Updated: May 2
We all likely have an idea of what an unhealthy, toxic relationship looks like; we can easily spot it when others are in one. When our close friends and loved ones aren’t given the love and respect they deserve, it’s glaringly obvious to us. But we have trouble spotting the red flags in our relationships. No, you’re not blind for returning to a partner who hurts you. You’re not stupid, either. The forces that make unhealthy relationships so addicting for some of us go deeper than looking past red flags.
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As you move through your adulthood and beyond, you’ll start to notice nearly every unfounded thing you feel and do stem from your upbringing. When you’re caught in a toxic relationship loop with someone who is not right for you, it can be traced back to your childhood relationships with your parents or caregivers. “If a girl is raised by an emotionally unavailable parent she was likely taught that love feels like something that can be easily taken away, or that love means she needs to earn it … Once we become adults, we continue this pattern. And if we choose the emotionally unavailable man as a mate, we will feel comfortable working to change him because that's how we approached love with our fathers,” says Jami Carder, RN and Certified Trauma Recovery Coach. However, an emotionally unavailable man can never be changed. When we inevitably fail at trying to change him, it reinforces the negative self-belief that we are not enough. By taking a step back to understand where this pattern in ourselves comes from, we can put in the work necessary to choose the partners that are ready to nurture and love our insecure inner child. “And once she's put in the work on rewriting her faulty inner-narrative to one that honors how amazing she is, the right men will appear in her life, though by that time, she won't even care if they don't,” says Carder.
Prioritizing Comfort Over Your Worth
When you continually go back to someone who takes your heart and rips it up in front of you, it’s easy to question your worth. You want so badly to make someone love you the right way, but they don’t have any capacity to do so. Since you can’t make them see you as worthy of their love, you begin to feel worthless. It’s a seemingly endless loop of trying to prove your worth to someone over and again, but they simply aren’t in the place or mindset to see it. But here’s the thing: Your worth is inherent. You should never have to prove to someone that you are worthy of being loved—whether that’s a parent, friend, or significant other. If someone can’t see your worth, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. You just have to see it for yourself and only lend yourself to other people who see it, too. But the thing that can make acknowledging our worth so difficult is the comfort and familiarity we feel with our current partner. “Although the unknown may be better for us, it may feel threatening and cause a heightened sense of fear,” says psychotherapist Nicholas Hardy, LCSW. It may be difficult to trust in your inherent worth and ditch the familiarity of a toxic partner, but once you take the first step, you will surely never look back.
There is sometimes a stigma surrounding women who keep going back to toxic partners—that they are foolish and weak. This could not be further from the truth. It takes great strength and intelligence to acknowledge that something deeper is at hand that is binding you to an unhealthy relationship. The steps you’ll need to take to see your worth and unlearn toxic relationship patterns may seem monumental at first, but you’ll be much stronger when you come out on the other side. And once you’ve learned how worthy you are and what you deserve out of a relationship, you’ll be able to help other women discover the same.
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