Burying a child.
Death of a spouse.
Losing a business.
As humans it is easy to connect with the fact that the events listed above are some of the most difficult things a person can go through. In fact, these are all horrific events my clients have lived through and overcome. Yet, through tears and courage these people reveal that these haven’t been the most stressful events in their lives…their narcissistic ex was the most stressful event of their lives. Their voices were a testament to the fact that toxic relationships take a toll on you like nothing else. Through gas lighting, games of control, and making you believe everything is your fault, people who have lived through a toxic relationship describe their experience as nothing short of warfare. Confident, accomplished and kind people become mere shells of themselves as they turn their focus on trying to figure out how to make their toxic parent or partner happy. Unfortunately, making a toxic person is happy is one problem that will never be solved because the toxic person wants you to keep working to make them happy. They want you to keep working without your efforts actually working. Meanwhile friends, families and coworkers watch the energy and personality seep out of their loved one like a balloon losing air.
Unfortunately, understanding the effect of narcissists on their partners and families is a new concept in current research. While watching our stress levels has become as normal for a healthy lifestyle as eating veggies and moving our bodies, current information on the most stressful events in people’s lives don’t include information on the stress of living with the ups and downs of someone toxic. The most famous life event stress test, the Holmes and Rae stress scale reveals what are currently viewed as the most stressful events in life. Below are the top ten.
- Death of a spouse (or child*): 100
- Divorce: 73
- Marital separation: 65
- Imprisonment: 63
- Death of a close family member: 63
- Personal injury or illness: 53
- Marriage: 50
- Dismissal from work: 47
- Marital reconciliation: 45
- Retirement: 45
As you can see toxic relationships didn’t even make the list. But, with the death of a spouse ranking a 100, how would you rate the stressful impact of the death of yourself? The death of your hopes and dreams as you bury a little piece of yourself each day trying to make someone else happy? How do you rate the death of your courage as you realize sticking up for yourself creates anger, but not solutions? How do you rate the death of your confidence as you try and try, and the person you love always forces you try harder? How do you rate the death of your soul as someone reminds you day after day that they are right and you are wrong? How do you rate the death of your clarity as the rules of the game constantly change and your heart constantly breaks? How do you rate the death of your belief in humanity as you come face to face with the fact that the person you loved had a dark side you couldn’t see? How do you rate the death of your ability to trust people when someone has taught you not to trust yourself? How do you rate the stressful impact of the death of your intuition as you miss red flag after red flag? How do you rate the death of hope as you work and work, but nothing you do makes the relationship work?
Imprisonment scores a 63 on the Holmes and Rae. But, what would the stress score be if you became a prisoner in your own home? What is the impact on the stress level on your life of being chastised like a child so your lover can constantly feed their never-ending quest for power? How do you rate the stress of hypervigilance as you constantly worry about what mood the judge, jury, and god of your home will be on that night? How do you rate the prison of having to watch every word that comes out of your mouth because you worry that it will spark the anger of your partner? What stress score would you give to someone who is constantly told how to dress, how to talk, how to think? Is it less stressful to be forced into sex when it comes from what should be a trusted partner rather than a strange prisonmate? Is it less stressful to constantly be on guard around your husband or wife than it is to actually have a guard? Are the invisible chains less heavy when no one can see them, but you?
Personal injury or illness currently receives a score of 53. What should the score be if the person who is supposed to love you is the one who injures you? What is the added stress of twisting an ankle as you run away from an angry lover? What is the added stress of being bruised by a toxic parent and then using makeup to hide the bruises so no one knows the truth about your life? Would that only score a 53? Yet a toxic relationship doesn’t even make the list! And what of the invisible injuries? How do you rate the invisible scars of being called “Worthless. Bitch. Whore.” How do you rate the illness of not being able to get out of bed after a fight? Or crying through Christmas? Or experiencing so much anxiety that you black out while driving on the road?
Marital separation gets a 65 and marital reconciliation gets a 45, but what happens to your stress when you never know the state of the relationship that day? How do you rate the stress of never knowing if your partner is going to speak to you that day and never knowing what you did so wrong that you deserve the silent treatment? How do you rate the stress of knowing you should end the relationship, but not knowing how to end it because of the dreadful act of telling your friends and family the truth about your past? How stressful is wanting someone to change so badly, seeing the best in them, begging them to get help, and then being told that you are the problem and that if you weren’t so sensitive the relationship would be fine? How stressful is it for the woman who gets the courage to leave, but then is tricked into staying as soon as she packs her bags? How stressful is it for the man who knows he can’t live in the chaos, but who feels trapped because he can’t live the the thought of not seeing his daughter on Christmas?
On the current stress scale, divorce gets a 73. Yet, for so many who have experienced a toxic relationship, divorce comes galloping in like a white knight finally there to save them. Divorce shields them from endless fighting night after night and being forced into “make up sex” just to get the person to stop screaming. Divorce shields them from the endless mornings of waking up, setting out into the world, and pretending everything is fine. What is the stress of living in the world’s most horrific version of “Groundhog Day?” And, what is the stress score when the horror sets in that the pain, money, and trauma of the toxic divorce didn’t actually shield you from the toxic person. That it just brought the games to the ball field rather than the bedroom. That the divorce unleashed a tsunamic smear campaign as the charismatic person flipped the tables once again to prove that nothing (and I mean nothing) is their fault? How do you rate the stress of realizing divorce doesn’t shield you from the toxic person, it just changes how they inflict wounds upon you?
It is time for a change. It is time to recognize the complexities and control of the toxic relationship game. It is time to change our knowledge of how the game is played so we can protect the next generation from falling into the same trap. Toxic people get away with the game because they can. And they can because society at large is drastically unaware of what is happening. They are unaware of the havoc it causes in our hearts and souls. Of the stressful harm on our confidence and our immune systems. Of the effects on both our minds and our brains. Of the stress it puts on our hearts both physically and metaphysically. Only if and when we recognize how harmful toxic relationships really are can we get people the help they really need.