Yet another client lamented to me the other day, ‘I’m an intelligent person! Why have I ended up in a toxic relationship?!’

I’ve heard so many people say this with complete exasperation, myself included.

The answer is simple; if we are not inundated or at least saturated with love, affection, and emotional intimacy as part of every-day life, anyone coming along to offer even a portion of that to you will feel like a godsend. The high of positive feelings that you do not otherwise feel on a daily or weekly basis will feel like true love or the best thing since Adam Driver (don’t ask me why; I don’t know).

When I was younger, I was so starved of affection, love, validation, and everything else that I was textbook codependent (in the psychological sense this means that you are completely others-orientated. Book recommendation here). I also had extreme attachment and abandonment anxiety (book recommendation here). This made me the absolute perfect partner of an abuser, and I stayed in an abusive relationship for over three years. I won’t traumatise you with the details, but suffice to say it was harrowing and took many years to recover from it, some of which I’ve only just healed in my own therapy, fourteen years later.

This isn’t to say this is a victim’s fault, but rather to arm us with the information we need in order to heal. I didn’t heal in order to stop bad things happening to me; I healed because I was miserable, terribly depressed and sick of being such a target. If I ever found myself in a compromising situation again, I’d at least want to be facing that with my head held high, knowing that I’d loved myself the best I could.

The truth was that I wasn’t raised in a household that was big on feelings, accountability, or openness. And as an Empath I navigated that the best way I knew how; to keep myself small, pre-empt people’s moods, watch everything I said and did, and keep it to myself when I was hurt. I was the perfect partner for an abuser.

But things have changed enormously. I’ve been on a big journey of self-nurture and emotional education for the past eight years. I mentioned to a friend the other day that I like to go on walks at night to clear my head at the end of the day. ‘Isn’t that a bit dangerous?’ he asked.

‘The second they got me, they’d put me back where they found me. I would be the worst person to kidnap.’ It’s not that I feel completely indestructible, it’s just that I feel so myself, such a growing, massive version of myself that I don’t feel there’s much room for anyone to push me around. I used to feel like a seedling, ready to be stamped on and trying to stay small for survival. I now feel like an expanding oak tree that’s much more difficult to push around.

And the number one thing that changed all of that? Love.

I learned how to love myself, be patient with myself, pour all the emotional education I could get my hands on into my brain, and I only accepted loving relationships into my life. I cut out all the ones that weren’t serving or nurturing me and I joined meetups, groups, and networking organisations so I could meet lovely, inspiring people. There was a lonely gap where I didn’t have many of my original friends left and still had new friendships forming, but it didn’t take forever.

What this new landscape of loving, platonic relationships has meant is that my week is filled with support, love, and emotional intimacy – flowing both ways!! I have become a grounded person who listens very intently, and the little feedback I offer is posing friends the occasional poignant questions here or there. When I was in the throes of codependency I would struggle not to get emotionally invested in other people’s situations and would get upset when they didn’t behave the way I thought they should. It was exhausting! But now I give everyone the chance, including myself, to be their own adult, make their own choices, and lean into contemplation rather than quick judgement.

This healthier new landscape has given me the foundation I need to now approach romantic relationships with concrete expectations of respect, compassion, boundaries, and so much more. When someone offers me intimacy, love, or a commitment, I do not feel that this is a feast in a desert. This is one potential connection in a sea of other great connections. I can pause, enjoy the process of getting to know someone. I do not fear what will happen whether we hit it off, or not. I do not offer my vulnerability too soon, or to someone I do not yet know well enough to trust. I do not engage in any activity with conditions attached, such as ‘I’ll do this with you, as long as you don’t leave me’.

On the few occasions I have decided to engage in physical intimacy with someone I don’t know well enough, I’m confident that I will keep my footing regardless of what happens, and that I’ll have a smile on my face most of the time. When a short-lived triste ended due to a wandering eye (and hands) I was able to calmly and confidently say, ‘look, it’s only been a few weeks. Let’s just cut our losses. This is too messy for me and honestly I’m not really interested in continuing anymore’. There were no hard feelings, no enormous arguments, and no suppressed feelings or resentment. He’d made his choice, and I chose me (and felt great about it!).

So, it’s got nothing to do with intelligence that someone ends up in this situation, and everything to do with love. If you don’t have enough in your life, how will you change that?


If you’re ready to transform your life and want help improving your relationship to yourself and others, I offer personal coaching, and it’s especially for people like you! Sensitive souls who need some guidance so they can become big, strong oak trees!

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