We have all heard of this scenario. Many of us have also experienced it first hand. We are involved with someone who on some level we know is bad for us, but we can’t seem to let them go and get them out of our lives. We keep rationalizing, making excuses for their behaviour and make excuses for ourselves to stay involved with the person.
Where does this habit come from? It is so common in toxic relationships. People caught in this trap cannot be reasoned with, even though they know on some level they are caught in a relationship which isn’t serving them. No matter how logical, clear and sensible the advice they get from others here, they can’t seem to make the break. It’s like they are addicted to the person and the relationship.
If a person seems impervious to any kind of common sense reason and logical advice regarding their situation, and cannot see the obvious, then it is often a pretty clear sign that we need to start looking past the conscious mind and look for any unconscious factors which many be driving them to stay stuck in these relationships with toxic and abusive people.
They need to look at how the other person may be manipulating them to distort their perception of the relationship, and also what unresolved factors in their own unconscious may be driving them to seek out partners with certain toxic traits. They need to become more aware of themselves, relationships and others. Let’s go into more detail on what we mean by this.
An Example Of This Dynamic
I found an example of this the other day. See the video embedded above with a guy who is suffering from exactly this problem of not being able to let go of a toxic person. He is rambling and long winded at times but I posted it more for the interactions between him and the hosts, who confront his delusion and self deception and remaining caught up with a toxic person.
He clearly states that he knows she is toxic, manipulative and deceitful, yet he still can’t bring himself to break off with her. When pushed by the hosts, he continues to rationalize and justify why he is staying with her. We are not emphasizing one gender here; this trait is equally common with both men and women who get involved with toxic partners.
The excuses keep flipping back and forth between the sex being great and her showing nice traits, but to any rational person the entire scenario will seem ridiculous. He clearly states the problems he sees in her, which are enough for any reasonable person to break off with her, yet he still finds excuses why he doesn’t. He even identifies her as a sociopath for goodness sake! So he knows what he is into here.
This is such a common theme among people caught in toxic relationships, both male and female. They may start off not seeing the red flags, particularly with psychopaths and borderlines who are great at putting up a surface act of charm to take people in initially. The honeymoon stage is great with them; they seem like the perfect partner.
However, even when the unfortunate victim starts to see toxic traits in the person, and can clearly sense that something is wrong, they still refuse to listen to this voice of intuition and find reasons and excuses why they should stay. These can include anything, like:
- They’re super hot, great body etc etc.
- The sex is great.
- But they’re a really nice person sometimes.
- Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m reading it wrong – see our article on gas-lighting
- They didn’t mean anything by those comments.
- I’ll be able to change them.
- They’ll change for me because I’m special or unique in some way.
- If I leave, then……….(fear of negative consequences).
This set me down a train of thought, since I have noticed (and experienced) how people caught in this trap with a toxic person they can’t leave seem to be largely immune to any kind of logic and reason.
No matter how rationally and articulately onlookers describes their situation, no matter how clear and obvious the advice is, they still can’t seem to fully take it in. There’s always a rationalization, a “but”. They can’t seem to let the person go.
We are dealing with irrational and unconscious impulses here, that sometimes can’t be dealt with with pure reason and logic alone. When someone seems impervious to any kind of rational explanations, then it is time to look what could be unconsciously driving them; things which they aren’t aware of.
This is why I wanted to write this article, to tackle the issue more from an angle, and trying to get people caught in this spell to make conscious what is unconscious, since I believe this is so often what is driving the self deception behind staying in toxic relationships.
Let me explain a little more what I mean by this. It can manifest in a number of different ways. There is often no great drama with this; it simply involves becoming aware of things you were not aware of before and therefore seeing the situation more clearly.
Beware of the Psychopathic Bond
The first thing that people caught up with psychopaths need to realize is that it is one of their key strategies to get you hooked on them so you don’t want to leave. They form what is called a psychopathic bond with their victim, which the person doesn’t want to break.
Borderlines also do something similar when they meet a person, showering them with warmth, charm and usually sex. These toxic personalities can seem perfect and make you feel ten feet tall when you first meet them.
See around the 16 minute mark of the video above where psychopathy expert Paul Babiak goes into this psychopathic bond. He puts it like this:
“Once you’re in the psychopathic bond, you don’t want to break it. And it often amazes the friends who are watching from outside. “You’re still with him?”. Or “Can’t you see?” is very common. And they really can’t see, because of the strength of the bond that’s been built.
Now when the psychopath is done with you, they leave. They’ve never had a bond with you, it’s all been a game. And so they just stop playing and move on to the next target. You’re left with all these open wounds, because you thought you had a relationship with this person……
And that’s the psychological and emotional abuse of a psychopath – feeling no empathy, no remorse or no guilt, just moves on to the next target.
Paul Babiak, psychologist.
The problem here is like the old saying goes “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is“. The image psychopaths and borderlines project is too good, too perfect, the buzz is too high, and this is what can make the bond you build with them so addictive. They give you something you can’t seem to get off other people when you first meet them.
