5 Questions to Ask Yourself If You Easily Get Trapped in Toxic Relationships
You meet someone. You connect and fall deeply. You give your all to them, constantly vying for their love and attention, but it seems never to be reciprocal. You feel lonely, neglected, and your anxiety heightens with each passing day. You cry alone. You beg and fight for them just to care. You try harder, hoping that it will make them come around. You love them harder, forgetting to love yourself first. You decide to change yourself, trying to convince yourself that you must be the issue. Weeks, months, and years go by before you realize how much you have lost yourself. You are left with nothing but a shell of who you once were; a tattered, worn and defeated shell void of peace and filled with fear, doubt, negativity, and anxiety. Unfortunately, this is a story many of us know all too well. It is a story that often replays in many of our lives until we realize it’s time to break the cycle before it’s too late. Life seems to become a repetitive cycle of holding a heart full of pain, crying, and wondering why this keeps happening to you.
The question that we always seem to ask is, “How did we get here in the first place?”
The answer is relative. It is profoundly complex yet incredibly simple at the same time. You must go within and self-reflect to find it, but it is as simple as this: you are the master of your universe. It is something within us, usually an unhealed trauma or neglected self-worth, that leads us to seek out unhealthy partners.
If you begin to reflect on the beginning stages of a relationship that has gone sour, there are always red flags that lust concealed, or we just chose to ignore in hopes of giving them the benefit of the doubt.
When I was younger, I took my unhealed wounds of never being loved by parents and projected the need to make someone proud and love me onto every potential partner that I had. I would throw my entire being into being devoted to them and fulfilling their every need. I was desperate to feel loved and would let them bleed my dry in my quest to fill that void. I found myself consistently in the same scenarios — crying, alone on the floor, and wondering why this is happening to me again. I finally had enough and spent a lot of time digging deep and examining myself and my actions. It was uncomfortable, but it was then that I discovered that I was simply in a state of self-loathing without even realizing it. I was creating the energy of desperation in the sense that I was desperate to be loved and quickly. I was also adding fear as I was always afraid of being abandoned, not being good enough, or never knowing what it felt like to be loved. I was walking around the world nursing my inner child’s wounds instead of healing them, and that energy was being projected out to everyone I encountered. It is incredible how much energy we store in our subconscious and the intense effect it can have on our outer world. I realized that I wasn’t taking care of myself. I was losing myself in every encounter as I tried to morph into every potential partner’s perfect or ideal partner. I wasn’t authentic, and in turn, that also created many issues as I was not ever letting anyone get to know the real me. I was only showing them the version of myself that I thought they wanted to see.
There can be a lot of shame in this plight, especially if you are partnering with narcissists. Narcissists operate by both covert and overt attacks on your psyche that are meant to devalue you and harm your self-esteem. When you are entering into a relationship already wounded and with low self-esteem, a narcissist will capitalize on those weaknesses and use them against you. This dynamic often leaves the loving partner feeling ashamed and as if something is inherently wrong with them. When this happens, we usually stay in these toxic partnerships for far too long, as we attempt to change ourselves and work harder to attain their love. I’ve been there myself, and I stayed far too many years, wishing, hoping, begging, and fighting for it to change. But here’s the thing: if you must continually fight for fundamental human rights in your relationships such as showing care, concern, or interest, you are not in a healthy partnership. Too often, we convince ourselves that love should hurt and that if it isn’t hard, it isn’t real. It’s one of the most dangerous collective societal standards, in my opinion, because it keeps people from their life purpose and reaching their full potential, both outwardly and inwardly.
So how do we break this cycle?
It takes self-discipline and a lot of self-awareness and realization, but it’s very attainable. Here are five questions you can start asking yourself immediately and at the start of every potential partnership. These questions will help to break the cycle of toxic and unhealthy connections and allow you to put yourself, your desires, and your needs first.
1. Ask yourself: Why am I attracted to this person?
Writing is powerful. Write down the question and list all the reasons why you feel that you are so attracted to someone. List all the reasons why you think that they are the right partner for you and why you want to be with them. Sift through these answers and question every single one. Are your answers primarily focusing on their appearance or what you assume they can give you? If you discover your feelings are based on assumptions of what you want it to be and less of what they have shown in their actions, it is time to stop and reevaluate.
2. Are you changing yourself in any way to be more appealing to them?
Do you find yourself suddenly interested in everything they are, even though you held no interest previously? Are you trying to get into all the same music and hobbies they have, in hopes of being their ideal partner? Take a close look at your actions and behaviors when you are around someone because they are very telling. You should not ever have to change who you are in any capacity when you partner with someone. Of course, it is OK to want to engage in something new if it genuinely interests you; however, there seems to be a pattern of morphing into our partnership with those of us who engage in unhealthy relationships. If you can stop yourself in this process, even if it is only happening on a subconscious level, you will begin to take back control of your life and your heart. Excessive change of your core values likes and dislikes to be more like your partner is a surefire sign that you are not only on the wrong path in your search for love but also in a very unhealthy place in your relationship. It is OK to be your authentic self, even if you feel that it is not desirable enough. After all, do you want to short-change yourself like that for the rest of your life and never be able to feel free enough to be who you are and not who you think they want instead? It may take some time, but it will be well worth it when you attract people into your life who accept you for everything you already are, not a hologram of ideals.
