One major question people ask when they see loved ones in toxic relationships is: why do you stay? Why not just leave?
I have been both the girl that says out loud, “I would never stay with someone that treated me like that”, and the girl that thought internally, “I know I should leave, but I can’t help but stay.”
Why are unhealthy relationships the hardest to get over? How do your mind and body trick you into staying in a mentally or physically toxic relationship? There are many reasons and answers to these questions…but two major scenarios are usually applicable to all unhealthy relationships
1. The Gas Lighting Pill
The Gas Lighting Pill is a term usually for information or communication between two people that is toxic. You know the expression, "that’s a tough pill to swallow"…but you’re not actually taking medicine…you’re mentally digesting something that affects the way your mind is working either at that moment or forever.
Well, when in a toxic relationship, a major sign of mental abuse and manipulation is when one partner gaslights the other, and this is how it works: The toxic administer of the gaslighting will conjure up a group of false accusations, distortions, lies, minimization, etc. about the other individual and feed them into the argument as either a distraction or defense mechanism. Well, one might say…just don’t believe them.
If someone is telling another person lies that the receiver knows are not true, it’s just as simple as that. Right? Wrong. One thing that gas lighters know to do (either consciously or subconsciously) is to insert one piece of true information (usually something that the receiver is insecure about or something that is a sensitive topic for them) along with the rest of the manipulations in order to throw off the mind of the person that is being gaslighted.
2. Trauma Bonding
Trauma Bonding might sound romantic (and no, this isn’t the kind of bonding Nancy and Jonathan experience when they rescue Will from the upside down…that’s the good (and totally fictional) kind of bonding).
But, the reality of trauma bonding is that it is when one party (or both people in the relationship…this is very possible) is loyalty to the other party even though they are destructive or toxic. Gaslighting is an effective route for narcissists to take when attempting to chain their significant other with trauma bonding.
An atmosphere for trauma bonding involves a lot of intensity, complexity, and inconsistency. Having an interesting and complex conversation in a relationship is important and healthy. But do not confuse intellectualism with narcissistic manipulation.
There will be times when things seem "normal"...but if this "normalcy" is often broken by fits of rage, extreme argumentation, extreme name calling, fights that escalate to the point of major tears, loud voices, and extreme language, then the relationship is experiencing trauma bonding- and it can be one of the toughest relationships to exit.
Ways to tell if you are in a trauma bonded relationship are: if others (friends, family, co-workers) seem disturbed by the activity (abuse, behavior in general, communication) of your partner but you do not, if you feel stuck in the relationship (not moving forward, not moving backward, just stagnant), if you continue to have repetitive, damaging fights and one seems to “win” or there is no constructive outcome, being unable to detach yourself from that person even if you cannot trust them or don’t even really like who they are as a person, and when you try to leave and it affects your mind and psyche in a way that makes you want to numb the pain and go back to them.
With that last point (trying to leave and feeling like it affects your mind in a way that causes you to want to go back to that person) in mind, there is one final note to add in order to instill some hope with those who feel like they are stuck in a merry-go-round of bad, unpromising, toxic, tiring relationships.
Just like people detox their body from junk good, drinking too much, and just plain putting bad stuff in your body, your mind requires this same kind of detox. You might crave that junk food, you might want that cigarette, you might want that drug, you might want to text that ex, you might want to see that ex, you might want to do a lot of things you do not need to do.
But, detox your mind, share with your friends what your mental health goals are, and have them help you stay accountable for your actions and what is good for you.
You might also be helping the other person who was mentally or physically abusive to you by not allowing them to practice or continue the cycle of trauma and toxicity.
Detox your mind, body, and soul, and allow yourself to become a positive person who attracts other positive people in all areas of life- friendships, romantic relationships, work relationships, and familial relationships. Being aware is the first step.