Keep on finding myself in toxic relationships

View previous topic View next topic Go down

Keep on finding myself in toxic relationships

Post by Prajnaparamita on Fri Sep 11, 2015 2:25 pm

Hey guys,
First off, I wanted to say that I fully realize that this is a question I need to bring to therapy, and I intend on doing so, I just also wanted to hear the advice of people I trust as well—I find that seeking out advice from lots of people helps me feel confident in being able to act on that advice and feel sure in what I am doing.

So basically I've come to realize that throughout my life--middle school, high school, college, even now, I've ended up in a lot of toxic relationships with people who take advantage of me, don't treat me right or are downright dangerous or unhealthy.

And I'm trying to look for ways to make it so this isn't a pattern that repeats in the future, but I'm honestly not sure how. A lot of the advice I've gotten is that I should listen to my gut, if something feels wrong when I'm with them or I'm getting a bad vibe, I should listen to that and make distance because what I'm feeling is important. Which I think is like wonderfully empowering advice I'm sure for other people, but doing so feels kinda useless for me.

Because the problem is that my gut is just downright wrong 95% of the time. If my gut feeling had its way, I would never get out of bed in the morning. My gut feeling is constantly telling me that doing stuff like attempting to leave the house or doing anything at all is a horrible idea and I'll feel awful doing it, because that's how my anxiety disorder works--everything feels awful and unsafe and scary and I better not do anything ever at all. Combined with my social anxiety, which can make even positive interactions with close friends who are good for me hugely scary, it means I just can't listen to my gut at all on this stuff, even when it's correct. (Because my gut just wants me to give into the anxiety, and one of the major things in therapy that I’m doing is learning ways to fight back against the part of me that tells me to just give in to the agoraphobia and fear and curl up in a ball in bed all day.)

And I think that's why it took me so long to break up with my bipolar alcoholic ex, because he would play off of this. Every time I was upset he’d tell me it was my anxiety disorder talking and it was all in my head, eventually convincing me that everything that went wrong in our relationship was my fault and I was always the one in the wrong. Unfortunately for a long time I totally believed this because I rely on others around me to be my reality checks, as I can’t trust myself to know what is a real fear and what is my anxiety talking again.

(I don’t blame my ex for the way he treated me—his actions were cruel and unacceptable, but I can understand from a distance the way that his addiction warped him and that none of what happened was my fault. No matter how hard I could have possibly tried to be the perfect girlfriend nothing would have ever been good enough because you can’t have a relationship with an addict who’s using, the substance will always get in the way. Wow, I think I should probably start up another thread about processing the aftermath of a relationship with an addict—I probably have a lot on that subject that needs to get out too…)

So yeah, I was wondering if anyone had any advice for how to not find myself in toxic relationships in the future given that I don’t feel like I can really trust my gut to know when something is wrong

_________________
Foster! It saves lives! And kittens! People will just give you kittens! For free!
avatar
Prajnaparamita

Posts : 404
Reputation : 234
Join date : 2015-02-05

View user profile

Back to top Go down

Re: Keep on finding myself in toxic relationships

Post by eselle28 on Fri Sep 11, 2015 2:49 pm

I think this is a wise way to process the end of a relationship! I also think that, while "trust your gut" can be very affirming to people whose guts say the right thing and whose conditioned response is to talk their gut out of its right response, the same advice can be useless to people like you and hurtful to people whose guts tend to tell them to seek out the most unhealthy and abusive people. There are a bunch of good book recommendations you'll find on Captain Awkward and other checklists if you google abusive relationships or toxic relationships, and if you're still unsure about what behaviors qualify then you might want to seek out those. That being said, my impression of you is that you know a lot of these things intellectually but struggle to see them when you're in the field. Does that sound right?

If so, I've done a list technique that I found helpful and that might at least be an interesting exercise for you. In the left-hand column, I listed general modes of behavior that I've found negative and that have been present in more than one of my relationships, with the names of the people who behaved these ways listed parenthetically. So that column went something like:


  • Gives little or no positive feedback about efforts I make in the relationship, but is resentful and eventually explodes if I don't make those efforts up to an expected standard. (Ex-husband, Ex-boyfriend 3, Ex-boyfriend 4, Father)
  • Expects a great deal of emotional support while in a variety of emotional states, but can only provide it in return if I'm completely calm and rational. (Ex-boyfriend 1, Ex-boyfriend 3, Former Friend)


On the right side, I made another list of traits that I'd found in more than one positive relationship, with the same parenthetical names. So, that included items like:


  • Willing to indulge me for at least a few minutes if I go off on a tangent, even if the subject isn't one that interests them by itself. (Friend 1, Friend 2, Mother)
  • Follows up requests for emotional support with expressions of gratitude and at least basic inquiries about me or attempts at making neutral conversation (Friend 1, Friend 2, Ex-boyfriend 2)


Once I had the list, I actually paid more attention to the items on the right and used them as green lights for whether I wanted to draw closer to someone. No green lights at all over a reasonable period of time was a signal that maybe the relationship shouldn't go any further than the acquaintance level. If it does and red flags come up more than just once, that's generally a signal to pull back a bit. For me it's more about recognizing patterns as to who is toxic to me and how the same emotional dynamics can repeat themselves but take slightly different forms, but for you it might also help you sort through your worries that it's just your anxiety talking to have a list of documented problems on hand.
avatar
eselle28
General Oversight Moderator

Posts : 1994
Reputation : 999
Join date : 2014-09-24

View user profile

Back to top Go down

Re: Keep on finding myself in toxic relationships

Post by Wondering on Fri Sep 11, 2015 3:01 pm

Are there any things that you would objectively consider red flags? Such that it wouldn't matter what your gut feeling is or what the other person says to explain it, just that this Thing that happened or was said is a red flag no matter what, and you don't need to interpret it? Taking the need to analyze or interpret out of the equation might help some.

