Why is letting go of toxic people so difficult? Everybody seems to be giving you advice such as "They are out of your life now, just forget them and carry on," or "They are bad for you, why are you giving them so much attention?" or even, "Why would you stay in such a bad relationship? Just leave!!" It makes it seem like it's all your problem.
If you are, or have been, in a controlling, abusive relationship, you know that it's impossible to just stop thinking about the other person and move forward as if it's all over.
So why is it more difficult to get away from a toxic person than it is to leave a normal relationship? In order to understand why, we have to look at the dynamics of toxic relationships.
Toxic relationships are ones in which there is a power imbalance. This is deliberately set up by the manipulator from the very start.
Very briefly, the toxic person hides their true nature and pretends to be the ideal partner. They offer their target exactly what the target wants, a job, an intimate relationship, an education, friendship, whatever. The manipulator makes the target feel special, unique, cared for and even loved.
Then, when the target commits to the relationship, the manipulator begins to put conditions on their time and attention. The target obviously wants the nice times to continue so they start changing their behavior to keep the manipulator happy.
At this stage, the target does not think of the new partner as a manipulator, of course. They believe they have met somebody fantastic in their lives, somebody who understands them in a way no one else does. Someone with whom it makes sense to get involved, because there seems to be so many advantages to the relationship. What's not to like?!
As I mentioned, the manipulator begins to let it be known what they like, what they don't like, what they want, what they don't want, and so on. Little by little the victim (the target has now become a victim) begins to change what they say and do, without realizing what is going on. Step by step the victim's ideas, perceptions and beliefs are changed with a lot of emotional manipulation.
If you change someone's thoughts, beliefs, decision-making, behaviors and values, then basically you have changed their personality, right? This is exactly what happens in toxic relationships. The victim has a false personality, a pseudopersonality, imposed on them without their knowledge or consent. They don't even suspect it. "But my boyfriend loves me, he would never do anything so drastic to me!"
This is why friends and family members say that they no longer recognize the victim in a toxic relationship or in someone who has been recruited into a cult. The victims themselves often report that they no longer know who they are or they express it saying that they feel that they lost themselves in the relationship, or that they were so tied up with the abuser that they felt like they no longer existed as an independent person.
Some important features of the pseudopersonality include:
You can read more about these ideas in other articles on this site.
I want to focus here on the dependency.
People will come up with all sorts of reasons why they need to stay in contact with the abuser to try and justify why they are doing it, because they need to understand why they would do such a thing when a part of them wants to leave.
However, rarely do they recognize that a major factor in staying in the relationship is the dependency, because people don't even consider this. On the list of possible reasons for staying, the dependency does not appear because it is not familiar territory for most people. They do not understand mind control and coercion.
It is also very difficult for people to accept this idea, too. No one wants to think that they are dependent on another, that their decisions are being made for them and they have basically lost all autonomy. Apart from the shame and embarrassment, a major trick in mind control is that the victims believe that they are absolutely making their own decisions and will aggressively defend this idea. Just tell someone that you think they are in a cult or an abusive relationship and watch their reaction!!
It often takes a while for people to get their head around the idea that they are dependent on the abuser.
This dependency explains why people stay in abusive situations for so long, why battered wives will go back to their physically abusive husbands, and why it's not possible to simply forget an abusive relationship and carry on as if it never happened.
When the victim is away from the abuser, they are programmed to return. When an abuser leaves the relationship or abandons the victim, it can be horrific for the victim. They will often feel so bad that they will do anything to get the abuser back to alleviate the awfulness that they are experiencing.
A nasty tactic of the abuser is to threaten to finish the relationship. For example, "If you are going to continue to do that, I don't know if I can continue with you..." Something like this, because they are aware of of the dependency of the victim on the abuser, is used deliberately by the abuser to get the vicim back in line.
A particularly nasty version of this is when the victim talks of leaving the relationship and the abuser makes similar vague statements about committing suicide. Of course, the victim is horrified, not only at the thought of losing the person, but also the possibility that they might be responsible for someone taking their own life. Of course, the manipulator does not mean a word of what they say. (Remember, professional liars!) And even if there are 'attempted suicides', even a cursory inspection will reveal that there was at no point any real risk whatsoever to the abuser.
This dependency on the toxic person is the core of the problem in actually 'letting go of toxic people'. So it's not actually about letting go of anything, it becomes about actively undoing the dependency by getting rid of the pseudopersonality. So how do you do that??
The important thing is to learn what was done to you. How specifically was the pseudopersonality created? What mind control techniques were used against you?
What do you believe about the relationship? What do you believe about the abuser? Which of these beliefs are not actually true?
This last question is fundamental. It is also the most difficult one to answer because if you thought something was a lie from the beginning, you wouldn't accept it. The problem is that the abuser is a practiced liar and you didn't know about it. You were tricked. You were led to accept and believe all sorts of things and because your thinking was distorted as well, it becomes very complicated to separate out the lies from the truth. The abuser basically created a false reality and forced you to live in it. You were living under a cascade of lies every day, whether you realized it or not.
Step by step you need to learn about mind control, the tactics that were used against you and why those ones were chosen for you. You must understand the particular effects of these techniques on you and how they changed your perceptions and your beliefs. In this way, the tactics lose their effect, you have a choice in how you respond to them and the pseudopersonality disappears, along with that pesky dependency!
Information about the abusers themselves is vitally important. What drives them? Are they insecure or manipulative? What are their priorities? Do they know what they are doing? Do they know the difference between right and wrong? How can people be so cruel to their partners?
The answers to these and other questions have to be crystal clear in your mind in order to fully recover.
You can read more about psychopaths, sociopaths and narcissists, help for victims of psychopaths, getting rid of toxic people, how to leave an abusive relationship and what works and what doesn't in getting over an abusive relationship.
Would you like to talk to someone about your situation?
If you think you are or have been in a cult or a destructive relationship, or a friend or family member might be in a cult and you want to talk to someone, send me a message on the Contact page and we can arrange to talk. All communication will be treated in the strictest confidence.
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