Updated: Aug 29
On the contrary to a common stigmatized view, no one ever stays in a toxic relationship or a trauma bonded relationship because "they're stupid" or "don't deserve better".
People stay because their subconscious fears and believes become triggered, creating all of the reasons why they SHOULD stay, even if it is painful.
In my latest podcast, I go into detail on 3 key reasons as to why people stay (and why you may have stayed in a painful relationship before). If you want to hear my "soothing" voice, please check out my podcast, Dr Sarah: Heal from Toxic Relationships; episode: Why you convince yourself it is safer to stay in a trauma bonded relationship.
But for now, here are the key points to consider and identify if you have experienced any of these:
1. False sense of 'safety' to STAY. People stay in these relationships because of a misguided sense of safety. Although the relationship itself feels threatening and anxiety-inducing, cognitive dissonance kicks in. Cognitive dissonance is basically where you hold 2 opposing viewpoints on the same thing. For example, you may feel:
Option A: It is painful to stay and I am constantly injured
Option B: My partner actually loves me deep down and I love them, and I know how to manage it. Things will get better and I don't think I could find someone to love like them.
When cognitive dissonance is present and emotions are heightened, we are likely to choose the familiar option (not necessarily the 'healthiest' option). This would be option B - believing that it is 'safer' to remain because you believe you know how to manage it and it might feel unsafe without them.
2. Co-dependency for practical and psychological needs. Subconsciously, we are attracted to people who mirror and match up what we believe about ourselves and about the world. For example, if you believe that you are inadequate or that you can only be loved under certain conditions; you may inadvertently be attracted to someone who criticises you, expects a lot from you, and only when you've met their expectations they show affection. Strangely this creates psychological dependency as you depend on this person to mirror your subconscious beliefs but also there is a subconscious need to resolve this difficulty with this individual. You become dependent on the 'role' you play within the relationship and the identity you hold being in this dynamic (i.e. I am the helper, I am the loving caring partner). You also become dependent on them physically as time progresses, lives become intertwined. Falling into the stage of trust and co-dependency, you may have been promised a future together, rush into big commitments (e.g. moving in together, having a child, getting married). This unhealthy dependency reinforces the toxic cycle, leaving you unable to break free. 3. The gamblers fallacy. People often stay in such relationships because they are fearful of what they might lose by being out of the relationship, and the impending grief related to the end. As with gambling, the more people invest, the more they want to invest even if it is a losing investment because they believe they will at some point hit the jackpot. It's the same with toxic relationships. The longer you invest in the relationship, the harder it becomes to detach, as you have given so much of yourself, time, energy, love, care, money etc. hoping for validation and affection in return. Leaving would mean acknowledging the immense loss and accepting the hollow version of yourself created during the relationship.
Being aware of these key drivers can support you in making a choice - you can become empowered in considering what you would want to do about the relationship and how you would prioritise yourself.
If anything here has resonated with you, please know that:
You can find safety outside of the relationship. Safety is something that can be created within you - and that would be real power.
Your worth is infinite, and your actions within a relationship do not define your identity or role.
You can always change and make different choices the moment you feel empowered to do so.
You need time and space to heal and grow.
Your emotions are true and absolutely valid.
If you found this useful, please do me 2 favours. Please have a look at my free e-book here which can help you improve your relationship and heal trauma bonding. Second, please share with other people who you feel would benefit from this - because the more people supported, the better our community can survive and heal.
As always, if you ever want to connect and gain support - I'm here.
All my love, Dr Sarah
improving your relationships