Sometimes we subconsciously feed off links that are detrimental to our emotional and affective balance. The first step towards liberation: to identify them and understand their mechanisms.
Narcissistic perverts, stalkers, liars or pathological manipulators … In recent years, there have been countless defense manuals against toxic personalities. These works are important, essential to some of them, because they are going to put into words destructive behavior. We know today that “these sociopaths can ruin our lives,” to quote American psychologist Bill Eddy1. But relationship predators are not the only ones concerned: some of our common, well-known conditions can also have a dangerous level of toxicity. Therefore, according to Anne-Marie Benoît, psychotherapist and psychoanalyst, it is relevant to distinguish toxic “personalities” from toxic “relationships”. “A relationship consists of three elements: me, the other and what we produce together, which interact on two levels, consciously and unconsciously. Because the unconscious communicates, we can weave a toxic relationship without oneself or the other being a toxic personality, ”explains the psychoanalyst.
For the American psychiatrist Abigail Brenner2, another specialist in this matter, all matters are complex and it is not easy to identify those that are toxic to us, especially within one’s family. The same is true at work or in friendly relationships, which often reactivate and reproduce family patterns. The various conditions (transferred beliefs, role-plays, etc.) and guilt – which often prevent us from taking a clear look at our emotional ties – sometimes turn us, in spite of ourselves, into victims or executioners. “We should keep in mind that we can all be the ‘toxic’ of the other,” recalls Anne-Marie Benoît. It is up to everyone to identify, among the four types of toxic links that we describe, the one that could look like their own.
1. Specialist in pathological narcissism and jurist, he has published several works on the subject (untranslated).
2. Also columnist for the trade magazine Psychology today and author of untranslated works.
You are stuck in a role
As if your relationship only allowed you to play one character with one label (savior, mother, manager …). You talk and behave as if you are on autopilot. The adjectives that describe you are always the same. And in fact, you follow the instructions. Even if it means for you, metaphorically, to continue wearing your youthful clothes while your height, weight, style and lifestyle have changed.
What is at stake: you serve to reassure the other, who by assigning you a certain role has the feeling of controlling you and therefore ensuring his safety. This prevents him from questioning himself and from facing unpleasant or painful things in him and / or events that have taken place in his past.
The results : the denial of your wealth, your complexity, the weakening or loss of self-esteem and self-confidence, the inability to implement and make your personal resources and skills bear fruit.
Start by asking yourself the origin of this role: when does it go back? How did it fit into your life? Who made you support it, and what were the benefits to that person? How did you nurture this role (with what renunciation, what artifacts)?
So ask yourself: what does it mean for you today? What benefits do you get out of it? What frustrations? What prevents you from being, from doing, from daring? Do you play this role with everyone? If not, take a moment to relive thoughts and feel what happens when you feel free to unfold.
Finally, cultivate and strengthen the bonds and activities that allow you to express all your facets, train yourself to say no, to express what you really think, socialize more with people who value you as a whole and take the risk of displeasing those who cut your wings.
You walk on tiptoe
In order not to offend, hurt, anger, arouse envy or jealousy. You take it upon yourself and unleash treasures of imagination and empathy so as not to source the other person’s hypersensitivity and mood (boss, colleague, spouse, friend, etc.). To make your place (often small or in the shade) and keep it, you minimize your talents, successes and other gifts. On the other hand, you are the one who compliments, supports, reassures without moderation and without reciprocity. You sometimes experience this relationship with an acute sense of injustice, which evokes anger and frustration in you, but rarely erupts.
What is at stake: consolidate or recreate the narcissism of the other (complex, insecure, incompetent) who, like a master of passive aggression, plays on your guilt (highly developed) to put you at their service.
The results : a suffocation or a “minorization” by self-censorship of your emotions, but also of your personal power, your talents and your skills. A significant risk of diminished self-esteem and somatization when frustration and anger have accumulated for too long.
Reread your personal story and ask yourself: who should you not overshadow? For the benefit of which person from your past did you have to suppress your emotions? Who was threatened by your talents, your vitality, your resources?
State everything you give up for the apparent benefit of one or more “quiet” relationships.
Unfold the worst case scenario to the end: Imagine asserting yourself, demanding your rights, advancing in the light, or even provoking anger, jealousy, or threats. Project in detail the possible differences and you will find that nothing is more frustrating or painful than what you inflict on yourself.
You must prove your innocence
In a healthy relationship, the presumption of innocence and goodwill is a foundation on which the exchanges must rest. They do not have to be deserved or proven. But in this relationship mistrust, mistrust and other insinuations subtly poison the exchanges and leave you confused uncomfortable, worried, sad. You regularly feel suspected, accused, criticized, convicted and must always prove your sincerity, your goodwill (it’s a shame) or your good faith. If you shared it with the other, you would see him pose as a victim and accuse you of having a bad mind or being sickly sensitive.
What is at stake: a relationship where one’s insecurity and need for control meet the other’s guilt and dependence. This dysfunctional “parent-child” relationship (which can be played out with a spouse, friend or at work) forces the “accused” to tirelessly present evidence (for his good faith, for his attachment, etc.). But beware, some personalities may also project their own dishonesty, sincerity, or malice onto others.
The results : to be stuck in a position that is as childish as it is sterile (you will never give conclusive proof of your innocence), lose your self-esteem, never in this relationship find the support you can rightly expect.
Try to find the original pattern in this relationship in your story based on the judge-guilty duo. Stop justifying yourself, apologize for anything and everything, give proof of your innocence and your good faith.
Try to reverse the roles at least once to get your interlocutor to experience what he is causing you to experience, and observe his reactions: This will allow you to become aware of the injustice and discomfort (even pain) that this role distribution generates.
You provide the fuel
Time, listening, advice, attention, money … You are the one who three quarters of the time takes care of the relationship with the basic ingredients so that it stays alive. The other is content to receive and uses several deficits not to retaliate, but also not to feel like a debtor. Thus, the recipients of the generosity of others willingly emphasize how donors “need to give,” suggesting that their behavior may owe something to a pathology. You no longer count the times you have been used without it being a lesson for you.
What is at stake: you feel indebted, enslaved, and you never feel that you are giving enough. An idealized view of human relationships can also explain an altruism that borders on victims.
The results : one-sided relationships, emotional exhaustion due to disappointments and lack of reciprocity, a not always flattering reputation for naivety, lack of support and generosity in return when you need it.
Ask yourself: what, beyond the ideal and a generous nature, compels you to give and to accept not to receive in return? What do you want to “buy” with your donations? Who do you want to please, who do you want to be loved, accepted by (your father, your mother …)? Train yourself to give less, to get out of “all or nothing”, you can be generous without being too much.
Do not accept that you will be forgotten without giving convincing explanations or that you will be let down when you ask for help.
Give yourself gifts, pamper yourself when you are tempted to give to someone who has never reciprocated.