This may seem like a rather dark subject for The Happy Rock Way. But it seems that it is necessary. It can be really difficult to get out of a toxic relationship when you are right in the middle of it. I KNOW! This is not about what I think anyone else should do. This is about what I learned.
If I somehow could send a message back in time I would send this to my younger self. Fans of science fiction will no doubt want to point out that this would violate the temporal prime directive by changing the past. But, knowing how stubborn I was in my misspent youth there is an even chance that I would ignore what I read and insist on learning things the hard way.
Many times we realize our mistakes given the perspective that comes with time. Hopefully we learn from these mistakes. It seems like I have no trouble pointing out stupid things that I did in the past. It is also much easier to realize when someone else is making a big mistake. So there is always a chance that someone will read this post and still not apply it to their life. I write because their is a small possibility that at least one person will read this and have an epiphany about their own actions.
If you have other red flags to add to my list feel free to let me know. Or leave them in the comments. This is all about general categories and ideas and not about specific actions or words, although these will be included as examples. As in all posts on The Happy Rock Way, I reserve the right to edit.
Red Flag 1: The toxic person can apply pressure and manipulation to move the relationship too fast over the objections of the other person. The speed at which people “fall in love”can be astounding at times. This is not the worst thing about a toxic relationship, but it is the one that is easiest to miss, in my humble opinion.
Relationships tend to move along at their own speed. There is sort of a natural and mutual agreement that things should move to the next level. Meeting someone, meeting again on purpose, dating, dating exclusively, getting engaged, getting married. There are many more possible milestones. This is not the same for every person, but when the pressure to move things along always comes from the same person and includes “head games” it is just not right. These days you can see this on social media sites all the time. Going from meeting to moving in together in two weeks is too fast. There is no way to know enough about a person in that amount of time. How about this for an alliteration: True Trust Takes Time. If you want to go slower then go slower. If that causes the relationship to fail then you found out sooner than later.
Red Flag 2: It is your fault. It is ALWAYS your fault. It is your fault that the other person is sad, doesn’t come home on time, went out on you, and it is your fault that the person got angry and abused you mentally and/or physically. You constantly feel guilty because you “know” that you have failed. You are too far into the forest to see the trees. Of course you actually are a good person and it is not your fault that the other person is a narcissistic jerk. (Nice way of saying that.) People are responsible for managing their own anger and for seeking their own happiness. While you can help someone be happy, you can’t force them to be happy.
Red Flag 3: Addiction. Just that. A person who is addicted values the addiction more than they value you. The manipulation will include convincing you to assist them in their addiction. Or perhaps it will be your fault (see Red Flag 2) that they have to drink/gamble/smoke weed or any number of things. So if you just love them enough they will quick drinking/gambling/smoking weed (etc) this time. Perhaps believing this is excusable the very first time, but we have all watched people who were blind to the lies and broken promises that are addiction.
Red Flag 4: If someone strikes you in anger drop them right then. Man or woman. Perhaps this should be first. There is no second chance for a man who strikes a woman. Or at least there should not be. Maybe they will actually shape up over time. Let them prove this to someone else and not you. Men don’t hit women. And I suspect there are some cases of women hitting men. If you want to stay with someone it shouldn’t be with someone who has ever physically abused you. If you start a family and have children with someone after this happens it no longer is just your problem. There is no way to be too firm on this issue.
Red Flag 5: There are a lot of Strong Words used and all to describe how inadequate you are. The link is to another post on the Happy Rock Way about this subject. It is a good idea to avoid using Strong Words. But it is also a good idea to avoid people who use strong words to keep you in your place. They actually have some linguistic power and can begin the journey down the road to abuse and dysfunction. When repeated they can be internalized and become controlling. Manipulative abusers totally know this, seemingly by instinct and sometimes at a surprisingly young age. “You always burn the food!” “You never think of anyone but yourself.” “All you ever do is complain.” There are more, of course.
