Why it’s so hard to end a toxic relationship

How to Get Addicted to a Toxic Relationship

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Why it's so hard to end a toxic relationship

You can literally become addicted to a toxic relationship. Which can have major and very harmful consequences…This article shows why it is so difficult to end the romance as a victim. “An addiction to an abuser can be similar to a feeling of addiction to drugs.”

The victim not only becomes accustomed to the horrific cycle of idealization, devaluation and ultimately abuse, but becomes unconsciously addicted to it.

Being mistreated and yet staying…

We are blessed to live in an age where you can find a program for just about any addiction. Be it alcoholism, drug addiction, gambling, overeating, or internet use… But not yet for addiction to abusers in love. Yet the victims of this abuse often have great difficulty leaving their toxic partner. The abuse harms their physical, mental, and emotional well-being and this continues until the relationship ends.

Why it's so hard to end a toxic relationship
The frequently asked question is: why do they stay? The answer to that question is much more complex than it appears on the surface. Abuse in love is an actual addiction with all its consequences.

The strong bond between perpetrator and victim

An addiction to an abuser can be similar to a feeling of addiction to drugs. This is due to the biochemical and psychological processes that take place in victims. Recognizing these processes is important to understand the strong bond between perpetrators and victims. It is these connections that cause victims to struggle to end the relationship. The addiction can also cause them to relapse in the relationship. He can also create a block on the road to recovery from the psychological trauma that is the relationship.

Incomprehension: why don’t you leave?

It is therefore important to explore how brain chemistry can make people addicted to an abuser – without blaming the victims for the abuse they experienced. With the existing lack of understanding for this as yet unrecognized addiction, we can easily blame the victim: why didn’t you get out of that relationship? When we understand the situation better, we can offer greater compassion and support to those who struggle with it.

Cognitive dissonance for survival

Why it's so hard to end a toxic relationship

Abuse creates complex bonds between the victim and the perpetrator that are difficult to break. It creates cognitive dissonance. This occurs when the survivor tries to reconcile the person he or she once saw as their greatest love and the reality of the abuse. This cognitive dissonance is not a conscious choice; it is a defense mechanism that arises for survival. It is a way of coping with the trauma being experienced: denying, minimizing or rationalizing the abuse. This can only stop when you see what the perpetrator really is: an abuser.

Traumatic cycle: from idealization to abuse

The cognitive dissonance is compounded by the nature and cycle of the abuse. It’s something that often creeps in slowly. What seemed just “a slip-up” from the abuser in the very beginning, over time turns into a horrific cycle of idealization, devaluation, and ultimately abuse. The victim not only gets used to this but unconsciously becomes addicted to it. The result is a strong ‘trauma connection’ that forms between the perpetrator and the victim.

Hormones that reinforce the addiction

‘Love hormones’, like drugs, are addictive because they form a strong biochemical bond. Some hormones make it even more difficult to break free from a toxic partner.

1. Oxytocin

This hormone is known as the hug or love hormone. It is released by touch, orgasm, and sexual intercourse. It promotes bonding and trust. During the initial phase, the bond with our partner is probably quite strong due to this hormone. Positive behaviors – such as giving gifts, being compliments, and having sex – keep oxytocin released, even after experiencing abuse… The unfortunate fact is that oxytocin increases confidence and, especially in women, enhances the sense of connection. This makes it even more difficult to break free from the relationship.

2. Dopamine


According to research from Harvard Medical School, the neurotransmitters responsible for cocaine addiction are also responsible for addiction to dangerous romantic partners. They provide intense, pleasurable memories through dopamine and create reward circuitry in the brain. Essentially they tell the brain: experience this feeling again!

Dopamine isn’t just a messenger that dictates what feels right. This hormone also tells the brain what is important and what it needs to pay attention to in order to survive. And the more powerful the experience, the stronger the message in the brain to repeat that activity. It is the cement that helps perpetuate these kinds of abusive relationships instead of closing them down.

Why it's so hard to end a toxic relationship

3. Cortisol and Adrenaline

Cortisol is a stress hormone that is produced during the traumatic moments of an unhealthy relationship. It is released by the adrenal glands as part of the fight or flight mechanism. Adrenaline is also a culprit in the biochemical addiction of abusers. It promotes a calming effect so that as ‘adrenaline junkies’ we become addicted to the storm of highs and lows in the relationship. No contact with an abuser gives a lack of this adrenaline rush and is therefore experienced as incredibly painful.

4. Serotonin

Serotonin is a hormone that regulates mood. People with low serotonin levels are more likely to engage in sexual behavior, which in turn generates dopamine and oxytocin.

An important eye-opener

Discovering the biochemical connection between perpetrator and victim can be an eye-opener. You realize that leaving an abusive partner is psychologically and biochemically very difficult. Of course, there are many other factors at play, but there are important biochemicals that contribute to the reasons why people become addicted to an abuser. Practice shows that the often stigmatizing and ‘psychologizing’ labels for survivors of this abuse (such as too meek, super-sensitive, dependent, or traumatized) are incorrect. They are often intelligent, powerful, and introspective about the nature of the relationship.

Why it's so hard to end a toxic relationship

Actual support

Abuse survivors who are judged rather than supported feel even more alienated and ashamed when speaking about the abuse. They are then extra sensitive to shutting themselves off and thus receive no help. Information about the biochemical, psychological, and addictive effects provides the abuse victim with support and validation, which actually helps to leave the abusive partner.

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