The relationship started off so well. It was new, exciting, and fun. You laughed, he was attentive, and you began to fall for him. For a moment, you questioned something, but you let it go because it only happened once. You still felt like yourself. No significant situation, or not repeated enough, that made you question it was a toxic relationship.
Then that minor thing continued repeatedly with no end in sight or possibly took a sudden turn from anger, to rage, and maybe aggression. Perhaps gradually increased from once or twice a month to more than once a week. Almost daily.
Toxic Relationships are described with the Cycle of Violence. It includes three phases: The Honeymoon Phase, Tension Phase, and Explosive Phase. The Honeymoon phase is something you may have commonly heard of. Whether you’re in a healthy, supportive relationship or a toxic relationship, all relationships experience the Honeymoon phase. And all will dwindle away from it with resurgence here and there.
It’s in this phase that all is well, and you still feel like yourself.
In toxic relationships, however, the Cycle of Honeymoon, Tension, and Explosion repeats and builds with intensity and in frequency over time. Often to a point where there is no more Honeymoon phase, and you live in constant tension and explosion. Some relationship dynamics don’t take time at all to reach this point.
What isn’t talked about are the phases one personally experiences while stuck in the cycle. As toxicity builds, you slowly feel like you don’t know who you are anymore. You feel lost, confused, and may not realize how much until after the relationship is over. Once you’re out of the cycle, you experience a state of daze, shock, not knowing what you feel or how to react. Mind and body are numb.
You’ve somehow lost yourself and don’t know how to get her back.
This is a common reaction, but you can and will find yourself again.
Like the cycle of violence, this appears to occur in three phases as well. I like to call them the Phase of Doubt and Uncertainty, the Phase of Oppression, and the Phase of Reemergence.
The Phase of Doubt and Uncertainty:
Early in the relationship, again things are overall good, and you are still you. But you might notice that when arguments arise, you try your best to help your partner understand how you’re feeling and your perspective on the situation. But the message just isn’t getting through. Instead, you get the message that you’re to blame for what’s happening and how he is reacting. You receive the message that everything is your fault. His perspective is the only perspective. Yours is not allowed or understood.
No matter how hard you try. No matter how calm, no matter how angry, no matter how many ways you try to send the message, or approach it.
As this dynamic repeats over and over, you begin to question yourself. “Maybe it is me. I am over reacting.” “Maybe I did do something wrong. I can change this or that.” You start to doubt what you’re feeling or thinking. You attempt to make changes within yourself or the things you do for sake of the relationship and your partner. And there is nothing wrong with that. But if you’re the only one expected to change, you end up sacrificing so much of yourself, you begin to not feel like you anymore.
There are two key parts of this phase:
1. Begin to doubt what you see, hear, think, and feel, and lose trust in your own judgment.
2. Attempt to change for another in hopes that it will bring happiness and calm.
The Phase of Oppression:
Oppression is not a word we like to hear, but it helps define this phase well. Oxford Languages defines oppression as “the state of being subject to unjust treatment or control.” It’s when we’re oppressed that we lose our voice. How?
As mentioned above, in toxic relationships, only one perspective is accepted, and although you try to argue your point, the message isn’t received. After many attempts, you either stop because it takes too much mental, emotional, and physical energy. Or because you’ve tried every approach. You’re out of ideas of what more to do and want to give up. You’re too tired to keep fighting.
Sometimes, it just isn’t safe. Arguing back means verbal, emotional, and/or physical abuse. Sometimes life threatening or threat of harm to someone else.
Agreeing is easier and/or safer.
You stay quiet to keep the peace.
Quiet protects you but overtime, you also lose your voice. With the loss of your voice, you lose touch to your emotions, your thoughts of judgment, opinion, and insight. You feel empty and alone inside. Depression sets in.
What’s important to understand is that our mind and body communicate with thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations. They’re our guides that help us gauge through life. They tell us what we like and don’t like, what’s safe or not safe, what’s good or bad. Without this communication, it’s hard to see, understand, or believe what’s happening and therefore, make decisions. We are just existing and not living. Frozen almost. Lost.
But our mind and body can only withstand this phase for so long before we begin to Reemerge.
The Phase of Reemergence:
Oxford Languages defines Reemergence as, “the process of coming into sight or prominence once more.” Again, emotions are our guide. Overtime, suppressing our emotions begins to weigh heavy. We get tired, annoyed, irritable, and mad. This is when fatigue, anger, and even fearful emotions are healthy and help us too reemerge. We slowly move from depression and shut down to action. It might be fighting back or fleeing, but the more important thing is they help us to stop the cycle.
Toxic relationships have different endings to their story. You may have ended the relationship because you got tired of not being heard. Tired of the abuse. You recognized it’s never going to change and anger began to emerge just enough to find energy and motivation again. A reminder of your worthiness came to mind. Enough was enough, so you left. Or, possibly out of fear. You knew is wasn’t safe. You needed to escape and run away. There are many variations. No matter your story, it was your emotions, thoughts, and actions that were oppressed for too long. You received the message that this must end.
Even if you didn’t end it but were forced by others to end it. In time, your internal processes will help you understand why others acted for you so that you can reemerge and take the driver’s seat again.
Tactics used in the Cycle of Violence are used to gain power and control over another. Or a situation. It’s easy to feel angry at yourself because you may believe you “allowed” it to happen. Or because you believed yourself to be stronger than to fall under another’s power. It’s easy to forget what it was like while in the middle of these dynamics and tactics. It’s easy to forget how much you cared about the person you thought you met and their initial behavior towards you.
Toxic relationships do not mean that they only occur in romantic relationships. It can be a parent-child relationship, partnership, supervisor-subordinate, or other work related relationship. Even a friendship.
What’s important is taking time after the relationship to continue your journey of healing to find you again. Talk about it, journal about it, cry about it, pray about it, including feelings of anger. Remember, we need our thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations to communicate and process so that we can regulate again. Allow time and space to listen and reconnect to what they are trying to tell you. This is your path back to you.
If you are experiencing intrusive memories or images, nightmares, difficulty sleeping, and/or having prolonged and intense emotional and physical reactions to reminders of negative experiences during the relationship, and these reactions are persistent and frequent, working with a counselor can help you through this journey.
Please contact me for a 20 minute free consultation.