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Toxic Love - the dysfunctional, addictive, cultural norm

"True Love is not a painful obsession. It is not taking a hostage or being a hostage. It is not all-consuming, isolating, or constricting. Unfortunately the type of love most of us learned about as children is in fact an addiction, a form of toxic love."
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"If we can start seeing relationships not as the goal but as opportunities for growth then we can start having more functional relationships. A relationship that ends is not a failure or a punishment - it is a lesson."
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"As long as we believe that we have to have the other in our life to be happy, we are really just an addict trying to protect our supply - using another person as our drug of choice.  That is not True Love - nor is it Loving."
On this page is a column by codependency therapist/Spiritual teacher about the dysfunctional definitions of love, a toxic form of love, that we are taught in childhood.
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Codependence:
The Dance of Wounded Souls
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The column Toxic Love was originally written in 1996.  In 1999 it was slightly rewritten and expanded as part of a series of articles on Codependent Relationships Dynamics for the Suite101.com directory page Robert edits.  Though the original title is being used here, this is the updated version that is part 2 of that series - Dysfunctional Definition of Love.
 
 

Toxic Love

by Robert Burney M. A.
"As long as we believe that someone else has the power to make us happy then we are setting ourselves up to be victims" 
 Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls


 One of the biggest problems with relationships in this society is that the context we approach them from is too small. We were taught that getting the relationship is the goal. 

It starts in early childhood with Fairy Tales where the Prince and the Princess live happily-ever-after.  It continues in movies and books where "boy meets girl" "boy loses girl" "boy gets girl back" - the music swells and the happy couple ride off into the sunset.  The songs that say "I can't smile without you"  "I can't live without you"  "You are my everything" describe the type of love we learned about growing up - toxic love - an addiction with the other person as our drug of choice, as our Higher Power. 

Any time we set another human being up to be our Higher Power we are going to experience failure in whatever we are trying to accomplish.  We will end up feeling victimized by the other person or by our self - and even when we feel victimized by the other person we blame our self for the choices we made.  We are set up to fail to get our needs met in Romantic Relationships because of the belief system we were taught in childhood and the messages we got from our society growing up.

There is no goal to reach that will bring us to happily-ever after.  We are not incomplete until we find our soul mate.  We are not halves that cannot be whole without a relationship.

True Love is not a painful obsession. It is not taking a hostage or being a hostage. It is not  all-consuming, isolating, or constricting. Believing we can't be whole or happy without a relationship is unhealthy and leads us to accept deprivation and abuse, and to engage in manipulation, dishonesty, and power struggles.  The type of love we learned about growing up is an addiction, a form of toxic love.

Here is a short list of the characteristics of Love vs. toxic love (compiled with the help of the work of Melody Beattie & Terence Gorski.) 

1. Love - Development of self first priority.
Toxic love - Obsession with relationship.

2. Love - Room to grow, expand; desire for other to grow.
Toxic love - Security, comfort in sameness; intensity of need seen as proof of love (may really be fear, insecurity, loneliness)

3. Love - Separate interests; other friends; maintain other meaningful relationships.
Toxic love - Total involvement; limited social life; neglect old friends, interests.

4. Love - Encouragement of each other's expanding; secure in own worth. 
Toxic love - Preoccupation with other's behavior; fear of other changing.

5. Love - Appropriate Trust (i.e. trusting partner to behave according to fundamental nature.) 
Toxic love - Jealousy; possessiveness; fear of competition; protects "supply."

6. Love - Compromise, negotiation or taking turns at leading. Problem solving together.
Toxic love - Power plays for control; blaming; passive or aggressive manipulation.

7. Love - Embracing of each other's individuality. 
Toxic love - Trying to change other to own image.

8. Love - Relationship deals with all aspects of reality. 
Toxic love - Relationship is based on delusion and avoidance of the unpleasant.

9. Love - Self-care by both partners; emotional state not dependent on other's mood. 
Toxic love - Expectation that one partner will fix and rescue the other.

10. Love - Loving detachment (healthy concern about partner, while letting go.)
Toxic love - Fusion (being obsessed with each other's problems and feelings.)

11. Love - Sex is free choice growing out of caring & friendship. 
 Toxic love - Pressure around sex due to insecurity, fear & need for immediate gratification.

12. Love - Ability to enjoy being alone. 
Toxic love - Unable to endure separation; clinging.

13. Love - Cycle of comfort and contentment.
Toxic love - Cycle of pain and despair.

Love is not supposed to be painful. There is pain involved in any relationship but if it is painful most of the time then something is not working. 

There is nothing wrong with wanting a relationship - it is natural and healthy.  There is nothing wrong with wanting a relationship that will last forever - expecting it to last forever is what is dysfunctional.  Expectations set us up to be a victim - and cause to abandon ourselves in search of our goal.

If we can start seeing relationships not as the goal but as opportunities for growth then we can start having more functional relationships. A relationship that ends is not a failure or a punishment - it is a lesson. 

As long as our definition of a successful relationship is one that lasts forever - we are set up to fail. As long as we believe that we have to have the other in our life to be happy, we are really just an addict trying to protect our supply - using another person as our drug of choice.  That is not True Love - nor is it Loving. 

Hearts with an arrow through them symbolizing both Love and heart break.
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Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls by Robert Burney is copyright 1995.  Material on Joy2MeU web site (except where otherwise noted) is copyright 1996 thru 2013 by Robert Burney  PO Box 235401 Encinitas CA 92023.

(The column "Toxic Love" by Robert Burney originally appeared in the Information Press of San Luis Obispo California.)