Denial of Toxic Love

By Brittany Dursi, LMSW

Denial. Denial. Denial.  What is it?  Could it be our mind claiming something to be untrue, even if the facts say otherwise? Maybe it’s a shield of defense when reality is too much to bear. Or possibly, it’s the fear of surrendering to the truth.  Whichever the case, denial is no stranger to us.  We all have used it in our own unique way: to cope, to avoid, to protect etc.   In love, denial is a common mechanism adopted to protect the relationship in times of distress.  For the time being it encases the relationship in a thin lining, a band aid for when we aren’t ready to clean the wound.

Often times, the foundation of consistency in a destructive relationship is the damaging and deliberate use of manipulation and abuse.  This creates a mask for the partner being victimized, losing parts of their identity.  They may constantly feel guilty when they actually did nothing wrong.  Depending on the relationship, some may report feeling as though they were never good enough for their partner: fighting for acceptance, fighting to prove they deserve them.  Some may feel a heightened sense of emotion, or absence of, due to their lack of control in the relationship and a decrease in self- worth.  Often times the relationship is priority over work, personal interests and family or friends.  So how could anyone stay in this?

Here’s the thing.  When we are faced with isolated and constant real or perceived threat, our body instinctively responds. Stress hormones are released, shutting off the part of our brain used to solve problems (prefrontal cortex) and we enter a stage of fight, flight or freeze. This is great if we are being chased by a lion, the problem is when our stress hormones are activated for too long.  Our brains naturally will put a threatening situation to the forefront and shut down everything that is not necessary for that threat.  If we are constantly feeling threatened by our partner, we are consistently in a state of fight, flight or freeze, making it impossible to function appropriately. 

If we are being faced with infidelity, abuse (physical, mental, verbal, emotional) confusion, lack of self-worth, fear, anxiety etc. it is too much for our brain to sort through.  Manipulation commonly becomes the focal point in destructive relationships, resulting in the vulnerable partner feeling dependent on the toxic one.  The threat also becomes the safety blanket in these relationships.  While we may be living in a state of constant intimidation and emotional distress, the moment validation, intimacy and acceptance is received it stimulates our reward system and we feel safe again, creating a debilitating cycle.  For example, maybe our partner cheats, the facts have been proven, and we become emotionally distressed.  They lie about it but begin to show interest and connectedness to us, we might choose to believe it, because in those moments, they are accepting us.   Somewhere in us we know it is not true but we push it so far down because denial is sometimes perceived easier than facing the facts

Facts are Facts are Facts

If there is concrete factual information, it happened. 

If your significant other hits you because you came home an hour later than expected but then cooks you a three course meal, it does not change the fact they hit you. 

If your significant other calls you cruel names regularly but will also spend quality time with you and makes you feel special, it does not change the fact they verbally hurt you. 

If your significant other is not loyal but will not admit the truth, it does not change the fact they betrayed you. 

If they are hurting you in any way and try to validate their actions based on something you have done in the past it does not change the fact they hurt you and chose to be spiteful. 

You are not to blame for their actions. You cannot alter facts.