Active addicts, codependents, people who are struggling with eating or other disorders all struggle with a very real level of unhealthy and abusive behavior. It births, accompanies and perpetuates all their dysfunctional relationships. The latter is something each of the above encounters throughout their active addictive processes because dysfunctional behavior typically attracts dysfunctional people. However, it’s likely that the most toxic relationship they have is actually with themselves.
In fact, the most abusive nature that these individuals are familiar with is typically exhibited in the way they treat themselves. Due to the origin of their self-inflicted abuse, without intervention, the toxic relationship can last the majority of their lives and ultimately lead to their detriment. This destructive dynamic with the self is usually something that results from childhood, often due to abuse, negligence and/or untreated addiction or other active mental illness within the home.
Regardless of how or where the self-destruction or self-sabotage was modeled, individuals who exhibit any degree of abusive behavior—whether it’s physical, verbal, spiritual, psychological or sexual—towards themselves typically subconsciously seek out equally destructive relationships with other abusive people. Generally speaking, this happens because the abusive interpersonal experiences adequately mirror the level of self-inflicted pain.
The Reason Behind the Pain
Essentially, any individual who has suffered abuse, neglect or other form of severe emotional trauma seeks closure, resolution and validation in an effort to feel whole or complete. The latter is due to the fact that severe emotional trauma, just like physical trauma, tends to result in loss. However, where trauma in the physical form might result in the loss of a motor function or a limb, severe emotional trauma might strip a person of their innocence or childhood, self-esteem, identity, etc.
As a result, the traumatized individual moves through life subconsciously attempting to recreate and resolve the abusive or traumatizing relationships from the past. These recreation relationships usually become extremely detrimental and often result in or co-occur with codependency, eating disorders, addiction and other active mental illness. Certainly, they also affect a recovering addict's ability to maintain successful recovery. As such, it is important for recovering addicts, as well as other individuals in the process of holistic healing, to reflect on the relationship they have with themselves and determine the nature of it.
Beginning of Recovery
Often referred to as emotional recovery, a process of healing which goes below the surface of the disease of addiction itself and explores the root or core issues underneath is usually necessary for all recovering addicts. Emotional exploration and recovery is necessary to assess the nature of the relationship with the self and others. Though sobriety is certainly possible without it, relapse prevention and achievement of long-term, successful recovery and optimum potential generally requires holistic healing.
Usually, throughout the process of emotional recovery, each individual realizes a long history of self-inflicted pain and suffering predating the diagnosis or onset of chemical dependency. In fact, there are often noted behaviors which easily fit within various categories of abuse. Here are just a few:
- Misuse of drugs, substance abuse, various methods of self-harm, food restriction to the point of low blood sugar or other physical symptoms, overeating and other compulsive, high-risk behaviors.
- Refusal to attend to the one’s physical, emotional, spiritual or psychological needs.
- Self-exploitation and engaging in dangerous sexual behavior.
- Constantly berating oneself with negative messages, criticism, blame, threats or punishment.
- Self-imposed guilt, shame or other non-compassionate responses resulting from the aforementioned behaviors and/or any social or legal consequences as well as any moral or religious beliefs that damn such activities and individuals responsible.
6 Steps to Take
Healing the relationship with yourself begins by first exploring the root of the problem. Understanding where you learned the abusive or toxic behavior you exhibit toward yourself is necessary because the original points toward different degrees of help needed to heal. Below are 6 possible actions to take once you realize the relationship you have with yourself is indeed toxic and in need of repair:
1. Take accountability, but do so with compassion.
Remember, we do better when we know better. Up until now, you’ve been surviving the best way you know how. But, realize there’s a better way.
2. Make amends to yourself.
Just as with any relationship, once you have realized your behavior has been hurtful and taken full accountability, make amends by stating the hurtful things you’ve done, said to yourself or ways in which you neglected your personal health. Then, simply apologize and make a commitment to yourself to do better.
3. Get some time to yourself.
Every relationship requires quality time to sustain and nurture it. The same goes for the relationship with you. Make time to be with yourself. Carve out at least ten minutes a day. Increase that time in the same way you might increase a workout session. Your goal should be an hour a day with just yourself doing something you love and/or which nurtures you.
4. Begin practicing acts of self-love.
There are a number of ways to employ self-love. Making time to spend with just you, writing yourself a love letter, getting a massage, going for a long walk, journaling and meditation are all examples. Find what you love most by making a list of things that relax or nurture you—things you like to do—and simply start doing at least one of them, daily.
5. Take care of yourself.
Healthy, close relationships are supportive and nurturing, respectful of needs and boundaries and open to communication and active listening. Your closest relationship is the one with yourself, and as such it is no exception to this rule.
6. Seek professional help or advice when necessary.
Some toxic relationships originate from traumatic or abusive childhood experiences. Typically, in these cases, professional help is necessary to heal and learn to love yourself. If the unhealthy relationship with yourself results from severely dysfunctional relationships in your childhood, consider reaching out to a counselor or other helping professional to address the core issues. In this case, it is the first and most important act of self-love.
Remember, a toxic relationship with yourself always has a spill-over factor. In other words, the unhealthy or abusive behaviors you exhibit toward yourself will inevitably affect your other relationships. If you are looking to have healthier, more fulfilling relationships with others, the first step to take is to heal the one you have with yourself.