True love shouldn’t be about heartache, unhappiness, and entrapment. Burney says: ‘Believing you can’t be whole or happy without a relationship is unhealthy and leads you to accept deprivation and abuse and to engage in manipulation, dishonesty, and power struggles. The type of love you learnt about growing up is an addiction. It’s a form of toxic love.’
IN TOO DEEP
Having any addiction means it’s safer staying where you are than facing reality. Peabody says: ‘You are not in love anymore, but you cling to the reinforcing effects of the relationship. Maybe being financially dependent on a partner or the routine of the relationship is more comfortable than leaving.’ Sometimes just staying in a relationship is easier to deal with than the pain of separation. It’s when people that matter to you are getting hurt that decisions have to be made. After ten years in a toxic relationship, Mel, 39, had constant fallouts with her family in the belief that her relationship was good. She says: ‘My mum hated him. I was all for him. I felt that she was making it harder for me by planting thoughts in my head about what he was doing. This would cause so many arguments between us and make the situation worse at home. She didn’t understand.’ Mel had years of endless lies, womanising and became the victim of physical and mental abuse. She adds: ‘I fell in love with him from the start and clung on thinking that he loved me. But what he did to the kids and me was horrific. I’m so glad I’m away from him now.’
Sometimes it’s easier to get lost in your thoughts when your relationship is going wrong. Psychotherapist and author of ‘Facing Love Addiction’ Pia Mellody says: ‘When you are getting neglected, and spending a lot of time alone, what happens is you don’t know what it means to be connected or relational to other people.’ Cheri says: ‘I became pretty isolated. He always promised that he would change. Stop being controlling and get help with his anger problems. They were just empty promises.’
Mellody adds: ‘You spend alot of time alone daydreaming and making up fantasies in your head that make you feel better because what you are making up in your head chemically changes your body and creates a sense of joy or relief. This is the addiction. The addiction isn’t love as much as it is to the fantasy.’ When someone is controlling you, this can come from their own insecurity to control you. Cheri says: ‘He always told me that I was selfish if I did not do what he wanted. I had to sleep in a certain way. If I didn’t, then a fight would start. I could not win.’ Cheri was constantly telling herself that she still loved him. But breaking free is hard and after many seperations, Cheri would always take him back. She adds: ‘It was an addiction and so unhealthy. I learnt that I got addicted to the sex and the compliments. He always told me that I was beautiful whereas in my first marriage, I had never heard these words. I ate it up, and he knew it. It was weird. He knew me better than myself.’ Sometimes it is hard accepting that your relationship has come to the end of the road. But sometimes you have to break free.
Burney says: ‘If you can start seeing relationships not as the goal but as opportunities for growth, then you can start having more functional relationships. A relationship that ends is not a failure or a punishment, it is a lesson.’ Mel came to a point in her life where she had to let go. ‘When I finally listened to my children, I knew. They begged me not to go back with him and from that day, I never did. It was the best choice and the wake-up call I needed.’ Letting go of any relationship is like grieving. She adds: ‘It was hard letting go, but time is a healer. Several months later I felt why had I not done it sooner?’
Cheri explains that after going back after five times enough was enough and in the end, something had to give. She says: ‘Fear is what kept me going back. I did still love him. But it was insecurity and that I didn’t think I could be dependent on my own. I did not want to fail again.’ Walking away from a toxic relationship involves courage, making changes and experiencing emotional pain. She adds: ‘In the end, I was tired of feeling controlled, suffocated and not being allowed to be just myself. The good and the bad. I had to dress for him. Not me. I was tired of being put down. Most of all, I was tired of the fights.’ The fear is in you to change, but when you are finally ready, there is no more going back. Recovering from a toxic relationship is about starting from scratch and learning about you again. Peabody says: ‘You must accept the fact that being without a partner is not a fate worse than death. It has its advantages and disadvantages, just like a relationship, and there are times in life when it is inevitable. Having a positive attitude allows you to be comfortable when there is no one special in your life. Being alone is not painful. It can be a time of cherished solitude.’
For some this can be a journey of discovery and knowing who you are. Melody believes that love addiction can stem from early childhood trauma of neglect and abandonment. Cheri saw
in therapy that her behaviour was linked through her childhood. She says: ‘I saw that my mum is very toxic. My dad is co-dependent. My younger sister is toxic. My toxic relationships had a negative impact on my own family, friends, and co-workers.’ Coming out of a toxic relationship can be liberating. Cheri says: ‘When I take a step back and really look within, I have made huge strides. I have freedom to be me. I have my girlfriends back and people around me who do not judge me at all. I like me. I like what I have become