3. Are you overusing sex to gain love and attention, even if unintentionally?
Do you find yourself in relationships where you feel as if sex is the only means to captivate their attention? Sex is essential, and physical chemistry is a critical factor in healthy, fulfilling partnerships; however, it is often overused to blur the lines between lust and love. We all enjoy sex differently and have different levels of drive and desire. However, if you find yourself in a situation where it seems that the only time you get love or attention is through sex, it is a huge red flag that you are not with the right person. Someone who is genuinely interested and into you will give you attention freely, without conditions. They are there because they want to be there, not because of what they can get from you. Whether it is your physical attraction, sex, sexual chemistry, or your willingness to please their every desire, it is never an acceptable foundation for a healthy partnership. Evaluate your situation for balance. Is it mostly about sex and physical attraction, or is there a healthy balance between all the fundamental parts that make up a healthy relationship?
4. Do you truly love yourself?
When we struggle with insecurities, it can be difficult to reach a point of loving ourselves as we are. This often translates into us accepting less than what we are worth because we do not believe ourselves to deserve any better. It isn’t always apparent that we are doing this because the issues are causing this to sit deep in our subconscious. I realized I was attracting people into my life who wanted to treat me the same way I was already treating myself. The most significant step in the journey to finding a genuine connection is to realize and accept that you are only allowing into your life what you are already allowing yourself to do in your internal word and mind. Carrying around hatred for things about yourself manifests in your outer world in the people and situations that arise around you. If you love yourself fully and deeply, you would never accept anything less from a partner. While it is an uncomfortable and often messy journey, taking the time to sit with yourself and figure out where you are not honoring who you are is a crucial step in finding the love you want. When we see and name the things we don’t like about ourselves, we can then begin to explore a path to acceptance and fully honoring every part of who we are. Therapy is a beautiful tool to use to get to the point of fully loving yourself as well.
5. Are you trading your joy for the protection of your fantasy?
Have you ever found yourself feeling like you are missing who you used to be or feeling like you aren’t experiencing life in the way that you want to? This is usually because joy is absent when we give too much of ourselves in relationships. We offer everything we have and continuously try to make things work, all to protect the fantasy of the destination of what it could be. It starts slowly. You begin to stop doing the things you once loved to do in favor of doing what they want to do. Your goals, dreams, and plans fall by the wayside, often unintentionally. You absorb their goals and dreams and expend all your energy being their cheerleader and taking care of them. We usually do this because we have an end goal of happily ever after with them. Without even realizing it, we chase this outcome and do whatever it takes to get there. This manifests in people-pleasing — we go to whatever lengths we need to keep our partner happy and keep the peace. We feel that if we do more, we will get more from an unhealthy partner. It never ends well. What is your ideal partnership? What is your happy ending? Keep in mind that all relationships have their ups and downs, but a healthy connection with a solid foundation will be able to navigate those without breaking each other in the process. Once you have a clear picture of what it is that would fulfill you, ask yourself how often you are finding that you give away pieces of yourself to obtain it. Are you hiding parts of yourself or changing parts of yourself when you meet someone you like, just in hopes of getting them to like you more? That is a prevalent yet unhealthy practice that plays a significant role in the relationship issues we face. It is imperative to enter a relationship with transparency into who you are, as you are at that moment. When you love from a place of honesty and commit to only accepting love from a place of honesty, you will be able to weed out toxic people and relationships before they even have a chance to do any damage to your life or psyche. What is loving from a place of honesty? It is merely being okay with exactly who you are and not trying to be someone else in hopes of obtaining love and compassion. Remember, there isn’t a single person who can genuinely love you if you are not allowing them to see your authentic self.
Authenticity, self-love, self-acceptance, and believing that you deserve all the love that you desire and also give, are the keys to ending the cycle of bad relationships and honoring yourself.
You may have to be alone for a while, and that is a possibility that you must accept. Learning to navigate through being single and finding yourself in the process is a much more fulfilling and rewarding experience than continually being in toxic and unhealthy relationships, back to back. Give yourself a break and give yourself some time to heal between prospects; to grow and to evolve into the beautiful being you are that deserves all the compassion, kindness, and love that you have to offer to someone else. You deserve it just as much as anyone else. Love yourself, honor yourself, practice deep self-awareness, and raise your standards for what you accept into your world. Most importantly, give yourself grace. We all come with our baggage, and when we learn that others’ behaviors towards us have more to do with their internal struggles, we open the door to allowing real, genuine and mutual connection in our lives — whether it’s romantic partnership or friendship.
Getty image by LinaDes