I know I can't take one more step toward you
'Cause all that's waiting is regret
Christina Perri’s poetic words may be ringing some bells for many of you. They say relationships require hard work, but sometimes it’s more than hard work….it’s a constant cycle of pain and regret, over and over again.
Dr. Lillian Glass, world renowned Human Behavior, Communication, and Body Language Expert defines a toxic relationship as, “A relationship that is constantly draining for the people in it, where there's disrespect and no cohesiveness, and the negatives outweigh the positives.”
If you are in a relationship like that, you are not alone. I am sure some part of you has heard the sirens, has promised to yourself that you won't go back, and has sworn to your friends that the relationship is over. And then, not too long after, you find that you’ve fallen down the same rabbit hole again. Your friends roll their eyes, wait for the inevitable end and ask you - why do you go back to the same toxic people?
You end up asking yourself why do I keep going back to the same toxic relationship? Or the bigger question - why do so many people keep going back to the toxic relationship?
A survey conducted by TODAY reported that one in three people is afraid of ending up alone. It is fundamental to human beings in the world to seek companionship. The CEO perched atop the thirtieth floor and the teenage girl drawing hearts on her notebook share one thing in common, they both want love. But it’s more than the passion or the rush, they both want a partnership. They are terrified of spending their days alone. And that fear can make us compromise and drive us back to toxic people. No wonder people say - misery loves company.
Picture this. You got your dream job that you have been working towards for years. But, it means leaving your home to settle across the globe. Alone. Does that make you nervous? Well, venturing into unfamiliar territory will certainly make many people nervous due to fear of uncertainty. I was terrified too.
The thing is, we are all very susceptible to being in the dangerous comfort zone. Similarly, dating new people and putting yourself out there is hard. It can be awkward and stressful, but it is worth the effort. Occasionally, our troubled pasts can also be the reason we slip into destructive patterns. It is advisable to seek professional help in those situations.
Have you ever found yourself reminiscing about a past relationship - the long drives, the passionate dates, the good times? Have you forgotten the loud arguments, the days that passed without speaking, and the slammed doors?
Goodbyes make us see the world with rose-tinted glasses. You only remember the laughs with your coworkers at the job you hated or your favorite diner in the town you could not wait to leave. The haze can make you forget the emotional abuse and the terrible nights.
Low self-esteem is a challenge many of us trudge through our life with. Often, that can spill into our relationships, especially when we start deriving self-worth from a toxic partner. We get caught in a trap of making ourselves smaller to fit their needs. One of my favorite movies, The Perks of Being a Wallflower had a line that spoke volumes - ‘We accept the love we think we deserve’. It is not uncommon to develop Stockholm syndrome and start favoring an abusive partner. When you are being gaslit by the person closest to you, you start believing it. When they’re telling you, you’re too loud to be taken to parties or too dramatic to reason with, you think they are right. And when they ask you to be softer and more passive, you think they want what is best for you.
If you feel like it's time to step off that hamster wheel and move forward, here are some small steps to help you start.
The first step to change is always - identifying the problem. We can’t fix a problem if we don’t know what’s wrong. If all the things I mentioned earlier seem remotely familiar, there is a chance you may be entrenched in an unhealthy relationship or even a toxic relationship.
Next step is deciding you want to get out of it. Once you’ve crossed those bridges - and almost everyone does it when they feel ready (and that is how it should be).
The last step is to seek help. And help can manifest in different ways. Whether it’s talking to your parents, siblings, a trusted friend, a therapist, or journaling, listening to a relatable podcast etc. Having a strong support system in place is important. Helping others help you is important to create a sense of safety and support. Martin Rutte said it most beautifully, ‘you have to do it by yourself, but you can’t do it alone.'
I read somewhere that people generally don’t change when they have options, they change when they have no other option. This, I believe, applies to people in toxic relationships. Generally people are reluctant to quit toxic relationships until they feel that they have some option available to make the relationship work - even if it means taking a hit on their self-esteem and self-confidence. People quit toxic relationships largely when they feel that they have tried every tool in their toolkit and nothing seems to work and, living in the relationship doesn’t seem a viable option.
An Ipsos survey in Canada showed that about 40 percent of people have low self-esteem or struggle in social situations. Too many of us are plagued by low self-worth when we deserve better. There are a myriad of ways to improve self-esteem, but the key is finding what works for you. You can try self-help books, affirmation exercises, and talking to others. I know people who would stand in front of the mirror for a few minutes every morning and list all his good qualities. And it works! Surrounding yourself with people who bring out the best in you is a good way to start.
While that sounds like a postcard slogan, it can be life-changing. Contrary to the popular saying, old isn’t always gold. Sometimes something new is what is needed. Sometimes, getting out of that small town, leaving a dead-end job, or moving on from an abusive relationship is a blessing in disguise - it may not seem like it at the moment. The Dalai Lama XIV once said, “an open heart is an open mind”. Open mind allows us to think differently and an open heart allows us to feel differently. Dalai Lama beautifully summarized the journey of wiser living in 7 words. Life will throw curveballs. Very relatable quote from Dr. Meredith Grey of Grey’s anatomy, “ At some point you have to make a decision. Boundaries don't keep other people out, they fence you in. Life is messy. That's how we're made…….Here's what I know: if you're willing to take a chance... the view from the other side... is spectacular.”
The songs and movies don’t always translate into reality, but they got one thing right. Any relationship shouldn’t be the thief of joy, it shouldn’t make you cry more than you laugh, and it definitely shouldn’t make you a smaller version of yourself.
At the end of the day, the ONLY person you always have to live with is yourself. If you don’t respect yourself, nobody else will.
At Bloom Clinical Care Counseling and Therapy Services, we are Social Workers registered with the OCSWSSW. We have 25+ years of experience in supporting people experiencing relationship issues, grief & bereavement, depression, anxiety, guilt, anger, low self-esteem, stress, and other mental health challenges. We do not require any referrals and are always welcoming new clients.
If you are looking for therapists near you in Toronto, Bloom Clinical Care is located at 1200 Markham Road, Suite 306C, M1H 3C3. We also offer virtual therapy options by phone or video call across Ontario. Help is available, and we may be able to help
Let us help you, help yourself.