The motif behind this which we covered in our article on the psychopathic bond is the sense of that little bit extra that they give you. This can show up in a number of ways. A couple of examples could be:
- If a normal person exudes warmth or charm towards a person they are growing to like, a psychopath will give you more warmth or charm, that little bit extra.
- If you feel OK or good in yourself when around normal people, a psychopath can make you feel perfect, 10 feet tall, again that little bit extra.
- Sex might be good with a normal person, but with the psychopath or borderline it will be that little bit better, that little bit extra.
- A normal person may start to become somewhat attuned to you as you start to click and “vibe” in a relationship or friendship. A psychopath will perfectly attune to you, walk and talk in step with you and seem to be the perfect partner or friend. They seem to do this very quickly.
And so they create this addictive dynamic where they feed you this fake perfection and manufactured soulmate image, which makes you feel there is no one on earth who can match them. But it’s all an act they are putting up to take you in. They are setting you up for the devalue-discard stages where they pull back, undermine you and then drop you cold.
Once the psychopath has reeled you in and got you hooked on this bond, this is when they start to carefully pull back and start the emotional abuse tactics. Because you have grown so addicted to this fake perfection and “flying highness”, you start to push back into them to rekindle it. They now have you under their control, which is what they want.
By slowly withdrawing this fake affection and charm, but still providing little bursts of it less and less frequently, they further draw you into this addictive dynamic where you are totally dependent on these psychological breadcrumbs they are throwing you for any sense of self worth. Toxic personality types have realised that intermittent or unpredictable rewards are the most addictive.
If the victim doesn’t see this, then it will progress to the point where they now respond to completely substandard and toxic treatment as though it is perfectly normal, such have their standards of self respect and boundaries been eroded by the toxic person.
They too often can’t pull back from the situation and see how far things have fallen from the honeymoon period which the psychopath or borderline pulled them in with. Toxic personalities are masters at drawing you into this narrow mindset where you can’t see the forest for the trees anymore.
So the first thing people caught in toxic personalities need to do is realize this dynamic of the psychopathic bond. Psychopaths (and often borderlines) know what they are doing in this regard; they know how to manipulate people and draw them into addictive relationships. Become aware of it and it will lose some of it’s power.
“Almost every day, people who join our forum, they say ‘why did I stay in this for so long? How could I have been so stupid?’
The way that emotional abuse works is that it targets our most vulnerable human emotions in a way that – unless you’re aware what’s happening when you’re in the cycles of it – all it does is make a more and more intense bond ”
Jackson Mackenzie – see here.
Be Aware Of Your Own Unconscious
It is also important for people caught up with toxic characters they can’t leave to be aware of what unconscious dynamics might be going on inside them which is blinding them to the realities of the relationship they are currently in.
On a more simple level, some people may believe on some level that they don’t deserve to be treated well or live a happy life and so will enter into relationships where they are abused to fulfil this negative self belief. With other people there is something more complex going on with bonding and attachment.
What I mean by this is that many people seek out certain people and make certain relationships in adulthood to resolve things still stuck inside them from childhood. This is a well known pattern and is exemplified in the stereotype of the woman who can’t stop going for the bad boys because they resemble her father in some way.
If you parent of the opposite sex was cold and distancing, the person will seek out cold and distancing partners in adulthood. If the parent was physically abusive, they will often get drawn into adult relationships where they are physically abused.
The problem is that it no longer serves the person. The unconscious thinks this kind of treatment is love but the adult part of the person realizes on some level it isn’t and these relationships they are being drawn into aren’t working.
Infants and children don’t know how to interpret things as either loving or unloving. They just need love and will take whatever their parent gives them and treat it as love, even if it is actually abuse and neglect. It will learn to equate whatever treatment it receives as love, even if it is the opposite of love.
This is why M Scott Peck referred to transference, the psychological mechanism by which all this happens, as like using an outdated map. It isn’t going to get you where you need to go in adult relationships.
If this is unresolved in the person, then they will seek out others who treat them in a similar way in an effort to resolve this unconscious trauma. This imago or template which is burned into their psyche defines the traits they look for in others, good or bad, when forming romantic relationships.
A good book which covers this dynamic is Harville Hendrix’s Keeping the Love You Find, available on Amazon. Despite the self-help style title, the book is superbly psychological and rigorous in the way is delves into attachment and Imago theory, using depth psychology to help people understand their own unconscious traits and see the types of people their unresolved psychological baggage leads them to be drawn to.
From this kind of work it becomes easier to enter relationships more consciously aware of patterns and therefore less likely to miss the glaring red flags you may have ignored when less self aware. You go in with your eyes wide open instead of blindfolded.
These are the kind of unconscious patterns and influences we wanted to draw more attention to for people who are stuck in relationships they know on some level are toxic, but can’t seem to pull away from them no matter how much sensible advice they receive from others.
Increasing you awareness around toxic relationship patterns and your own psychology can be the way out of these traps manipulative personalities like psychopaths and borderlines can lead you into.
See also our Resources section for some other good books on spotting toxic personalities, red flags an abusive behavior patterns.