When you love and respect yourself, it becomes obvious when someone else is not loving or respecting you. – Meredith Miller

One of the most difficult facts to face when you are in a toxic relationship is the brutal truth that no matter how badly the other person is treating you, you are treating yourself worse by choosing to stay. And if you’ve been in a series of toxic relationships with unhealthy partners, understanding that you are the one who has kept yourself in these unhealthy places with unhealthy people can be a tough pill to swallow.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that it’s your fault that you are being mistreated and abused. Never. Never. Never. But you are responsible for getting yourself out of such an environment and if you are choosing to stay, it’s time to get real with yourself about why. It’s a long journey to arrive at a place where you can acknowledge and accept that the role you’ve played in your own tortured drama has been a leading one and that you’ve been calling the shots all along.

Do you find yourself in toxic relationships where you feel used, taken advantage of, under-appreciated, disrespected and/or your focus is on meeting the needs of your partner, thereby diminishing your own needs? The problem is that for far too long you’ve likely been putting your own wants and needs on the back burner in order to focus on meeting the needs of someone else. This is classic co-dependent and/or people-pleasing behavior and it typically shows in adults who were conditioned as children that their needs were not important or were an inconvenience.

Infancy/childhood is the time when self-love sprouts and grows, but if you were raised by adults who didn’t give your needs proper attention or reacted negatively when you expressed them, your self-love was likely stunted. When children are taught that their needs are not as important as the needs of others, they become adults who that feel their needs are not as important as the needs of others – and those kind of people are magnets for users and abusers.

A primary reason that people stay in toxic relationships is their own dysfunctional relationship with self. If you truly love your self in a healthy, life-affirming way, you will not for a moment stay in a relationship with someone for whom you have to diminish your personal wants and needs. When you love yourself, you don’t get into toxic relationships because the first time that someone exhibits unhealthy behavior, you walk. You don’t rationalize, you don’t doubt yourself, you don’t make excuses (his/her abusive childhood, bad breaks in life, lousy role models, etc…), and you absolutely don’t stay in the relationship.

Self-love indicates that if a partnership requires that you put the health, happiness, and life satisfaction of someone else ahead of yours, you decline the relationship. If a partnership requires that you walk on eggshells to maintain an emotional equilibrium for your partner, you decline the relationship. If a partnership requires that you alter your natural expression, interests, and style of relating, you decline the relationship.

This isn’t to say that healthy relationships don’t require ‘give and take’, compromise, and other adjustments along the way, and yes, you both have some behaviors that could and should be improved upon, but this is not the same as a critical partner whom you can pacify only by shrinking yourself down to a self-sufficient, ‘other focused’, subservient pleaser.

Emotionally disregulated people need to control their environment so that they can feel safe and secure. They slowly condition you to align your mood with theirs, to keep quiet when they want you to be quiet, to agree with them, to cater to their needs, and to keep your attention on them. Don’t you want your partner to feel safe and secure? Of course you do! But it cannot come at the expense of your personal expression of life. It cannot come at the expense of your own personality and your own soul. When it does, it’s a toxic relationship and you are losing yourself in it.

So what do you do when you accept that you are keeping yourself in a toxic relationship hence, treating yourself even worse than your abuser? You make the difficult decision to put yourself first. The more of a challenge this is, the more co-dependent you likely are. You must finally grace yourself with all the empathy and understanding that you’ve been giving to your partner. If there are children involved, you’ve got an extra layer of difficulty and I suggest you build up a strong support system of trusted friends and family to help you. Get your finances in order as best you can and prepare a safe space. But don’t let children be the reason you stay. Children need to grow up in a healthy, safe, and affirming environment and if you are in a toxic relationship, it’s also toxic to them and you will only be contributing to a cycle of dysfunction.

Once you have finally broken the trauma bond that keeps you attached to an abuser and are lavishing your love on yourself and on those who deserve that beautiful compassion of yours, you will never abandon yourself to another toxic relationship.

*Need some self-love tips? Check out my previous post: 10 Ways to Fall in Love With Yourself