You don't need to read self-help books to know the phrase, "You cant love someone else until you learn to love yourself," but I'd expand on that overly-used quote by saying you can't love someone else until you've learned to see who you really are.
I've been in more toxic relationships throughout my life than I care to mention, but those relationships have taught me more about myself than any other.
Maybe I learned things the hard way, but I learned, and I've finally reached a point where I can feel that a relationship is toxic before I start to lose myself in it.
Here are four types of toxic relationships, what they showed me about the myths I bought into, and what they told me about the relationship I had with myself.
One by one, the myths I believed in were blown to pieces, and my relationship with myself was transformed.
1. The controlling partner
The controlling partner is exactly what they sound like. They want to know where you are all the time; they want to know who you're with; they want to be in charge of everything you do. They check up on you constantly; they criticize what you wear.
What I didn't realize is that by attracting a partner who was controlling, I was affirming my own false beliefs about relationships -- that they are restrictive, that they stagnate personal growth, that they aren't a safe place to express yourself.
I didn't know it at the time, but when I got involved with a controlling partner, I unconsciously believed that in order for a relationship to survive, I had to accept the feeling of being trapped. I equated "settling down" with somehow being finished with any personal growth.
2. The neglecting partner
A neglecting partner will leave you feeling as though you don't matter by making major decisions without informing you, by standing you up, by not following through on plans with you.
In my case, the neglectful partner I chose always walked about 50 feet ahead of me whenever we were in public together.
Sure, it seems as if that guy was the asshole. Truth be told, though, I made the choice to be with him, and I did so because I believed I was somehow inherently undeserving of love.
I believe love was something that needed to be earned, worked for, even begged for, at times.
It took going through this kind of relationship (and eventually adopting a dog) for me to realize I actually deserve to be loved... not because of what I do or who I am, but simply because I exist.
3. The overly-needy partner
By the time you attract an overly-needy partner, you've probably done a significant amount of work on yourself and have a lot of sage-like advice to offer the world.
Cue the bottomless-pit-of-need-in-human-form that is the overly-needy partner.
The overly-needy partner constantly requires some form of human aid and expects you to provide things they should be providing for themselves, like acceptance, love, forgiveness or self-esteem.
By getting involved with someone like this, you'll find yourself drained of your own resources, ignoring your own life while you remain occupied by the endless task of putting out fires in theirs.
Attracting someone like the overly-needy partner is a sign that, on some level, you believe you know what's best for someone else.
There's an inherent egotism in this belief because this person isn't a child and doesn't actually need you -- even if they say they do.
Leaving them is the best thing you can do for yourself... focusing on them is only clouding the issue.
By dating an overly-needy partner I realized I was playing God. This not only fed my ego, but it provided a distraction from my own life. It was selfishness disguised as selflessness.
This kind of relationship also represents the false belief that a relationship requires totally sacrificing myself for the sake of someone else.
...Thanks for that Hollywood.
4. The manipulating partner
The manipulating partner is a variation of the controlling partner; they're just more subtle and skilled at it.
You may find yourself drawn in by their salesman-like charisma, believing anything they say. By the time you catch on, you may find they've been lying to you all along.
An attraction to a manipulator in your life may reveal an inherent belief in yourself that people are out to get you.
You may believe deep down that relationships are meant to be hard, that people are inherently disappointing and that you are a victim.
Getting involved with someone who lies to you is a reflection of your own habit of self-flagellation, by choosing partners who lead you to feel guilty about your own actions or lack of judgment.
In truth, guilt almost always takes the place of finding a solution. Instead of seeing a problem objectively and finding its solution, we can continue the cycle by repeatedly beating ourselves up about it.
It's a procrastination technique, and it's a way for us to manipulate ourselves into staying in the same destructive patterns.
You see how that came full circle? So next time someone is playing you, just know that, really, you're playing yourself.
By recognizing our own beliefs and by remaining aware of them, we can uncover destructive patterns in our lives and finally stop engaging in them.
Everyone deserves to feel loved, and we can begin by truly seeing ourselves and our patterns, without judging ourselves for them.
Only then will we love ourselves in a way that will prepare us to love someone else.