Red Flag 6: The toxic person is, every so often, sad/upset/crazy/using again/ or other issue of choice and they miraculously get better when you agree to do something they want. This can be used for Red Flag 1 – moving the relationship along. Your agreement to move in together, get engaged, or perhaps have sex for the first time seems to cure everything that was wrong. For now.
Red Flag 7: Just too many lies. You get so used to the lying and making excuses that you don’t realize how little trust there really is. There is, I believe, one gender issue here. If your man seems “confused” and you are getting “mixed messages” it is because he is “lying”. As a man, I will step out and say that men are just not very complex creatures. If he seems confused about his feelings it is more likely that he is lying about them.
Red Flag 8: You begin to sense that you are no longer you. You have been totally remade into a person you do not know. Sometimes you do not realize this until you are free. The toxic person will attempt to control any behavior or decision on your part that they believe will threaten their control. That can be your friends, your church, or your decision to do anything that takes you away from them for any length of time.
Red Flag 9: Guilt. And it all belongs to you. If everything that goes wrong in the relationship is ALL our fault. It seems as if the other person would be a better person if you just stopped doing and saying the wrong thing. All the time. I linked my post on strong words above. Wrapping up your guilt in strong words makes it seem like you are mentally captured with no way out. This is an illusion built with words. But your return to your self can begin with seeing through this illusion. It feels real, but it is not.
This could be listed under Red Flag 5. But guilt is normally something that steers us right. Using and abusing guilt to control another thus causes huge inner conflicts. Guilt is also completely lacking in toxic sociopaths. They can dish it out because they don’t have it.
Red Flag 10: Your trusted friends and relatives suggest that something is wrong. This can happen even when your significant other is actually a decent person. My own mother-in-law was not to keen on me until I became the father of a wonderful grand child. But it is a matter of degree. If none of your circle of people are good with your choice then perhaps you should see if any other red flags are present.
Red Flag 11: When things get a little rocky and the abuser senses you may be wavering: Pets! Puppies or Kitties. This one was passed on to me well after this was originally posted but I confirmed it to my satisfaction. It is perfectly normal for couples to adopt furry children. But if the relationship is not based on mutual trust sometimes the narcissist will surprise you with an adorable puppy or kitty for you to love. Pets that you will perhaps have to leave behind to get out of the relationship. If this is the only red flag you have then it is not a red flag at all. but if it is part of a pattern in a controlling relationship, then it more likely is bad news. This is more so if the pet is a big surprise. The abuser has figured out that you love animals and uses that as part of the game.
Having said all of that, you do need to think carefully. Even the best relationship has rocky times. The key is the give and take that happens to resolve problems. If this is missing totally then you might have a problem. If you have noticed a number of red flags that are very severe then you need to seek help with someone who will help you sort it out. Going to a therapist or professional is an honorable thing to do. It can save your relationship or marriage if it is savable. Or it can help you realize that you need to get away.
One last caveat. What if you know someone who is in the middle of a toxic relationship? How do you help? There is no easy answer. It usually does not help to point out the flaws in the toxic person. Drawing away from them is not good, even if it gets you away from the toxicity. Stay as close as you can without getting sucked in. Support your friend. Hopefully they will come to their senses. When they do they are going to need you. When they get it right there is going to be a lot of self-condemnation. Please resist the temptation to judge them. Some people get back on track quickly. Others take much longer. Some go through several bad relationships before they get it right. Some never do. Your power is often limited. Sometimes getting them away for a bit is good. Maybe you can do that. Encourage them and love them. Convince them to get into therapy for their depression or what ever reason sounds good. Pray. If they believe in themselves even a little bit it can be the beginning of their return to the person they were meant to be.
Friends, more than anything I have written I need your feedback on this. Did I miss something? Should all of these things be on my list? You may want to message, email, or otherwise not contact me publicly if you don’t want to go public.
Thanks for reading.