Is it emotional abuse? Is it careless communication? Or is it just a bad habit? I hear these kinds of questions regularly. My answer is always the same! There is NO ROOM for ANY of the above in an EXTRAORDINARY LIFE or in an EXTRAORDINARY RELATIONSHIP!
I hear astounding excuses: “It’s just the way I communicate” … “I don’t mean anything by it” … “It’s the only way I can get her/him to listen” …
So let’s cover three things to get you set for an EXTRAORDINARY LIFE and an EXTRAORDINARY RELATIONSHIP!
- What is “emotional abuse,” which I would like to address as “toxic deposits or toxic dumps.”
- What the recipient needs to know and do to make positive changes.
- What the giver needs to know and do to make positive changes.
I’d like to start this by saying that 99.9% of people who deliver “toxic treatment” to their partners are NOT bad people. They are simply people who are often unaware; who are usually struggling because their needs are not being met (and they often don’t know what they are, or how they are struggling internally); and who have developed habits and patterns that repeat their own history and life experience.
Therefore, this blog is NOT about beating people up. This blog is about shedding light on some things, while calling people to their best (which NEVER involves toxic treatment), and offering insights and strategies to make positive changes! So if you’re hoping I’ll “set him/her straight” or “bully the bully’er” this is not the article for you. But what I hope is that you will open your mind and heart and learn to partner together to change toxic to extraordinary!
1. What is it? What is emotional abuse or toxic depositing or dumping? There is actually an extended checklist that I’d like to offer you to test yourself in the privacy of your home or office. It also contains a worksheet to help you work through this, and become a better you! You will find a link to it at the end of the blog.
Overall, toxic depositing or dumping is treating another human being in a manner that creates a sense of anything from “less than” to “totally worthless” in them, rendering their sense of dignity and value as less than they were created to be.
Why on earth do we seem to do that so easily? First of all, not to abdicate self responsibility, but this has become the “norm” in media, from sports programs, to news programs, to sitcoms, to action and drama movies. Secondly, and very sad to say, it has become a “norm” in our culture. But just because it may be a “norm” does NOT mean you should lower your standards from EXTRAORDINARY living and EXTRAORDINARY relationships and practice it yourself!
2. What the recipient needs to know. Often, the toxic depositing and/or dumping is not one way in a relationship. It is important that you read both what the recipient needs to know, and what the giver needs to know.
For the recipient, one of the first things I like to help them identify is what seems to trigger toxic deposits from the partner. It could occur when the partner is interrupted during a project; when they are hungry; following an interaction with their family-of-origin (parents, siblings, etc). Or perhaps when finances are tight; after they get off work; or if the dishes aren’t done. Regardless of what triggers them, it would be good to make note, in order to allow them “processing” or “down” time before interacting with the following a trigger.
Another thing I like to make the recipient aware of is their own behaviors that might trigger toxins from their partner. If you know that using certain language (like referring to his/her family-of-origin as the “family from hell”) and making certain comments are triggers, you are actively participating in the process. You must learn what things you do/say and or don’t do/don’t say can serve as triggers.
Now that does NOT mean you need to always “play nice”, deny yourself, and placate them. However, it does mean you need to wait until another time, and address them in a healthy, empowering way. YES! I said empowering!
For example, rather than saying, “What did the ‘family from hell’ have to say?” Wait until later, and with no attitude, and say, “Hey, any news from your family?” Otherwise, you actually invite a toxic dump!
If there are tough things to discuss, you do not swallow them. There is a formula. But first, you practice enough emotional maturity to wait until a time when your partner is not agitated, and you say (with NO attitude),
WHEN YOU _______________________ (describe the behavior),
I FEEL/FELT ________________________ (use feeling words, not “feel like” or “feel that” … those are preludes to judgment and lectures).
WOULD YOU BE WILLING TO ________________________________________? (Make a request that is what you DO want, not what you DON’T WANT, and make it behavioral).
For example, you could say WHEN YOU yelled at me for asking if there was any news from your family, I FELT hurt and unappreciated. (NOT “felt like” you were just being a jerk!) WOULD YOU BE WILLING TO give me the highlights of your conversation with them and do it with a pleasant tone of voice and expression on your face? (NOT: Do it without your pissy attitude?”)
Yes, it takes emotional maturity, and you may not get a positive response. But YOU can remain in a place of living EXTRAORDINARILY!
