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Toxic Relationships

Almost all of us feel a strong pull toward relationships. While there really are rare social hermits who truly shun human contact, sometimes even choosing lifetime solitude, the overwhelming majority of us will marry or otherwise join into a long-term, monogamous romantic relationship (or series of them until we settle on the “perfect” one).  It’s much the same with friendship as we seek out a circle of friends and acquaintances from whom we’ll find fun and support, and develop relationships in a variety of settings to fulfill our need for human contact. Friends and family are critical to our emotional well-being, essential components of our mental and physical health. Provided, of course, they’re more or less emotionally healthy themselves.

A huge risk of being so powerfully driven toward relationships is just how deeply unhealthy some of those other people really are! Combine this with our tendency to look upon the people we choose to surround ourselves with through rose-colored glasses, or to choose to ignore or overlook clearly dysfunctional patterns instead of confronting bad behavior – an emotionally risky endeavor – and is it any wonder so many of us find ourselves mixed up with toxic people, tangled in toxic relationships? 

All of us carry around some psychological baggage in the form of negative emotional issues picked up in the past and influencing our present. Whether our particular set is small and relatively harmless or large and saddling us with debilitating issues, this baggage may have come from family, friends, past relationships, childhood environment, the way our brains are hardwired, or some combination of all the above.

Emotionally healthy people recognize the baggage of their, understand its influence on their decisions and relationships of today, and consistently rise above it to make healthy choices. They own and control their baggage and learn to leave most of it behind, or remain aware of its existence and stay vigilant for any sign it’s doing harm. Their insight into themselves and their potential weaknesses encourages empathy for others and the ability to form mutually beneficial relationships. There is usually an ease to being in a relationship with them.

And then there are toxic people and the nightmare they bring to relationships.

A toxic person is one who, by acting out certain pervasive personality traits in the form of habitual behaviors or destructive decisions, consistently creates a serious negative impact on others physically, financially, mentally or emotionally on others with whom (s)he is in relationship.

Toxic people are poison to others who are in relationships with them. It’s easy to be critical of those who stay in relationships with them, or to kick yourself if you happen to be that person mired in a destructive, toxic bond with one, but these are often long-term connections – and sometimes family – so getting out is easier in theory than reality. Besides, they may not have always been toxic, as people do go through hard times when it’s tough to be on their best behavior, so and abandoning them may not be the first or best option. The toxic person might be a close family member or longtime friend; it’s nearly impossible – if ultimately necessary – to let go of someone with that deep of a bond. It may be very important to set healthy boundaries for yourself while keeping lines of communication and help open as long as possible to try and salvage the relationship, with one of those boundaries being a clear time to let go.

Toxic Relationships and Officers

Maybe you’re not one to find yourself in a toxic relationship or sucked dry by a toxic person, but a lot of us have been. And for all we know about human nature and our familiarity with its dark side, it’s surprisingly not at all hard for cops to get entangled.

Cops spend their much work days confronting toxic people and the chaos they create. The best learn to read people, motives, and behavior of even complete strangers, know when people are telling the truth or lying, withholding or spinning information, or getting ready to fight or flee. A good cop reads not just behavior but character, and knows who to keep at a safe but professional distance without falling into the chaos themselves.

And then many of these same officers walk into homes and relationships every bit as chaotic or dysfunctional at the end of the day, find themselves embroiled in petty dramas, preyed on by parasitic “friends” and neighbors, or manipulated by someone they love too much to finally tell, “no!” For all their street smarts, experience, and counseling they give to others about how to get out and straighten up tangled lives, they are every bit drawn to chaos, or compelled to “rescue” the dysfunctional.

For a lot of cops the impulse to rescue or “be a hero” is strong, even addicting. Toxic people need to be “saved” or “fixed” and it’s intoxicating to be that savior. For others – and there are many like this in our law enforcement world – the excitement of the chaos is fun, even if ultimately destructive.  Others are just simply not equipped to manage emotionally damaged or needy people up close and personal, despite their ability with relative strangers on the job. And some have come from such solid, functional, well-balanced backgrounds that they simply never learn to recognize the subtle onset of crazy, let alone how to escape it once it appears.

Look around you at the large number of failed relationships – and maybe this even applies to you – in law enforcement. How many of these resulted from toxic bonds finally shattering? How many of your colleagues – or you – are still embroiled in the crazy with no end in sight? Stay vigilant! Any of us can be susceptible to toxic relationships with the best of intentions, and we all know where roads paved with good intentions lead, right?