There is no doubt that God gave people a natural instinct to look for certain traits in others. Little children naturally gravitate to people that are friendly, attractive, have a ‘nice voice’ , a ‘nice face’, offer them gifts or candy, smell nice, dress nice, etc. Of course this can be dangerous so good parents warn them about strangers and we keep them close to us in public places and we (try to) teach them rules about who is safe and who isn’t. Unfortunately this tendency to trust the wrong people is hard to stamp out in children and can persist into adulthood.
Due to the influences of various life experiences, lessons taught in school, personality traits, parenting techniques, and social programming, adults will exhibit a range of susceptibility to be attracted to or influenced by charismatic, charming, smooth-talking, persuasive people. But almost anyone can fall for a toxic person if they miss the warning signs or are in a weakened state of mind.
In the best case scenario, a child will grow up with an intact ‘warning system’ and will quickly notice when something is not quite right about the way a person is interacting with them. Normal children can tell when someone is smiling with their mouth, but not their eyes. They know when a parent is angry simply by looking at their face. But if the child has experienced trauma or abuse, neglect, or frightening experiences that impact their confidence in themselves and their caregivers, they may be more easily taken advantage of at any age. They may misinterpret facial expressions or tone of voice or miss them altogether. The normal warning signs may be ignored due to a hunger for attention or approval or a misunderstanding of what a normal relationship looks like.
Another human tendency is to see what we expect to see. We bring all of our previous experiences to the next experience. This is helpful in that we don’t need to relearn everything over and over again. But sometimes we learn incorrect things or untrue things through listening to stories of other people’s experiences. For example, our mother may have a fear of dogs. She may to pass that fear on to us by constantly acting afraid in the presence of dogs, even though no dog has every hurt us and we haven’t even seen a dog hurt anyone. That fear may persist until something happens to help us learn that not all dogs are dangerous, such as meeting a friendly dog at a friend’s house. Now we have a more complete picture. But if nothing happens to change that belief, we may go through our lives thinking we are afraid of dogs. Or, we may grow up feeling unnoticed and believe that any person who shows us attention really cares. We desire attention so badly that we fall for the compliments and miss the questionable things about a person that other people notice.
Between our natural attraction to certain personalities, and our tendency to see what we want to see, it can be very easy for dishonest, manipulative people to take advantage of some people. And sometimes it is at least partially our own fault for not doing due diligence to learn the facts. Check out the story. Research the background. Ask others about this person. Slow down and make sure their words and actions are in sync. Although a true con artist will have taken steps to make sure they don’t get caught easily.
Lastly, our natural desires for love, happiness, security, hope, relief from struggle, acceptance, and for some, glory, honor, power, and recognition can all blind us to the fact that someone is not who they appear to be. These self-seeking, predatory people know what to look for and and they quickly determine what needs a person has and they use it to make you like them and trust them. Are you insecure about your looks? The con will feed you compliments and assurances of your beauty. Think nobody likes you? The con will be your one and only best friend. Want to get rich quick? Have they got a great deal for you! In search of more meaning in life? Let me tell you how I find peace in this new spiritual practice! Or it can be as simple as a lonely person looking for a relationship, going out on dates, and meeting someone who looks too good to be true. They like all the same things you like and love spending time with you and buy you gifts and really understand how you feel. It’s only later that you start to wonder ‘who is this person?’ when they start acting completely different.
It is not your fault that predators exist. It is your responsibility to learn to protect yourself as best you can.
What are some ways a dishonest person tries to earn your trust? Promises of good things to come. Gifts. Praise. Confident speech. Talking in such a way that they sound like an expert. Name dropping. Referring to their past accomplishments or things that they know will appeal to your tastes and impress you. Building you up. These are not bad things from an honest person! They could actually be an expert. They might want to be your friend. Be alert to any discrepancies. Do you see proof of their past accomplishments? Do others speak highly of them? Do they speak highly of their friends or is everyone else seen as competition? Any subjects, places, or people they seem to avoid? Are they open about their weaknesses and forgiving of others’ mistakes? Do they say they’re sorry when they do something wrong?
What are some warning signs that you may have fallen for a fake or toxic person?
- Do they seem like they have become a different person from when you first met them?
- Subtly controlling you, such as pushing their plans instead of whatever you planned to do or do it their way only.
- Giving you advice that implies that you don’t know what is best for you.
- Outright telling you what you can and can’t do.
- Ridiculing your ideas.
- Telling you who you can be friends with or where to work or limiting access to your family. They may say “It’s for your own good.”
- Taking control of your money.
- Getting angry when you disagree.
- Punishing you for not going along easily with their demands.
- These behaviors may appear after a time of everything seeming wonderful.
- They suddenly become more demanding.
- They blame you for their problems or accuse you of things you didn’t do.
- Withholding the friendship and now acting like you owe them or they don’t like you unless you act a certain way.
- Only available to spend time with you when they choose the time and place.
- Cancels dates, makes excuses, often with wild stories.
- Their problems are always worse and more dramatic than yours and you have to put your needs aside to help them.
- Often talking about people that have wronged them or taken advantage of them, sometimes in unbelievable stories.
- Their own family doesn’t trust or like them.
- Seeming threatened by your other friendships.
- Keeping track of where you are at all times. But won’t let you do the same.
- Accusing you of cheating, lying or other things.
