Returning to Toxic Relationships, Part 1

Old love letters, Source Flickr, Author Rachel Ashe of Vancouver, Canada (CC BY-SA 2.0 Generic)

Almost all of us have, at some time or other, run into an old flame and felt the desire to reconnect.  What draws us is a mix of nostalgia and the desire to correct past mistakes, to “get it right” this time.

The problem is that many of the former relationships to which we find ourselves drawn as abuse survivors were, to put it mildly, toxic.

Why do we save the love letters of a man who repeatedly cheated on us?  Why are we tempted to call the boyfriend who stole our charge cards and emptied our bank account?  Why do we find ourselves checking Facebook for the ex who put us in the emergency room?

The answer is not that time heals all wounds.  It is not that we are seeking closure, that we enjoy pain…or that we are simply too dim to know better.

One reason is familiarity.  There is something powerfully familiar about these toxic relationships.  They evoke buried memories from our past, memories we once associated with love.

Such memories are not generally in the forefront of our consciousness.  But a woman whose father was sharp and impatient with her as a child is likely to choose a partner with the same shortcomings.  A man whose mother was elusive and unresponsive is likely to find women with those qualities attractive.

The more closely an adult relationship mirrors the abuse we experienced in childhood, the more emotional power that relationship will hold for us.  And the more appealing that partner will seem.  It is as if we are wrestling with an irresistible force.

That force is not, however, love.

This series will continue next week.

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27 Comments

Filed under Child Abuse, domestic abuse, domestic violence, Emotional Abuse, Neglect, Physical Abuse, Sexual Abuse, Violence Against Women

27 responses to “Returning to Toxic Relationships, Part 1

  1. Hi Anna. Thank you for this. Curiously enough, I was working with a patient the other day on this same territory. And having gone through my own version of hell in a toxic relationship, I know what that ‘going back to the poison’ is about, at least as it was for me.

    This is a crude/ simple model, but it might be useful for some of your readers to consider the notion of a ‘healthy self’ and an ‘unhealthy self’. I don’t usually formulate things in these terms, but for the purposes of looking at this ‘returning to toxic partners’ thing, we can look at it in terms of ‘the unhealthy self’ going back to feed on what is harmful (say, junk food) versus the healthy self craving an organic salad. If you put down on paper what a healthy self would want in a partner for a secure, healthy, loving relationship e.g. 100% trust, honesty, affection etc. Then on another sheet of paper write down what the toxic partner provided. It can give our minds a reality check, obviously on a cognitive level. Then look at what is driving the craving for the junk food.

    Hope this helps someone open the phenomenon up a little more.

    Take care, Stephen

    PS Thanks for your likes and comments on my blog. I appreciate it.

  2. I’m so glad you are writing about this. Something I’ve spent a lot of time wondering is how these toxic relationships/experiences shape how we perceive, or misperceive as the case may be, God’s love for us. Anyway, great post!

  3. There are many kinds of toxic relationship, and only one answer – never go back…

  4. Looking forward to the rest of this series Anna!

  5. Something that always fascinates me,we people tend to have a strong need for justice, for restoration. Spiritual separation is always painful for us, even when it’s rational and in our best interests. Often what we really long for is restoration, for justice, for bad guys to repent, and change their ways.

  6. Good questions ,toxic relationship most appropriate subject which is very valuable for us .You are great counsellor too .Lots of Love dear ❤️❤️

  7. Reblogged this on Anchor Thy Soul and commented:
    Returning To Toxic Relationships
    By: Anna at A Voice Reclaimed

  8. Great post Anna.
    I believe many people fill a void with relationships that are not beneficial to emotional health.. Only Jesus can fill our empty spaces 🙂

  9. With that familiarity, it is easier to accept foul treatment, than to learn of ones own worth, which is a total break down of the lies a person is told, when dealing with abuse. A complete reconstruction of the mind, which means the breaking down of years of toxic thinking. It is hard believing that you are a beautiful person, when either you were raised to believe that you were not….or you’ve heard that you are worthless, for so long in toxic relationships. So a place of “comfort”, is going back to that toxicity.😔
    Thank you for these words. I look forward to reading more of your writing.

  10. The simple reason for reconnecting: it’s a karmic relationship that has not been resolved just yet. So we are drawn back into it like a moth to the flame.
    Most don’t want to look at anything karmic, because it mean they have to look at, and take responsibility for themselves.
    Blessing.

    • I cannot agree w/ your statement. Karma (a Buddhist and Hindu belief) assumes previous states of existence, attributing pain and misfortune in this life to evil deeds in our past lives. ABUSE IS NOT, HOWEVER, A PUNISHMENT FOR EVIL COMMITTED IN A PAST LIFE. As a Christian, I believe we are given one life. Christ died on the cross for the forgiveness of sins, restoring mankind’s relationship with God once and for all, so that we might spend eternity w/ Him.

  11. Pingback: Returning to Toxic Relationships-part-1 | Royal Commission and Brisbane Boys College

  12. A toxic relationship can take various aspects and the most important thing is to have the strength not to return to it once you have left

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