Walking Away from Toxic Relationships

In my priestly ministry, I often encounter people who are in need of pastoral counseling or guidance. Beyond the “typical” needs from people who are going through moments of hardship, pain, and suffering, there are also many who are struggling with relationship issues or who just want to talk and be listened to. Some of these encounters are eyes opening, and a few of them are also really sad, disturbing, or heavy on the heart. We are complicated human beings. And even though I believe many people try do things out of good intentions, for some reasons, a good number of them are also blind-sighted by what they have painted for themselves, falsely hoping for something that is not real, or simply wanting things to happen in certain ways that they choose to be or stay in relationships that are not healthy for them. I would like to share some examples that I have encountered for your own personal reflection.

I think too many people want to be in a relationship so much that they are willing to throw themselves to people who seem to express an “interest” in them! Whether this desire to be with someone stems from self-loathe, a desire to be loved, a need to be needed, or to simply be embraced by others, there is never a right reason to want to be in a relationship “just because” for an unrealistic reason. As a matter of fact, I have seen too many people who just want to be in a relationship because they do not want to be alone, yet they have not taken the time to understand, reflect, discern, and embrace their core values and necessary personal dignity. Since they do not really know who they are, they easily get manipulated or persuaded to be someone else in order to be accepted and loved by the other side. Hence, one gets hurt in a relationship when he or she is willing to compromise his or herself and personal values to simply be accepted, loved, and appreciated by the other people.

Too many times, there are bad people who know how to flatter, compliment, and manipulate others with their charming character, quick wit, and alluring qualities. There are people who prey on other people’s needs to be loved and accepted, play with their emotions, and use what they have observed and learned from those who are vulnerable to their advantage. They play the game to gain sympathy, at times, claim to be victims, someone helpless, or those who are in need of the preyed person’s help in order to dupe, manipulate, and ask the targeted person to give him or herself to them. Many of them like to shame, “challenge,” guilt, or cleverly manipulate others into doing things that they would not normally do.

We live in a very self-centered world where many are attracted to one another because of the apparently attractive, dreamy, confident, and grandiose sense of self the other side seem to possess. People come into toxic relationships with narcissists, psychopaths, or people who talk big but have a real problem with genuine self-giving and long-term commitment. Those who do not know themselves and have a deep sense of inherent self worth are simply attracted to those who have an inflated sense of self-importance, believe that they are better and more deserving than the rest of the world. As a matter of fact, these people tend to go around and talk about the big game, how they want their lives to be and how to achieve them, but they really have no real substantial thought and plan of action. There are real people — right now — who are willing to do anything and everything to get what they want, just to be attractive, appealing, or get ahead by manipulating the people around them. We have so many people falling for those people because of their charming, attractive, and self-centered attitudes, but these relationships cannot last because the ones who are manipulating really do not care about the other side since they do not feel bad about the damage they can cause others, just as long as the objectives are met and they get what they want. I hate to be negative, but the more I counsel people as a priest, the more I see many people in this world who either have no or very little conscience and moral values, an understanding of right or wrong, or even if they know something is wrong, they would still do them anyway.

Therefore, those who are not clear on their priorities, core values, morals, and belief systems are more likely to be manipulated or fall for someone who is living a fake character or cannot fully give themselves in the relationship. Too many times, I have seen people coming into a relationship only for the sake of what they can see as a physical attraction, appealing qualities, or apparent niceties. These things cease to exist sooner or later when manipulative people get what they want as their objective goals. They ceased with the skilled, good intentions, and nice acting once the person ceases to be of interest or when the manipulators get what they want. Many times, as soon as the honey is tasted or the initial sweet moments run out, relationships begin to be filled with many hot-headed, out of control, verbal, emotional, psychological, or physical abuse by nitpicking or calling each other out on minor mistakes.

On one extreme, there are many people who are living in unrealistic, unhealthy relationships that were only meant for initial, short-term, apparent, unrealistic, sensual, or hedonistic funs and give things up fast when challenges and opportunities for growth arise. They jump from one “relationship”“partner” — or “encounter” to the next. People in those fake relationships cannot communicate, be committed, and willing to love each other in the hurt because they only care about themselves being right and happy while trying to blame or prove that the other side is wrong and problematic. On the other hand, there are those who stay in unhealthy and toxic relationships, and they often find themselves in a degradation way of life as the relationships get duller and longer with time! They are not happy, but they are oftentimes fearful to leave because they have been too attached, dependent, scared, worried, or manipulated by the other side. 