One of the questions I get asked most often is “what do I do if I’m caught by surprise by a toxic dump I didn’t expect?” You take a deep breath, wait until there is a break, and say (with NO judgment): “I know we can communicate better than this. That’s what I want and I believe it’s what you would want. I’m going to hop on the treadmill for a few minutes, and make sure I’m ready to communicate well, and maybe we can try this conversation again after dinner.”
Then practice the 90-Second rule, and take a few minutes to be grateful, and come back determined to do better. BUT … if you spend your time assuming the worst of them, assuming they won’t do any better, assuming it will be worse after a break, you are setting yourself up for failure. You are also giving all of your power to the other person. YOU determine that YOU will do better, and hope they will. YES! It’s hard. But you can do it! And with a little practice you will become stronger and more determined.
When I first started this process, I would take a gratitude break, and often go for a walk, headphones in, and listen to Michael Jackson or Keke Palmer sing: “I’m starting with the man in the mirror, I’m asking him to change his ways. No message could’ve been any clearer. If you want to make the world a better place, then look at yourself and make a change!”
Lastly, do your best to imagine the wounds your partner must have internally that would cause him/her to go to that place. Imagine inviting them to a better place. Having a moment of compassion softens us and initiates change.
(By the way, if there is physical abuse involved, there is a whole different level of intervention needed. Please contact the family services department in your area!)
3. What the toxic giver needs to know. As I’ve already said, you are NOT a bad person. However, you must become aware of your behavior, and step up to a better way of relating. Is it hard? YES! But is it impossible? Absolutely NOT!
Likely you learned these patterns in your history somewhere along the way. Or perhaps you have developed them in response to toxic dumps from your partner. Regardless of where it comes from, I do not believe for a second that you feel good about yourself when you deliver toxic dumps to people you care about.
The first step for you is to review the list of things that qualify as “toxic dumping.” You can get access to it (absolutely free) at the end of this blog. Let me forewarn you here. Due to our shame and reticence to see how we deliver toxic deposits, you are at danger of rolling your eyes at, or minimizing things on the list.
You are better than that. Read this list with great honesty. None of the toxic deposits or dumps is a statement of who you are. But they may be things that you have been guilty of in your relationships.
The second warning is comparing yourself to others to let yourself off the hook. “Well, my partner does that more than I do.” Or “I only do it from time to time.” Once is too many times. Take responsibility and determine in your mind and heart to do better. It does damage to your partner to engage in these, but it also does great damage to you! The “mammalian/old” part of our brain does not understand direction, and takes these toxic deposits and dumps in as unto yourself as well!
As I said earlier, you do not engage in toxic deposits and dumping because you are a bad person. One reason is history. But perhaps the greatest reason is getting your needs met. We all have four survival needs:
What makes us unique is the priority of those needs in our lives. If any of us are not getting our #1 need (out of the four above) met in an empowering way, we often default to toxic dumping behaviors (although it is unsuccessful at meeting our needs.)
You must identify your #1 need, and find empowering ways to get it met. In healthy relationships, each partner knows the other’s #1 need, and makes great efforts at helping them get and keep that need met. It’s one of the greatest acts of love we can deliver to someone we love. (By the way, don’t guess at your partner’s #1 need. You are not God, and you did not pass “Mind Reading 101.” Ask them!)
Not only ask them what their #1 need is … but share yours. Tell them what helps meet that need. Let them partner with you in getting that need met. It is the quickest route to getting toxic dumping out of any relationship.
If you read the part above to the recipient, you also note your own triggers. When they are present, take a break before interacting with your partner.
You won’t do this perfectly. But have enough courage to admit when you’ve done a toxic deposit or dump. Have courage to say, “Well, I slipped back into old patterns. I am truly sorry, and I am committed to doing better. For you, for me, and for us!” That’s a statement of courage. And even if you are not forgiven, or your partner doesn’t respond well, you are set for EXTRAORDINARY living.
To both the recipient and the giver, I want to encourage you to work together. I will tell you that research supports this, and I’ve seen it countless times in my practice over 20+ years. If you decide to have an extraordinary relationship, eliminate toxic deposits and dumps, and you will see extraordinary move to the forefront.
I hope that’s what you want … for you, your partner, your relationships and beyond. I hope you want your children to witness that kind of relationship. It’s the greatest gift you can give them, even if they are already adults. I hope you want your neighbors, church friends, community friends to have a model of extraordinary!
Let’s reverse the trend of toxic deposits and dumps being the “norm”. Let’s start with YOU and your relationship. Let’s see it develop into EXTRAORDINARY!