Is there a relationship in your life that you would consider toxic? Toxic relationships are volatile, angry and abusive. They hurt you and typically are so unpredictable that they leave you feeling as if you did something wrong. Many of my clients who are in a toxic relationship come in feeling as if they had just finished emotional combat. They look dazed, hurt, and confused.
I recently met with a woman who was pained by her daughter’s estrangement. She came in holding her head in her hands, wondering what she had done to deserve the venom her daughter spewed at her. She told me that her daughter became angry because she wouldn’t provide her with a family heirloom that she felt was due her. My client explained to me that the daughter believed her mother “owed her” the antique and when the mother gave it to another relative, the daughter expected her mother to compensate her monetarily for it.
My client was confused, wondering if indeed she had owed her daughter compensation for the antique. Although she stated that they had never discussed this arrangement, her daughter was so angry with her that it made her doubt her own sense of reality. She anguished about her decision and unmercifully questioned whether she had been insensitive to her daughter. As she described her daughter, it was apparent that this daughter went on frequent rampages, was unpredictable, and would verbally attack her mother.
People who are toxic can change moods and demeanor in a very short time. They perceive reality differently than you or I, most often feeling a great sense of entitlement. They frequently deny any wrongdoing. Unfortunately, people who relate in a hostile and abusive manner justify their behavior as warranted. Consequently, my client would never be able to please her daughter, and she needed to recognize that her daughter had an illness that would make having a healthy lifelong relationship with her most unlikely. Although I had never diagnosed the daughter, I suspected that her daughter had a mental illness or personality disorder
Hostile and abusive people who have violent mood swings and misperceive reality typically have an illness that is not going to get better by itself. It would not matter how my client had reacted, because it would not have changed her daughter’s misconception and the toxic reaction that she received. When my client realized that her loved one was mentally ill and may have been suffering from a personality disorder, it took the sting out of the relationship. In other words, it took the power out of her daughter’s words and actions. She no longer took things personally in this toxic relationship.
My client needed to educate herself about personality disorders and mental illness. She needed to seek out assistance from groups who felt similar pain. She might even benefit from groups like NAMI, the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill. This client followed my instructions and while she does not condone her daughter’s behavior, she understands it better and takes it less personally.
My client needed to detach with love. This means minimal contact with that person for the sanity of the healthy party. This can be terribly difficult if there are children or grandchildren involved with whom you desire to maintain a relationship.
It’s important to educate yourself about mental illness and personality disorders. Information is power. It will give you strength. Seek professional help to learn the coping skills to do what you need to do to detoxify.