Relationship Fitness

P21 E7: Addicted to a Toxic Relationship

Addiction comes in many forms, not just substances like drugs or alcohol, but also in the form of relationships. Toxic relationships, in particular, can become addictive, creating a cycle that is difficult to break free from. This phenomenon is often rooted in deeper psychological issues, and understanding these roots can provide a path to healing and healthier connections. Drawing from insights shared by psychotherapist Roni Maislish on the “Relationship Workout for Men” podcast, this article explores the dynamics of being addicted to toxic relationships and offers strategies for breaking the cycle.

Understanding Toxic Relationships

A toxic relationship is characterized by behaviors that are emotionally and physically damaging to one or both partners. These relationships often involve patterns of manipulation, control, and a lack of empathy. Maislish refers to Michael Eigen’s concept of “Toxic Nourishment,” which describes the addiction to relationships that provide intermittent, often conditional, love and validation. This toxic love creates a dependency where individuals feel compelled to stay, despite the harm it causes.

The Objectification in Relationships

One of the core issues in toxic relationships is the objectification of partners. In such dynamics, individuals are seen not as whole persons with their own needs and feelings, but as objects to be used for one’s own gratification or security. This dehumanizing perspective prevents genuine emotional connection and fosters a manipulative environment.

Maislish emphasizes that this objectification often stems from a lack of self-awareness and self-worth. When individuals do not recognize their own value, they are more likely to allow themselves to be used and to use others in turn. This cycle is perpetuated by societal norms and personal insecurities that devalue empathy and mutual respect.

The Psychological Roots

The addiction to toxic relationships often has deep psychological roots. Childhood experiences, particularly those involving emotional neglect or inconsistent nurturing, can set the stage for seeking toxic nourishment in adult relationships. Individuals who did not receive adequate emotional support and validation as children may develop an unconscious drive to seek these from partners, even when the relationship is harmful.

Maislish points out that understanding one’s childhood and the emotional voids left unfilled is crucial to breaking free from toxic relationships. This self-awareness allows individuals to recognize patterns of behavior that are rooted in past traumas and to seek healthier ways to fulfill their emotional needs.

Empathy as a Healing Tool

Empathy, or the ability to understand and share the feelings of another, is often lacking in toxic relationships. Maislish notes that empathy is a learned skill, developed through experiencing empathy from others. It is essential for creating meaningful, respectful, and nurturing relationships.

Building empathy involves seeing others as subjects rather than objects. This means acknowledging their feelings, experiences, and humanity. When both partners in a relationship practice empathy, it fosters a supportive and understanding environment where both can thrive.

Steps to Break Free from Toxic Relationships

  1. Self-Awareness: The first step in breaking free from a toxic relationship is recognizing the patterns and understanding the psychological roots of these behaviors. Reflect on your childhood experiences and how they may have shaped your current relationship dynamics.
  2. Set Boundaries: Establishing clear boundaries is crucial. This means defining what is acceptable and what is not in your relationships. Boundaries help protect your emotional well-being and prevent further harm.
  3. Seek Support: Engaging with a therapist or counselor can provide the guidance and support needed to navigate the complexities of breaking free from a toxic relationship. Therapy can help build self-worth, develop empathy, and establish healthier relationship patterns.
  4. Develop Empathy: Work on building empathy for yourself and others. This involves practicing active listening, validating feelings, and striving to understand others’ perspectives without judgment.
  5. Foster Healthy Relationships: Surround yourself with supportive and empathetic individuals. Positive relationships can provide the emotional nourishment needed to heal and grow.
  6. Practice Self-Care: Take time to nurture yourself physically, emotionally, and mentally. Engage in activities that bring joy, relaxation, and fulfillment.

Conclusion: Transforming Relationship Patterns

Addiction to toxic relationships is a profound and challenging issue that requires deep self-reflection and a commitment to change. By understanding the psychological roots and developing empathy, individuals can break free from harmful patterns and build healthier, more fulfilling relationships. The journey towards healthier relationships is not easy, but with the right support and tools, it is possible to transform your relational life and find genuine connection and happiness.


Listen to the Episode

Roni Maislish is a clinical social worker and psychotherapist, working for 20 years on the psychological roots of emotional eating, food addiction and obesity. For more information about Roni’s therapeutic’s sessions, supervision, workshops and training program, contact him on Linkedin.

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