Why do we stay in toxic relationships and why might our childhoods matter?

Who has been stuck in a toxic relationship and told to walk away by well meaning friends and family? As if it was as easy as that! And whilst you get fed up with them saying it, you sense their irritation when you tell them about yet another incident of your partner’s bad behaviour and they just can’t understand why you put up with it.

Alternatively, you may have friends and family who, through perhaps cultural, traditional or religious views, believe you should put up with it and try harder to make things work. I am not, in this post, discussing the merits of trying to stay together which have value in some circumstances, this is about why we stay in relationships when we really should go. There are also times when we cannot leave through fear of our safety, again another post.

Exploring childhood experiences can help us to gain perspective. I believe my childhood experiences caused me to be stuck in a bad relationship for many years. What counts as toxic behaviour? Cheating, violence, aggression, financial control, coercive behaviour including sexual, refusing to communicate for long periods of time, punishments, isolating behaviour, disrespect in front of others, disrespect to you as a person and lack of care resulting in poor mental and physical wellbeing…

Of course as well as past experience, personality also has a role to play. If parents are constantly arguing and are abusive to each other a child may grow up  believing in some sense that that is normal behaviour and thus be less shocked if a partner begins to act in an abusive way.

If a parent has extremes of mood and inconsistent discipline, a child may develop a strategy of constantly trying to please them. This can be so ingrained that as an adult they constantly try to please people at the extent of their own wellbeing. Pleasing people is fine if it is appreciated, returned and within reasonable boundaries of time, money, energy and self respect.

Sometimes any effort that a child makes to feel good about themselves is seen as ‘cocky’ by a parent who then ‘puts them down’. Therefore the child can grow up believing they didn’t deserve anything better than the partner they get. If that partner is abusive they may convince their victim that if they leave the relationship it is them that is at fault. Whilst we shouldn’t be a selfish person, we must take care of our wellbeing and happiness.

The young person that lived with a controlling parent may not grow up with the self confidence to seek professional help.

Sometimes on parent will put up with the other’s angry and violent behaviour because they want a ‘quiet life’ and can’t face the issues around separation. Sometimes due to embarrassment around the issue of domestic abuse, the problems are not addressed. The child then may not learn how to enforce their own boundaries and deal with bullying behaviour in an assertive way. They may  be compliant to  coercive behaviour in order to avoid an angry outburst. It is a bullying relationship when you are constantly afraid to say or do something for fear of your partner’s reaction (walking on eggshells).

Being a forgiving and optimistic person may allow forgiveness of  bad behaviour and hope that they would change. When the abusive person is in a good mood, the victim is hooked in again causing a ‘cycle of abuse’.

Where there have been problems of lack of love or bonding as a child, some people form strong attachments to people even if that person is bad for them. This makes it emotionally difficult to break away. Often this is made worse by a mistaken belief that their partner needs them.

An abusive partner may take advantage of  self doubt, lack of self esteem and kind nature in their victim by telling them that they are the one being horrible, disloyal, cowardly, a bad parent, mentally unstable. That their victim won’t cope without them, they can’t live without their victim and that if they leave, they will destroy everyones’ lives and any fallout will be their responsibility.’ Sometimes people doubt they will ever meet anyone else or succeed on their own and they lose the impetus to create the life they really want.

If a relationship can be worked on to improve, that’s great, but when your relationship is destroying you, you probably know deep down it’s time to go.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.