This is a guest blog authored by Dr. Amber Ault (pictured at left), a psychotherapist, sociologist, and the author of two important books on toxic relationships: The Five Step Exit and The Wise Lesbian Guide to Getting Free of Crazy-Making Relationships and Getting On With Your Life.
What makes so many wonderful, open-hearted lesbians so vulnerable to bad relationships? Here's some of my thinking on this painful question.
Our human brains encourage us to pursue pleasure and avoid pain. For lesbians and queer people, the pain of rejection, discrimination, and social stigma around our relationship choices, gender presentation, and identities creates even deeper need and desire in us for relationships that offer us pleasure, peace, delight, and comfort. And we deserve those relationships!
So, how do so many lesbians and queer women find themselves in relationships that ultimately offer us no security or consistent kindness, pleasure, or reciprocity, and instead keep us in a spin of confusion, heartache, drama, and even exploitation and abuse?
The answers to this question are complex: they include individual histories that can make us vulnerable to mistaking "love-bombing"for love, as well as the social challenge of naming what's happening and seeking help in a world that already stigmatizes queer relationships.
("Love-bombing," by the way, is a pattern many toxic or emotionally unstable people have. It generally shows up as very rapid, intense declarations of love. They may also shower you with attention, gifts and adoration. Naturally, most of us feel flattered and excited by this attention, yet just as we start to trust it, it gets withdrawn...)
Here's an irony that we seldom discuss: many of the qualities that make a person a great partner can also make her a target for folks who are exploitive or abusive. When I work with people who find themselves mired in toxic queer relationships, they often have great partnership qualities: they are smart, talented, creative, and capable; they often are ambitious and successful in their professional lives; and they are kind, compassionate, and deeply intuitive in their emotional lives. Often, because of their competence, kindness, and relationship skills, others who know them would be shocked to discover what's happening in their personal lives.
Unfortunately, being smart. educated, professionally successful, and socially skillful will not protect you from romantic entanglements --- until you become more savvy about the dynamics of toxic relationships and develop the skills to avoid them, exit them, or recover from them. And in the meanwhile, your best qualities --- your compassion, helpfulness, stability, creative problem solving, and generosity --- can leave you open to spiraling into relationships that initially seems to offer the perfect antidote of love and connection in a difficult world but quickly become the opposite: toxic involvements that drain your energy, love, time, and money, leaving you ever more depleted and discouraged about ever finding "the real thing."
The good news is that those fine qualities that give you excellent partnership potential can also protect you, with a little shifting and refocusing; you can use your good mind to understand the roots of toxic relationships, both culturally and personally; you can develop a deeper understanding of how to use your compassion to empower yourself and others, rather than to disempower yourself and others through co-dependent behaviors; and your can cultivate a deep self-kindness that becomes the wisdom to know when to exit a relationship --- and when to stay in.
The Roller Coaster Relationship Recovery Online Intensive for Lesbians and Queer Women has allowed class members to create remarkable, powerful shifts in their relationship lives. It's been called "a life saver" and a "game changer" for women who struggle with a toxic relationship pattern or with exiting or recovering from one particular painful and crazy-making relationship. If you are stuck in daily drama --- whether it involves troubling behaviors by another person or a confusing, painful hurricane of confusion in your own head --- this course can be a game-changer for you, too. You deserve to have peaceful, pleasurable, happy love life, and if you have struggled with toxic relationship patterns, this course can help you get the shifts you need to create it.
Click here for more information about the R3 Intensive starting September 21 (and don't wait too long! The price goes up in a few days!)