My example is more physical than mental, but I have Type 1 diabetes, and as such, I have low sugar reactions fairly often. And when I'm low, I'm super defensive about not being low. I will argue, even with myself, that I'm not. But since my mental capacity, and sometimes even my lucidity, is compromised, I'm not actually the best judge of when I'm low or not. So, I have a few things that objectively I trust to mean I'm low and should test my blood sugar (the ultimate objective test), and then drink juice. One is if I'm seeing spots. Another is if I'm seeing double. Another is if my tongue feels fuzzy.

Would there be anything you could use as a standard to help you identify toxic people objectively and thus avoid getting in relationships with them?


Edit: I think eselle's way of identifying such green flag and red flag behaviors is a good one.

Wondering

Posts : 1114
Reputation : 435
Join date : 2014-10-01

View user profile

Back to top Go down

Re: Keep on finding myself in toxic relationships

Post by Enail on Fri Sep 11, 2015 3:46 pm

First off, I just want to say that, even if you can't trust your gut to steer you in the moment, you have recognized that those relationships were harmful to you, that the way they treated you is not okay, and that it was not your fault. So that's a good sign that you do have some good instincts in spite of your anxiety and the patterns you've experienced, and you just need to figure out how to access them more quickly and while working around the anxiety.

It sounds like you have friendships that you are confident are healthy and good for you, is that right? Maybe it would help to compare situations that gave you trouble in your toxic relationships with similar situations in your healthy friendships? How do safe friends treat you differently? How have the safe people responded when you've upset?  How do they approach it if they think your anxiety is having an effect on an interaction, and is that different in any way from how your ex approached it? You could also look to see if there are any differences in when or how your anxiety reacts in the good ones versus the bad ones, or how you feel around them in general, and that might help you identify cues you can use in your own reactions.
avatar
Enail
Admin

Posts : 3431
Reputation : 1708
Join date : 2014-09-22

View user profile

Back to top Go down

Re: Keep on finding myself in toxic relationships

Post by Prajnaparamita on Fri Sep 11, 2015 8:54 pm

eselle28 wrote: That being said, my impression of you is that you know a lot of these things intellectually but struggle to see them when you're in the field. Does that sound right?

That sounds sort of accurate—more likely I’d say that if a friend came to me describing a toxic relationship I’d be able to identify it for what it was and advise him/her to get out of it, but when it’s my own experience I’m not so sure. It’s just so hard not to doubt myself, because with my severe social anxiety sometimes I get in a mindset where I just assume that every social interaction is going to suck—so it’s clearly just normal that I spend time with this person and feel icky and awful afterwards, that’s the way it always feels, right?

Anyway, thanks everyone for the advice, definitely I agree that if gut feelings can’t serve as an accurate guide, identifying patterns is the next best thing. I’ve been mulling this over in my head all day ever since I read these replies, and here’s what I’ve been able to come up with so far:

--Good people are willing to make efforts to accommodate me
--Toxic people however get resentful when I make requests of them

For example one of the things that helps my free-floating anxiety is to have a clear plan ahead of time and stick to it. I don’t need anything exceptional, just a simple “Okay, let’s meet at this place at this time” and have it confirmed. With my good friends, they’re plenty willing to do this, as they know it will make life just a bit easier for me. However, my ex would get resentful of me asking to make clear plans and treated it as an unreasonable request. So I guess if the person is unwilling to accommodate some of the simple requests that other people in my life are willing to do that would be a red flag.

--Good people listen when I approach them with a conflict and concern and seek to make it better
--Toxic people shut down, get defensive or make it so I feel like I’m not able to approach them with my concerns at all

That’s all I can think of at the moment, though I’ll try to brainstorm this more

_________________
Foster! It saves lives! And kittens! People will just give you kittens! For free!
avatar
Prajnaparamita

Posts : 404
Reputation : 234
Join date : 2015-02-05

View user profile

Back to top Go down

Re: Keep on finding myself in toxic relationships

Post by celette482 on Mon Sep 14, 2015 7:20 am

Your friends can also act as a surrogate gut!
avatar
celette482

Posts : 168
Reputation : 138
Join date : 2014-10-22

View user profile

Back to top Go down

Re: Keep on finding myself in toxic relationships

Post by Sponsored content


Sponsored content


Back to top Go down

View previous topic View next topic Back to top


 
Permissions in this forum:
You cannot reply to topics in this forum