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Toxic Relationships: Know the Signs, Seek Help

Years ago, I met a boy who appeared nice at first. Although my gut feeling told me otherwise, I chose to date him and get to know him better. Within a few months of our initial meeting, I realized that he was rude, self-centered, and used intimidation to impose his will on others.

He had a hotel lobby assistant fired because this kind soul had a friendly conversation with me, and we shared a few jokes. An innocent chat between me and the hotel lobby assistant turned into an hours-long interrogation session, during which my then-boyfriend accused me of flirting and also accused the unsuspecting and polite hotel worker of the same.

I felt embarrassed and confused, but I eventually told my then-boyfriend to stop exaggerating and talking about it. I scrutinized the experience in my mind, thinking that perhaps he was feeling insecure and that this issue would resolve itself once he realized I had never cheated or lied to anyone. I continued the relationship but chose not to inform my family about it, perhaps one of the many signs that something was wrong.

One day, out of the blue, my sister called me and asked if I was dating anyone. I replied, “Well, maybe, kind of,” in an attempt to be vague and avoid further questions. She then said, “I had a dream that you met someone in a hotel. He had blondish hair, and I don't think you liked him too much, but you were talking to him anyway. In my dream, I had this feeling that he is a very bad person, and you should stay away from him. If you are dating someone, please be careful."

I didn't want to listen to my younger sister because I considered myself the logical type. How could a dream determine whether I should or shouldn’t date someone? I politely ended the call with her and tried to put her words out of my mind. I reasoned, “What's the worst thing that could happen, anyway? I mean, he's not going to kill me, right?” However, it was uncanny that she knew I was dating someone and that we’d met in a hotel. My sister was one of those “intuitive” types; she always seemed to have these knowing dreams.

One day, I paid for a couples massage for me and my then-partner. I was feeling a bit distracted that day and, in hindsight, believed that my tip for the massage therapist was too low. Later in the day, I casually mentioned that I intended to tip the therapist more on my next visit to make up for it. However, my then-boyfriend started bombarding me with numerous questions, and I felt like I was being interrogated. He accused me of violating something called a “kickback law.” He arrogantly claimed that because I occasionally shared the massage therapist's information with patients who were seeking massage services, and because I received a healthcare worker discount, this constituted a kickback.

I frequented Sean's Massage Center, and Sean, the owner, had a special appreciation for healthcare workers like me. He generously extended discounts to us, recognizing the unique stress we often faced and believing that massages were a valuable way to unwind. It's important to note that there are no legal restrictions preventing a business owner from offering discounts to specific groups. Similar to discounts available for military personnel, teachers, nurses, and others, Sean simply extended this kind gesture to healthcare workers.

I began feeling increasingly frustrated with my boyfriend, who wrongly accused me of breaking the law and subjected me to repeated interrogations. I grew weary of the constant mind games and the need to defend myself in his presence. Of course, I desired a relationship. I had been genuinely happy when I was married, and I believed it was possible to find someone with whom I could build a healthy relationship once again.

I reminded myself that relationships often require effort, and I didn't want to give up too soon. However, I was also exhausted. I felt invigorated when I was by myself. I grew increasingly disheartened in my boyfriend's presence. I questioned whether it was worth continuing the relationship when I felt so emotionally drained, and I concluded that, even if I wanted to, I simply couldn't. My health appeared to deteriorate the longer I stayed around this person.

I remember returning from my army drill weekend in Twinsburg, Ohio. The drive home took about two hours. During that time, I found myself in tears, contemplating my life and the necessity of ending my relationship with my boyfriend. The pressure was becoming unbearable. I was fatigued, exhausted, and felt defeated. Despite my efforts to appease him, it seemed nothing I did was making the relationship any better, and I was growing more and more depressed. I made the difficult decision that I'd rather be alone for the rest of my life than remain in a relationship with someone who was controlling and intimidating.

Over the years, I've come to realize that you truly get to know someone when you break up with them. They either become civil, and you respect them more, or they reveal their true colors. I initially tried the gentle approach, saying, “It's not you, it's me.” In some ways, it was true; it was me. But I failed to mention that it was me because I didn't want to be controlled, and I was suffocating in the high-pressure environment he was creating. He was consistently negative and had something critical to say about everyone. Perhaps tearing others apart made him feel superior? But I personally felt weakened and disgusted, as though he was slowly draining the life out of me.

More of his true colors began to show when I initiated the breakup, which further solidified my lack of regret or sadness over the end of the relationship. He requested that I return any gifts he had given me – there weren't many, but one of them was a Fitbit he’d given me for my birthday. At this point, I couldn't help but suspect he had ulterior motives for everything he did, so I assumed he might attempt to retrieve data from my Fitbit to spy on me. To counter this, I decided to purchase a new, identical Fitbit and send it back to him, ensuring that it had no data linked to me.

It infuriated him, so he sent me a text saying, “If I'm such a bad guy, I could report you to the Board of Nursing for violating the kickback laws.”

