- Toxic people can invade all areas of life.
- They can be your relatives, friends, colleagues, or partners.
- One thing can make it particularly hard for victims to leave: gratitude.
- This is because toxic people aren’t bad all the time.
- They’re also highly skilled at tricking you into focusing on the good times.
Nobody is bad all the time. Even the most evil, selfish people have their good days, and these sporadic, seemingly kind actions sometimes tend to overshadow the bad times in our minds.
But feeling grateful for the good is sometimes what keeps us trapped with bad people.
“You can always find evidence of your partner being good,” said psychologist Perpetua Neo, who works with victims of narcissistic abuse. “That is the whole point… That is the way in which they operate so that you will always have selective evidence.”
Abusers often follow the same pattern: idealize, devalue, discard. In the first stages, whether it’s a friendship or a romantic relationship, the toxic person does something called love bombing, where they tend to their victim’s every need, are highly affectionate and complimentary, and nothing but nice. But after a while, the mask slips and they become more aggressive, critical, and insulting.
Neo said people with high levels of empathy, or “fixers,” are often sucked into these kinds of relationships, because they want to see the good in people.
“They will overinflate the gratitude and will underplay how much they are suffering,” she said. “Changes are always piecemeal and transient, but [the narcissist] will always use that to hold you hostage.”
Forcing someone to be grateful for something small, like not being hit for a week, is a form of gaslighting. Abusive people are highly skilled at warping their victim’s mind to fit a new reality, so that they really do feel grateful when they’re not abused for a few days.
“For instance, a client, he told her ‘but I haven’t hit you this year yet,’ even though it was about three weeks into the year,” Neo said. “And he made it sound like such a big deal like she was a bad person for not acknowledging it.”
A narcissistic parent may say things like “look at everything I’ve done for you,” even if they made their child’s life extremely difficult and stressful. It’s never their fault that things go wrong, because they expect every small gesture they make to be applauded, and every mistake ignored. But if their victim slips up, all hell breaks loose.
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Catenya McHenry, author of the book “Married to A Narcissist, Enduring the Struggle and Finding You Again,” told INSIDER the first step to leaving a toxic relationship behind is realizing there are more people out there who will treat you better than how you’re being treated by the narcissist.
“Also realize that leaving won’t be easy,” she said. “It will take an enormous amount of strength and bravery and it will take self-care and self-love. Leaving will be hard but you have to stick with it because you have to ask yourself, what’s the alternative?”
In her book she wrote a section on how to “prepare for their unraveling,” where the narcissist can become unhinged and display wild and erratic behavior and tell you more lies about yourself and why you shouldn’t leave them.
“Narcissists can also manipulate you into staying by telling you they will change and they will be the a better person or promise you the world but it’s a lie,” she said. “Realize the truth about yourself and about the relationship and that this is not just about leaving an abusive relationship.”
It’s also about reclaiming your personal power and control of your own life, she added.
“Your life is yours and one sick human being cannot have and should not have that much power over someone else,” she said.