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Toxic Relationship Patterns – 5 Steps to Breaking-Free of Toxic Patterns, Healing & Restoring Balance, 4 of 4


If you are in a relationship that is negatively impacting your emotional, mental, or physical health, hurting others you love, or compromising your inner values, you are likely in a toxic relationship – and addictive neural patterns are in control.

If you have not already, take time to reflect on the dynamics, and to consider what you can and cannot do – that would allow you to break free of their control, and to take charge of your emotional response, so that your mind and body may restore balance, and let healing begin.

In Part 1 of this series, we identified five toxic patterns partners get stuck in that activate one another’s protective-response patterns. In Part 2, we looked at the neuroscience beneath the emotional command circuits that destabilize each partner’s inner sense of emotional safety in relation to the other. We then touched on key factors that affect relational balance in Part 3, and considered the first step partners can take – cultivating awareness of one another’s triggers – to break free of the toxic patterns and restore balance in your lives.

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Toxic Relationship Patterns – 5 Steps to Breaking-Free of Toxic Patterns, Healing & Restoring Balance, 4 of 4

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  1. While I find most of these insights valid and more useful than most of what is written about relationships these days, I don’t think there is such a thing as “healthy” anger.
    Thank you for a great series of articles.

    • Thanks for stopping by to share your thoughts, Roxanne. You are not alone in thinking “there is no such thing as healthy anger.” Anger is not a popular emotion, perhaps rightly so, considering that the products of “out of control anger” have been the cause of much suffering. Anger when regulated however is a key emotion, that tells us we don’t like something. Studies show low levels of anger produce just enough of the stress hormone cortisol to jump start us into thinking more clearly, and taking action. So it’s not the emotion that harms per se, rather it’s intensity, and the ability of each to regulate it and express it in ways that do not activate our body’s stress response, which takes control of our brain and body. In a sense, all upsetting emotions can useful feedback, a bit like road signs, that tell us where we are in relation to where we want to be. We just need to learn to interpret, understand them. Thanks for commenting!

      • Thanks for the articles, The insight into triggers and how we get into and out of the dysfunctional patters is very well explained. Better than most experts who simply say “do this and don’t do that” These habbits are hard to break. For some people facing up to our dysfunctional patterns is a painful experience. As far as anger is concerned, The problems of rage are immediate and obvious, the problems created by supressed anger are insidious and just as damaging to relationships in the long term. I found out too late that my wife resented me for some behaviours of mine fifteen years ago around not helping with the kids enough as babies. She carried that burden for so long that it gradually destroyed her affection for me. She began to point out all sorts of trivial little annoyances that bugged her that were just symptoms of resentment rather than causes. I wish we had dealt with the stuff as it was occuring. She did tell me back then that she did not like conflict. I wish I had the sensitivity to read her moods and draw out what was bugging her. A little well stated anger would have served to put the right amount of importance on what was bugging her. It would have been honest. We tried to resolve our differences with help, but bringing the spark back after long simmering resentment was not possible.

        Now I am looking for ways to keep my future relationship(s) satisfying. Thanks.

  2. You are brilliant

  3. Thank you for such an interesting and informative article. I’ve very recently realized that I’m in a toxic relationship, and my world was turned upside down when I was told that my role isn’t to try to fix everything. So, this is my question: If I’ve realized I’m toxic, and I’m not supposed to fix things, how do I get my husband on board with trying to detoxify us? I’ve come to realize that I’m “the drainer,” I’m needy and I make everything about me and I suck the life out of my husband. He’s “the blamer” and “the discounter” combined. Not only is everything my fault, but he challenges anything I say, usually with petty insults. So… how on earth do I manage that? You mentioned how to control moods and create limits on language, but I’m on the receiving end of it, and I’ve never been successful in getting him to stop,

    • I understand your dilemma. My husband also put a stop to any attempt to communicate about concerns, problems, issues etc. I tried the suggested methods of stating ” I feel angry that ….” As soon as the word “you” was added, it became an argument over what happened and whether anything happened, which degenerated into denial, blaming, power-plays, invalidation and finally, refusal to talk at all, often for weeks at a time. If someone isn’t willing to even allow you to have your own perceptions of a situation, let alone the feelings associated with it, there is no discussion regardless of how it’s phrased. The argument becomes about reality and whose reality is legitimate. I gave up after years of failure to communicate with someone who can’t stand the idea that someone isn’t happy with his behavior. And now I am leaving and hope never to do it this way again.

  4. I am just now reading this article. Very good. I have been in counseling. I know that my thinking as you say is where to start and have attempted. But how do I get my partner to help with this. He has a lot of anger issues. My response is very important. If I try to remain calm and not retaliate he just doubles up on the verbal abuse. Yelling,thowing things, demeaning…just a full blown temper tantrum. If I do not fight back ..he says that I am deflecting… the whole thing makes me tired… Suggestions.

    • Would you say he’s trying to force you back into the old, unhealthy pattern, where he feels in control?

  5. Wonderful article, I appreciate the effort that was put into putting all that information together. I am left with a similar question to a comment above mine. I realise I am part of the probem. I actually have allways acknowledged that I have a short temper and have had issues with neglect in the past, but how do I convince my partner that he is equally responsible for our arguments?Ive shown him this article and he says it all sounds like me and he never does anything wrong. EVER. He is 100% posotive that he should not change anythig about himself as he is who he is and I can take it as a whole or leave it…. i dont want to leave it, but i dont feel respected. What can I say?

