In any addiction, whether it’s alcoholism, dependency on drugs, shopping excessively, working every waking hour, exercising obsessively (the list is endless) there is a causal factor, a need to explore the new experience, a total disregard for the negative effects of the addiction and finally a total dependency on it to the detriment of everything else. It is the same with addiction to toxic relationships.
For the purpose of this article, the abuser is male.
The way that a person looks at their world is the result of years of their own childhood development, their life experiences, their actions and reactions to these and the short and long-term impacts of this. The attitudes and perceptions that are borne from this process are crucial to the person they are to become and how they make their way in the world.
For example, a young child growing up in a domestic abuse situation is experiencing aggression, shouting, arguments and drama maybe on a regular basis. These are the building blocks of this child’s life and while they are learning to survive in such an environment their normal childhood development is being ignored. This is their “normal” and a pattern has been established for future relationships to come.
This individual could develop mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, low self- esteem and self- worth, self-loathing, suicidal thoughts and so on. Any manner of coping mechanisms/ addictions could develop from here.
The Coping Mechanism:
As a person grows up and becomes less dependent on their parents/ guardians they start making their own way into the outside world. They make friends, colleagues, fellow students and neighbours part of their social circle.
Peer pressure can be very powerful as a young person establishes their identity and rebels against their parents.
This exploration could involve ignoring their well-being, exhibiting risky behaviour and endangering others. Their vulnerability and distorted thoughts about themselves all contribute to their new addiction.
For example, a young woman who has grown up in a chaotic household may be attracted to dangerous and violent men. Even though the violence and aggression are uncomfortable for her it is also familiar.
The highs and lows of this way of living will prove to be addictive and what she craves when she starts looking for a partner.
The intensity that she is used to – the intense lows counteracted by the intense highs is like a drug to her, and she is addicted!
Using alcohol addiction as an example for the purposes of comparison with abusive relationship addiction, there will be a cause, a level of distress making someone vulnerable to addiction and the opportunity to experience it.
The choice of addiction is pleasurable to start with, a drink or two a week turns into many drinks a night which starts affecting their health, relationships and job. The longer it goes on the less pleasure is experienced so the drinking increases to achieve the same effect.
In an unhealthy relationship, what used to be exciting and loving turns into arguments and physical fights.
Emotional and physical harm will occur more and more as time goes on. This is tempered by the woman’s self- blame and shame and she will do anything to get back to how the relationship was at the beginning – she wants that intense high back!
She starts to make excuses for him, minimises and normalises his behaviour. If she is challenged by someone close to her she totally denies that this relationship is anything but unhealthy. This can cause difficulties between family members and friends where there were none before. However, this denial continues due to the addiction to him.
Just like a drug an abusive partner will isolate his girlfriend from any support network that she may have had. Ties are cut with any friends or family members that have proved to be a threat to the continuation of the relationship by psychological means or threats. Her social circle is virtually non-existent meaning she is totally dependent on him.
She stays with him as she loves him and thinks he will change for her. She is totally preoccupied with keeping him happy to the detriment of her own happiness and well-being (or anybody else’s). She will be a better partner to him and he is everything to her, she can’t live without him.
This cycle of loss is mirrored in the alcoholism example where the habits of the alcoholic has lost them friends, family and their job. But the drink is all they can think about, they’d rather have a fridge full of booze than that of food. The budget is planned around keeping themselves supplied with it and they can’t go without it, that thought is unthinkable.
In the beginning of the toxic relationship, everything is good and pleasurable. The connection that is felt between the couple is very strong emotionally and physically, nothing can part them.
It goes from 0 – 60 within a very short space of time evoking strong emotions very quickly. The endorphins are highly active, feelings of elation and happiness are plentiful and there is hope that this will never end. However, it most undoubtedly will!
The mask starts slipping, the abuser has his prize and the tendencies towards aggression and control start appearing.
As time goes on this side of him comes out more and more and she starts recognising the signs. It is an intensely low time, with aggression and violence becoming a normal part of this relationship. Where there was elation there is now despair that this will never end.
The intense high for her has been replaced by a constant state of alert with adrenaline surging through her body on a regular basis, which is exhausting!
While there are many reasons why someone stays with their abusive partner the intensity that comes with being with such a person is addictive.
The range of emotions are extreme– a partner who is stable seems to be a safer alternative but lacks the exciting factor that some people look for in a relationship. However, the physical and emotional damage is being caused which will only get worse as time goes on.
Acknowledging this is the first step towards recovery.