By Brittany Dursi LMSW
If you look up the definition of love, you will come across keywords like: attachment, attraction, intense emotional connection and affection. It’s debatable if love is an emotion, choice, drive or a combination of all three. Like the need for social connection, we desire to love and to be loved.
Studies have shown when people report being in love and are shown photos of their partner, the reward center in their brain is stimulated. This is the same neurological pathway that is activated in the brain of individuals who use opiates and amphetamines (1). Representing that we have a thirst to experience love.
Let’s remind ourselves: healthy love has secure attachment where each has their own friends and life apart from that with their partner. They are trusting when they are not together. Healthy love has attraction that brings out the “best parts” and builds the confidence of each individual. Healthy love has an intense emotional connection that is non-judgmental, allowing each partner to open up, be themselves and feel supported. Healthy love uses affection to show how much their significant other means to them and to assure their love.
So when does healthy love turn toxic? Let’s look at some signs.
Do you feel guilty making your own plans? Are you anxious when you aren’t together?
Often times, when people are in a toxic relationship they will feel criminal if they make plans without their partner’s involvement. They long approval from their significant other and will cancel plans or avoid things they truly like as a result of not wanting to “stir the pot.” Other times, the may find themselves unable to relax if their partner is out without them or if they haven’t heard from them in a period of time. They may create scenarios in their minds without proof. This can culminate anxiety, leading to arguments, snooping through their partner’s phone or searching for confirmation to solidify their preconceived thoughts.
Do you feel like you aren’t “good” enough or attractive enough?
Sometimes the toxic partner may withhold compliments to their loved one or engage in acts of infidelity as a way to gain control. Other times they may break up with their partner without any explanation and then take them back. They may say things like “you’re ugly, fat, you have no curves, you’re not muscular enough, I can get anyone and anyone else you get is a downgrade from me.” This is an act of manipulation to break down the other individual’s perception of them self. The goal is to rewire their thoughts so that they do not feel worthy enough of their partners love. This can result in the other person believing they can’t experience love from anyone else because they don’t have the qualities that are deserving of it. If their partner is telling them this than it must be true, right? If they are cheating there are obviously better people out there, right? They can’t leave, they’ll never find someone else like them. Why am I not good enough?
When it’s good it’s great and when it’s bad it’s the hallway to hell
Generally there is a common theme in toxic love. That is, the good times are used as an excuse to overlook the toxicity of the relationship. So “she broke my favorite pair of headphones that were $300” is overcompensated because “she took me away for my birthday weekend.” It validates and strengthens the cycle. The individual may say they are “the most comfortable and myself with them” yet remains unable to disclose parts of their life due to the fear of it being used against them. They say they are not judged by their partner but they often will be put down for their opinions or choices, which is followed by a decrease in confidence and an increase in codependency. As the frequency of the cycle increases, the severity does as well. When the severity increases the harder it is to break the cycle and get out.
Do you feel like you’re working to get affection from your partner?
Frequently in toxic relationships, affection will lack. If affection is being denied it can cause an increase in the other individual craving it and looking for ways to receive it. This can create feelings of being drained, empty, lonely and unworthy. When affection is than received, feelings of security, reward and pleasure surface even though it is short lived. This cycle keeps the individual invested as they are on the quest to feel wanted and have affection from their beloved. The one withholding affection can experience validation, increase in their self- worth and entitlement for the time being, solidifying their actions.
If any of these scenarios feel familiar, it's ok. You can break patterns of toxic relationships. The first step is taking an inventory of your relationship and understanding there is a problem.
Need help sorting through all this? Connect with me today to begin getting the love you deserve.
To talk to a clinician, call 347.994.9301