Why We Go Back to Toxic People
‘You’re blinded’ ‘You look awful.’ I knew this whole game of manipulation, resentment, lack of cohesiveness, controlled and impulsive behavior was taking a toll on me. I’d feel emotionally drained after every conversation. I made up my mind. This was it. I’d break it off this time. But every time I tried to do so, I was caught in this seemingly vicious cycle of guilt and self-doubt. Despite the constant comments I got from peers and despite knowing this wasn’t right for me, there was some sort of force that kept pulling me back to this relationship. Towards the end of walking away, I was hit by this ‘he’s changed’ notion.
Relationships are an integral part of our journey. They shape our lives, bring out the best in us, push us to be better people, and deep down we’re aware that whatever adversary comes our way or whatever life throws at us, we don’t have to face it alone. Be it a friend or your partner, letting go of someone toxic is more than arduous. What's worse is when you're in a toxic relationship, it becomes harder to view unforeseen red flags. And although they say ‘there’s plenty of fish in the sea,’ incessantly it’s these toxic relationships that we go back to. Although there must’ve been a perfectly valid reason to end the relationship, there’s often this fantasy we create in our minds which increases the desire to get back to that relationship.
As Dr. Erika Martinez, a psychologist frames it, “there’s still something left unresolved, or some additional lesson they needed to learn in that relationship. It's the safety and familiarity that they want. It’s fear of going back to the dating scene, being open and vulnerable in a new relationship, or being heartbroken in a new relationship,” she tells Elite Daily. Here are a couple of reasons why we keep going back to toxic relationships:
Fear of loneliness: Being with a partner or friend can establish some sort of emotional dependence with time. Subconsciously, we could have been trying to fill a void by being with that person and now that they’re gone we’ll have to figure out a way to do it ourselves. We’re scared of being alone and essentially, afraid of not being able to find someone who understands us the way they do.
You get used to that behavior: As time flies, we get accustomed to the lack of cohesiveness, dismissive and condescending behavior, and settle for minimal effort. We temporarily pacify ourselves by saying ‘maybe it's a rough patch’ or ‘maybe things will be different this time’- whatever keeps us going and whatever justifies our actions. To an extent that we could even tolerate abuse. However you put it, abuse is never the solution and is never acceptable. It could commence with verbal insults and eventually escalate to physical abuse. Abuse can be in the form of physical, sexual, and emotional. Emotional abuse is especially common in the case of a narcissist.
Familiarity: One of the prime reasons for going back to a toxic person is the comfort that familiarity gives you. A recent survey conducted by Kiney Institute revealed how 1 in 5 people reached out to their exes since the beginning of lockdown, whilst going through a rough patch, it's our human tendency to run back to something familiar. And this being someone you’ve opened up to, been vulnerable in front of; it’s hard to label them as toxic and unsafe. Amidst the overwhelming uncertainties of life, these relationships do serve as a comfort point.
We assume they have changed: A toxic relationship is not only characterized by contempt, apathy, insecurity, resentment, or other related negative emotions. There are instances where one experiences moments of love, reassurance, and contentment. And for the sake of experiencing the compassionate, nurturing, and empathetic side of them that shows up occasionally, you let yourself get trampled over and blinded by all the red flags, in the hope that they change someday. You imagine the future with the qualities of the person that could have been, rather than accepting it for what it is. We get caught up in a toxic and vicious cycle known as intermittent reinforcement. You have good moments where your emotional needs are met. This is followed by a moment of withdrawal due to callous and cruel patterns. Post mistreatment one observes sporadic 'bread crumbs' of affection. And you refuse to withdraw from this relationship for the good parts it seems to promise. It’s hard to break out of this cycle and recognise its implications. Essentially, being firm and setting clear boundaries can help you stand your ground and save you from manipulation.
Refusion to start from scratch: Our fear of starting over with someone brand new could keep us from withdrawing from our ongoing relationship. I mean, no doubt it is daunting. Withdrawing from a relationship where you’ve invested a great deal of time and effort into and given your everything isn't the best feeling. After a certain point, we do take for granted how our partner tolerates our foibles, knows just what would elevate our mood, and recognises our quirks with just one look or hearing our tone. Of course, it does deserve a fair chance to rethink this. But at the cost of what?
Low self-esteem: We’re all people, pleasers, by nature and sometimes it’s so hard to accept that we too deserve to be happy. More often than not, a sense of low self-esteem sets in rather subtly. After the mistreatment, it is ingrained in some parts of our minds that we deserve this kind of treatment or we’re not meant to be happy. Low self-esteem and self-worth can be detrimental because you settle for the bare minimum, and the emotional needs that are met of yours, helps you temporarily escape from your mundane and monotonous life. The famous line from Perks of Being a Wallflower beautifully summarizes this behavior- ‘‘we accept the love we think we deserve.”
Although the toxic people in our lives may not realize their toxicity and callous patterns, be mindful. It may not be the simplest thing to do, but let go of the hurt, pain, and resentment. Not because they deserve it but because you owe that to yourself. You deserve that peace of mind. And for what it’s worth, it’s probably time to let go. Prioritizing yourself takes precedence here.
Alicia Dias is a youngster currently pursuing Psychology and is based in India. She has a deep interest in Behavioural Science and aspires to be a Counselling psychologist. Academics aside, she is also a Western Classical pianist and has an immense love for music. She loves reading, is a great listener, and loves hugs!