In the world of “Me, me, me!” it is hard to trust, be transparent and genuine with one another. There are too many unstable people coming from unstable families, origins, and backgrounds that it has become easy for people to think that they know about everything and will not listen to anyone else. These people turn inward and will make sure that they have their ways at all costs, because their self-preservation and happiness are more important than others. They might pity others for a short while, but they have no problem of doing all that is possible to get the best result for them. These people tend to complain about how difficult it is to be in their shoes but careless about the struggles of those who are around them. It is so easy nowadays to throw someone’s under the bus and blame others for the mess of their lives. It has become easier to pontificate how right one is and horribly wrong the other side might be! Yet, one of the fundamental lessons to learn is that we have to acknowledge our potential negative, self-centered, and egoistical way of life is detrimental to ourselves and others because we can never engage in genuine, self-giving, transparent, caring, and loving relationships.

People nowadays can play a lot of games to get what they want. Yet, one’s nature and real character is shown with time, because everyone can simply put on a nice persona in the beginning! When things do not get their ways or being told “No!” because what they want is not in compliance with what the other side values, that is often when manipulative and self-centered people will begin to explode.

This is sad to see, but there are so many people who think that they can change other people. Nonetheless, there is almost no way to win unwilling hearts or effect long-lasting changes in toxic relationships! The longer one remains in a toxic relationship, the more cynicism, self-loathing, helplessness, anger, resentment, humiliation, and depression one is going to have. While it is hard to cut the cords and move on, it takes a lot courage to begin seeking help, to walk away, and to choose a new beginning that encompasses one’s values, morals, and beliefs. If we do not set clear boundaries, understand and know our expectations of uncompromisable values, it becomes easier for us to get manipulated and played. Smooth-talking, charming qualities, or apparent attractions are short-lived and should never be the sure judgment of a person’s true colors and characters.

When we see the truth of the person or people in the toxic relationship, stay calm so that our behaviors, emotions, and judgments are slowly, honestly, and carefully discerned. Do not be intimidated by the veiled threats or harassments, because toxic peoples like to control others with aggression and intimidation. Be true to ourselves and firm on our values because destructive people like to put the blames on us and others, especially playing with our sympathy and making unrealistic excuses. Last of all, be attentive to the surrounding details of life, especially the current relationship and conversations that happened therein, so we can objectively see the mistakes, flaws, and avoid the need to idealize the situation.

Furthermore, I have also seen so many people who know deep from within that their significant other or partner is not the one who shares their essential values, fundamental morals and beliefs, or able to be in a self-giving and committed to a life-long relationship but choose to ignore and brush off reality. Not all of these people are bad; but for various reasons, they are not able to make a conscientious, free-will, and committed relationship of self-giving, sacrificial, and Christ-centered love.

It can get frustrating at times, but I have seen over and over again, many people who walked into my office or talked to me about these relationship problems and the inability of their partners to truly give them a stable, life-long, and faith-filled relationship, but they hopelessly think that something will change and will not walk away from the codependent pseudo-marriage like relationship because they think they have invested too much time and efforts into it. I am not even talking about the abusive and detrimental ones yet! Even though I can see the needed objective choice, I just do not know the real motive of their reasoning process, except that emotional attachments tend to blind people at times. They would come in, over an over again, to complain and vent, but they would never choose to change the situation.

Perhaps I cannot convince people to walk away from toxic relationships… no one can… unless people are willing to make the hard choice! There are professionals (and perhaps, God, too) that have tried to no avail because, too many times, people have already fixed their mind on false hopes, personal fears or reservations — thinking that it will be better. However, I would like to share with you some of these typical signs of a toxic relationship that I have learned and recognized from my own priestly ministry. Maybe you can share it with someone or use this reflection as a beginning reference to see the hidden toxicity behind good charisma, charms, sweet talks, apparent or temporary attractions. No matter what might or can happen, there is always help if one is willing to seek it! I just pray and hope that whoever is seeking for help, he or she is willing to receive them as to make firm decisions, mend his or her ways, and walk away from (controllable) toxicity that exists in relationship.