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Repeatedly finding oneself in relationships that feel unhealthy, damaging, or outright toxic is a harrowing experience that leaves one questioning their role in attracting such relationships. This repetitive cycle isn't merely a case of bad luck; rather, it's often indicative of more profound, underlying issues that need to be identified and addressed to break free from the vicious circle of toxic relationships.

Toxic relationships, while unique in their individual circumstances, often share several identifiable hallmarks. Common characteristics can include manipulation, guilt-tripping, an abundance of criticism, or a pattern of neglect. These relationships may feel like tumultuous emotional roller-coasters, marked by extreme highs and devastating lows. You might constantly find yourself emotionally drained, perpetually feeling unappreciated, undervalued, and misunderstood.

Firstly, let's delve into the roots of this propensity for toxic relationships. Multiple studies have highlighted that the patterns of adult relationships often mirror the dynamics witnessed during childhood.

According to a research study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, if one grows up in an unstable, unpredictable, or emotionally unsupportive environment, they might subconsciously seek out similar dynamics in their adult relationships This isn't due to a desire for pain or suffering, but rather a subconscious yearning for familiarity, even if that familiarity is riddled with negativity and emotional distress.

Secondly, another crucial aspect that contributes to the persistent pattern of toxic relationships is the issue of self-esteem and perceived self-worth. Studies have shown that when individuals don't hold a sufficient amount of self-esteem, they may accept less than they deserve in their relationships (2). This can manifest as a tolerance of disrespectful, neglectful, or even abusive behavior, due to the skewed perception that it is an acceptable norm. In such cases, individuals might confuse control with concern, manipulation with expressions of love, and emotional abuse with passion.

Attachment style, a concept introduced by psychologist Mary Ainsworth, and later expanded by Cindy Hazan and Phillip Shaver, also plays a pivotal role in shaping relationship patterns (3). Individuals with an anxious attachment style, for instance, may have a higher propensity to stay in toxic relationships due to deep-rooted fears of abandonment. These individuals might endure toxic behavior to avoid feelings of loneliness or the perceived threat of being alone.

Furthermore, the addictive nature of toxic relationships creates a relentless cycle that's hard to break. The roller-coaster-like nature of these relationships, characterized by high-intensity emotional swings, can generate a potent mix of fear and love, pain and comfort. This dynamic can cause a sort of emotional dependence on the relationship. Moments of affection and attention, albeit sporadic, serve to maintain hope and create a psychological trap that is challenging to escape.

Recognizing these contributing factors is a crucial first step in breaking the cycle of toxic relationships. However, understanding alone is not enough. It requires active efforts in enhancing one's self-esteem, setting firm personal boundaries, and learning to recognize the early signs of toxic behavior. As suggested by Dr. Natalie Jones, PsyD, LPCC, a licensed psychotherapist, self-care and self-love are foundational in this journey (4).

Professional help, such as psychological counseling or therapy, can be highly beneficial. Professionals can assist in unraveling these entrenched patterns, providing guidance and tools to develop healthier relationship habits (5). Support groups can also provide a safe and supportive environment for sharing experiences and learning from others who have had similar experiences.

Remember, every individual deserves to be in a relationship characterized by respect, support, and emotional nourishment. Recognizing and addressing the pattern of recurring toxic relationships is a significant stride towards healthier, more fulfilling relationships.


Fraley, R. Chris, and Phillip R. Shaver. "Adult romantic attachment: Theoretical developments, emerging controversies, and unanswered questions." Review of general psychology 4.2 (2000): 132-154.

Orth, U., Robins, R. W., & Widaman, K. F. (2012). Life-span development of self-esteem and its effects on important life outcomes. Journal of Personality and social psychology, 102(6), 1271–1288.

Hazan, C., & Shaver, P. (1987). Romantic love is conceptualized as an attachment process. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 52(3), 511-524.

Jones, Natalie. "Why do I keep attracting toxic relationships?" The Psychology of Adulting Podcast, 2021.

Lancer, D. (2014). Conquering Shame and Codependency: 8 Steps to Freeing the True You. Hazelden Publishing.

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