All of these are signs that this relationship is taking a wrong turn and this person may not be who you thought they were. The normal response would be to back off and spend less time with someone that treats you this way. But for an emotionally insecure person, the response may be to feel guilty, blame yourself, beg the person to forgive you, wonder what you did wrong, or try to fix them ( especially if you are a person who tends to ‘rescue’ people or animals). This only strengthens the manipulator’s control over you. This can be the beginning of a long, miserable cycle of this behavior. As long as you do what they want, if you can figure them out, and they are in a good mood, they will be nice to you , but if you don’t read them right or try to make your own choices, you will be punished in various ways.
If any of this sounds familiar to you, I urge you to not blame yourself for falling for this manipulator. But you have to be willing to accept that you had some weakness that helped them trick you into the relationship and that it is not and will never be healthy. Getting a person like that to admit guilt and to work on themselves is very difficult , if not impossible. Even though some may pretend to be sorry, they often cannot sustain any relationship changes for very long because they do not really want to change. Your job is to work on yourself. Bravely set out to heal the emotional weaknesses that kept you in this abusive pattern.
Counseling is probably best, but with determination and a support system, such as a real friend or a group, many people are able to break free of this self-defeating attraction to the wrong people. There are many books and websites that specialize in this topic. But be very careful and selective about who you get to help you. They should help you develop healthy boundaries and self awareness and self respect, not try to control you. They should teach you to trust your gut about people as learn to spot signs of unhealthy relationships.
It can be difficult to admit that until now you needed that person and that you were getting something out of this dysfunctional relationship. Some people feel safer when they let powerful people control them, until they get tired of it and decide they’ve had enough. Then it’s time to discover new ways of living your life and being responsible for your own choices and mistakes. If that person has been supporting you financially, leaving the relationship may be very complicated. But it will be worth it. You can do it. Sometimes a person has developed the belief that they are not capable of taking care of themselves. This belief may actually develop during the relationship. A formerly independent person may end up surrendering all their power to the manipulator in return for love or out of fear of harm. The good news is that you can heal and return to your independent life if you will be brave and take the first step.
Step one is be sure that you are actually in a bad relationship. Be sure you’re not just in a bad mood or going through some difficult times due to particular circumstances such as money troubles or job changes or health problems or depression and blaming it all on your partner. Life can be hard even in a good relationship and people can have conflicts and disagreements. That does not mean the other person is a toxic person. In fact , you could be creating some of your own problems if you are inflexible, controlling, critical, or emotionally immature. Many relationships are difficult simply to do the unspoken expectations that people bring to the relationship. Are you both being fair in your expectations and have you actually discussed what you both want from each other? Maybe you are looking for things that aren’t really there. Do an honest assessment. No one is perfect and just because your partner has some bad habits does not necessarily make them manipulative or toxic. Be honest and systematic in your evaluation. If you don’t think you can be fair in your judgment, ask a trusted friend or an impartial co-worker for their thoughts.
Step two is to forgive yourself for getting into this situation. Having guilt over making this mistake is not going to help you fix it. It is very empowering to admit when we are wrong! What if you are a married Christian? Then you must decide if you are in an abusive relationship. Abuse can include cheating on you, physical abuse, financial abuse( not providing basic support for the family and preventing you from doing so), child abuse, or overt threats. In this case, I urge you to seek help from your church if you have one and the police if necessary . God does not expect women to stay in abusive relationships. However that is not an excuse to leave a man just because you aren’t happy. That is another topic, though.
Step three, determine if you will meet any resistance or be in danger when you inform the person that you are ending the relationship. Leaving can be scary, will most likely be upsetting, and can sometimes be life-threatening. If you are afraid for your safety, especially if previous threats have been made , get help. If you live with the person, you will need to make a plan. If you are married or have children together, it will of course be more difficult and require more planning. If you are not afraid of harm, you may be able to take more time in arranging the separation. You may even be able to seek counselling if your partner shows true remorse and is willing to get help. But remember that your life matters, change is necessary and you need to plan your moves. There are resources such as shelter for abused women, and emergency funds through the state. Best case scenario, you don’t live together and you can just tell them you are breaking up. That may be easier said than done if you are very emotionally dependent. This is where support groups, self-help books, websites and counselors can help you to make the emotional break.
Step Four, begin thinking about the future, looking ahead at a better life and believing that it is possible and will happen. It’s very important to have hope, and to know that not all people are going to be like this person. Writing in a journal can be very therapeutic during this process. Write down your dreams and goals. Imagine and write down what you want to be doing in a year from now. Believe that you can move on. Be honest and write down what things attracted you to this person. Write down any warning signs you may have ignored in your desire for a relationship. Think about any circumstances in your life that may have made you more vulnerable to a person looking for someone to control and manipulate. It is important to do this step to learn and hopefully prevent this from happening again.
Step Five. Now is the time to rebuild your confidence. After being in a toxic relationship, it’s common to feel unsure of yourself. Do things that make you feel good. Plan things to do with other people and by yourself. Get a new job or a second job. Get to know yourself again. Go places you enjoy. Take up a hobby that you have neglected. Join a gym . Join a church. Take a class. Go back to college. Read books. Watch movies. Learn new skills. Cooking. Art. Sports. Running. Travel. Learn to enjoy life again! You are worth it! There are good people out there. Make friends. But learn to be okay by yourself. Your worth is not determined by other people’s opinions of you. If social media is a positive thing use it, otherwise stay off it.
Remember that you are made in God’s image. You have value that is not dependent on what you do or how you look ! Get to know your Maker. Find out how much He loves you. Let God be your loving Father and ask Him to help you heal and grow. You are worthy. <3