I always try to maintain friendships with people I've dated, at least for a while. I want to ensure the other person is doing okay because I'm aware of how difficult heartbreak can be. I also understand the challenges of dating, which, truthfully, might be one of the hardest things I've had to do in life. Marriage seemed comparatively easier. Dating always felt like navigating a landscape of constant rejection, whether I had to reject someone or was the one being rejected. After enduring so many of these trials, it often left me feeling depressed.

My intention to salvage a friendship from this relationship crumbled after his threatening comment. A threat is a threat, whether it targets my personal physical well-being or my career. I don't want any interaction with someone who threatens me. I told him, “You can do whatever you think is right for you, but do not contact me ever again.”

My request had no impact on him. Approximately a month after I’d asked him not to contact me, he sent me a package. I chose not to open it and had it returned. Subsequently, he began sending me threatening messages, stating that “he would never forget the disrespect from me.” I wasn't sure what he had sent, but at that point, I couldn't be certain it wasn't a bomb, so I saw no reason to open the package. It was difficult for me to comprehend how someone could treat me in such a way and still manage to turn the situation around and portray himself as the victim.

The only fortunate aspect of this situation was that he lived in Pittsburgh, which meant I never felt physically stalked by him. However, this didn't deter him from sending threatening text messages. Evidently, my lack of response must have deeply upset him, prompting him to escalate by involving my social media. He tried to send me messages there, even though I never responded. He also messaged my assistants. All of his communications were focused on belittling and making fun of me, particularly concerning what I said or how I said it.

When these attempts failed to get a response, he took it a step further and contacted the Board of Nursing, alleging that I had violated the “kickback” law. I had to attend a meeting with the Board to answer their questions. He used the Board as a means of revenge, making his call to them about eight months after our breakup. After their investigation, the Board determined that I hadn't violated any laws, but they did impose verbal restrictions on me. I was told not to share information about my massage therapist with others, and I couldn't keep business cards from other businesses in my office. To this day, I struggle to understand the logic behind these restrictions, other than the notion that, once the Board investigates, they feel obligated to find something wrong with the person's actions.

My ex didn't stop even after contacting the Board. He continued to send me messages on social media, often using different aliases to disguise his identity. It has been seven years since I dated him for just three months, but he did mention that “he was never going to forget the disrespect from me.” So, I suppose his cyberbullying and relentless attempts at seeking acknowledgement will persist. The “disrespect” he refers to was simply my refusal to be bullied and my decision to end the relationship.

As a mental health professional, I understand how mental illness can have a devastating impact on someone's life, and how some individuals cannot recognize their own illness. In the mental health field, we refer to this as “lack of insight” – a symptom where the individual who is unwell doesn't realize they are ill. Instead, they often blame external factors and refuse to seek help for their issues.

It's likely that he may never fully grasp the extent of his illness, and unfortunately, statistically, I'm probably not his only victim. He may be tormenting more women in a similar manner for perceived wrongs. Ultimately, his deep-seated issues, stemming from his hatred towards his mother, have translated into a hatred of all women who he believes don't “love him.”

However, he is dismissive of the fact that it's incredibly challenging to love someone who uses intimidation and threat tactics.

People who lack awareness of their illness can pose a risk. They frequently assume they're right at all times and struggle to consider others' perspectives. They tend to dominate conversations, use coercion, become fixated on their own desires, manipulate situations, and may present a facade of friendliness. However, there's often a gut feeling that something is amiss. When their tactics fail, they may resort to causing harm to achieve their objectives.

How would we go about diagnosing such an individual? It would prove challenging to diagnose him, as he is intelligent and unlikely to willingly acknowledge engaging in any of the behaviors described here. However, based on my understanding of his behavior, it appears that he may meet the criteria for one of two disorders:

Antisocial Personality Disorder: This disorder is characterized by a pattern of disregard for the rights of others, deceitfulness, impulsivity, irritability, and aggressiveness. Individuals with this disorder may lie, manipulate, and engage in behavior that can harm others emotionally or even physically.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder: Individuals with narcissistic personality disorder often exhibit an inflated ego, a sense of entitlement, a lack of empathy, and a need for admiration.

Interacting with such individuals can be incredibly draining. They exploit their surroundings and the people in their lives to advance, viewing everyone as indebted to them in some way. They often lack empathy and rarely seek help because they fail to recognize any issue with their behavior. They harm their loved ones with a constant barrage of mind games, accusations, paranoia, and intimidation. They diligently work on inflating their own ego at the expense of those around them, always determined to prove themselves right, as they never see themselves as being in the wrong. They’re perfect in their own view, and you, by default, are not, which leads them to attempt to “fix” you by emotionally wearing you down.

I've learned valuable lessons: I now pay close attention to my sister's dreams, trust my gut feelings, and honor my “spidey senses.” I've come to realize that my body may be signaling something important to me more swiftly than my logical brain can comprehend.

If you have someone with this condition in your life, it's advisable to distance yourself if possible. Even if you can't physically distance yourself due to family ties or a committed relationship, it's still the best option to try and establish safe boundaries. Seek counseling if possible. Trust your instincts, and if you frequently feel confused, depleted, and mentally drained in someone's presence, you might be dealing with a personality disorder. Read my next blog on gaslighting, frequent technique of someone that might be suffering from a personality disorder.



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