    • Hi Stephi, and thanks for commenting and your interest in my article. From what you describe, a less direct approach than you’re taking would be more helpful. (Trying to get him to agree that he’s wrong and you’re right will not work — and your insistence will only rigidify your and his position.) It helps to think of this as a “mind game” that partners who do not want to change or make commitments play. Your partner absolutely (or 99.999%) “knows” what you’re saying is true to some degree, however, that’s not the point or “prize” he’s after. The point of the game is to keep you spinning your wheels, working hard, doubting yourself, i.e., getting you to believe that he “believes” he “never” does anything wrong etc. It’s also a form of passive aggression.

      Be careful to take care of yourself and protect your mind and happiness. The solution is to take your focus off trying to explain and change him, and put your energies on taking care of yourself, looking inside to clarify what you want and do not want in a relationship.

      Truthfully speaking, a relationship can only thrive with two persons working on it. At best, your hard work will keep it “surviving” but barely alive, with two persons increasingly disconnect and just going through the motions. And stagnant relationships do not promote the growth of either person (they are also common).

      Face this reality head on. Keep reminding yourself to do your part, and to stop working so hard and let go of doing his. These type of conversations also use a lot of your energy and can be the cause of suffering.

      If you have not read articles on the topics of “codependency” and “healthy love” relationships, consider doing so. I’ve also posted a couple of links to articles I’ve written below. Thanks again for stopping by!

      http://blogs.psychcentral.com/relationships/2011/11/the-neuroscience-of-genuine-love-and-what-love-quotes-say/ rel=”nofollow”>”>The Neuroscience of ‘Genuine’ Love — And What Love Quotes Say!

      http://blogs.psychcentral.com/relationships/2013/04/20-indicators-for-co-dependency-or-co-addiction/ rel=”nofollow”>”>20 Indicators for Co-Dependency or Co-Addiction

  6. This series is very informative. A lot of food for thought. I have a question for Dr. Staik:

    What do you suggest when one is in a toxic relationship with a spouse who wants to scapegoat the other and refuses to work on changing inflexible toxic patterns. I can’t reconcile the suggestion that a person should work on him/her self without regard for the very real daily interactions that occur between spouses. The best metaphor I can think of is that of trying to build a plane in the air. The situation will remain toxic if only one person is willing to do the difficult work of altering the dynamic. It seems to me that such single-handedness results in the detachment and eventual disconnection of the person who modifies and controls their emotions. Why would they want to remain in a relationship with someone who prefers to maintain the status quo? I’d love to know your thoughts. Thanks!.

    • Thanks for commenting, CJ, as with your comment on my article on Pornography you ask several good questions.

      At some point, because you suspect your partner has narcissistic traits (as well as an addiction to porn), consider also asking yourself the following question: “What is it going to take for you see that your partner is likely in such a sick state of mind that he only “needs” someone who agrees to satisfy his neediness to have you as a possession and punching bag” — an addictive craving to feel “superior” as “proof” of his feeling self-worth — and also that you cannot change this, because even a professional cannot who’s trained cannot “help” him unless he miraculously wants to change?”

      My suggestion is that you seek regular professional help and start your own healing; I also quote below my reply to your comment on my other article (on pornography):

      “The best thing loved ones can do for a narcissist is to leave, however in a loving way, with a loving message that says: “I’m leaving because I care too much about you AND myself AND our relationship to stand by and just watch you slowly destroy yourself. You need help, and it won’t be easy and it will take a long time.” It’s the best chance that they’ll wake up from their own nightmare. My recommendation, CJ, is to get and stay in therapy to strengthen and build your own core authentic presence in your own life, and a human being who matters regardless that a partner is in a sick state of mind that they cannot SEE how much you do.”

      Thanks again for writing, best wishes for courage, strength and a well deserved gift to yourself: embarking on a healing journey.

  7. Thank you for this article. Very concise and thorough.

    I’ve lived with an participated in this dynamic since early childhood and finally got help at 50, six years ago, to heal and become more conscious.

    In my experience, a core lesson of healing is the simple phrase “my work is with me”. If a partner is truly committed to healing and accountability I have no doubt that the journey could be beautiful and even a deeply toxic relationship can heal and grow. However I believe that it is unlikely that both parties will come upon the choice within themselves to make that choice at the same time, which leads us back to self.

    No matter the situation, we can influence the situation in a healthier way by focusing on ourselves. Not selfishly, but responsibly and as honestly as we’re able at the moment.

  8. I honestly felt like this article gave me an “aha!” Moment that made a tear roll down my eye. For months I’ve watched my relationship tumble downhill and regardless of the approach I took, I haven’t been able to change the direction it’s been going. I’ve always been the level headed logical type, yet felt myself slowly creeping into bad patterns of anger, jealousy, and verbal abuse. Prior to this article I resorted to throwing in the towel, blaming myself for his behaviour and accepting responsibility for everything bad that ever happened. Ultimately, my relationship has made me feel useless, worthless, and defeated. Being provided with this information doesn’t only motivate me to change my own behaviour, but has given me so much inspiration and hope for my future. Thank you so much for this article.

 

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