How to let go of guilt, and forive yourself for becoming the toxic one?
October 2, 2020 9:45 AM   Subscribe

Currently in the post-break up learning phase where I'm trying to acknowledge my part in the demise, along with things I can learn moving forward, but am stuck in the guilt / shame feelings of blame for becoming the toxic person. How can I learn from this while at the same time not beating myself up for my poor behavior and feeling as if it was my fault?

A relationship came to an end, and it came crashing down. I'm trying to acknowledge my part, accept it, and forgive myself but I can't get out of this and find compassion in myself. Long story short, I realized that the person I was seeing was not matching my investment, time, effort or energy and that the relationship no longer felt safe and supportive to me -- this was a direct result of deception / lies from him that needed time and attention to be able to re-build trust and belief -- it gravely impacted my trust and I was honest in saying this is going to take me some time to work through and I will need things, if it's too much please just tell me and we can close the door now before it turns sour (well it turned sour). He agreed, and was receptive to me and what I needed but an argument ensued and turned into him icing me out even more from his life - He moved without my knowledge, refused to invite me over, I wasn't much a part of his life, never met family or friends and his work life had taken over (the only time he had for me was about 1-2 hours a week for lunch, and possibly once a week of him coming to my house at 11 pm after his shift to stay with me. I started feeling used. I kept hearing him say he didn't want to lose me, he loved me and please remember he loved me, and he would say everything right --- but then I realized there was no action …. it felt like just empty words, empty i love yous, only giving scraps of his time when it was convenience - I wasn't invited to his home, never included in his friends / family / work / decisions -- I felt as if I wasn't really "needed." I came into this relationship with support, and acknowledge that we do not need someone to complete us, never wanted even half of his time or all of it, and i completely supported and respected his passion and work ethic. The only thing I ever asked for, and expressed my personal need, is to feel included. I never felt included in anything but rather available at his convenience. He loaded his schedule with work, which never even gave us a chance to have that time to just be together and feel one another's presence. I tried to bring this up multiple times, calmly, saying hey look -- this is what I need in a relationship (some time, a date night every so often, sharing each other's life's and homes) I said, it seems to me that you may just be to busy with work and working out in your head whatever it is you need to work out, that there is not enough time to give each other and this relationship to build and grow and be there for one another -- just go focus on what you need and when you have the time, find me and I hope we are on the same page. Well, he didn't want to lose me so he asked to compromise, but I realized that I was compromising but also no action on his part was changing, the time was the same, the lack of initiative to include me in his life. He just kind of continued giving me promises that never happened, and that kind of led me to feel resentful because when I would ask for things, he would agree and undertand why I would need them, but it would never happen, it was always an excuse about work. Months went by, and still seeing no action but still hearing the same words - I love you , please remember that, I'm trying my best... etc. I'd ask for distance and space so that I could figure out if what I'm asking for and execting was too much, figure out what I wanted, but he wouldn't give it to me -- he would keep sending messages about missing me, loving me, he would show up at my house. Seeing him would make me weak, and he knew that. I kept saying, look stop saying you miss me and do something about it. But he did not have the time to do anything. He showed up to my house again without warning, and I lost it. I unloaded everything on him, I said some mean hurtful things. I realized I was the toxic one, that I expected things from him that only I needed, and he was trying his best, in his mind. I unloaded every past hurt and wrong-doing he did to me, made myself the victim. I realize that I should not have put expectation on him to treat me how I needed to be treated. I realize that I should have just walked if I felt my needs weren't being met, but instead I felt myself turn resentful bc my boundries were being crossed, the resent, the hurt and the pain of everything he did, said and didn't do I allowed to bubble to the surface and I completely showed my a**, and should have just kept my mouth shut, remained calm and peaceful, and closed the door respectfully.

I began this relationship in an independent, healthy way, then the resentment of not getting my needs met, but him being unwilling / unable to just let me go, or take action, it took over and created this volatile toxic person that I became, and I am so regretful and resentful of myself for becoming that person -- instead of just staying firm and walking away with respect. I feel terrible over this. And although I realize this relationship and person wasn't meant to be in my life, I can't seem to get past my guilt and shame enough to see this is a good thing. He has left me alone because of this outburst and immature words from me, that is what I wanted, and what I tried to respectfully answer, but someone pushing and inserting themselves on me without actually taking the action it would need, just kept expecting me to be there. I blew up became someone that makes me feel bad about myself.

Has anyone felt these ways? How do you overcome?
posted by MamaBee223 to Human Relations (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Oh my god you are not “the toxic one.” Stop believing the things this psycho makes you feel about yourself.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:00 AM on October 2, 2020 [16 favorites]

I understand what you're saying so, so much. I've absolutely been there, and honestly my resentment over my continually unmet needs caused me to do even worse things. It hasn't been easy to let go of my feelings of guilt either.

Something that's been helping me lately is realizing that, while I certainly have culpability, it's likely that my former partner also had culpability. My feelings of self-blame were completely taking me over, because I felt that my self is the only thing I can change.

Remembering the fundamental attribution error has been helpful to me lately, too. It's a normal human thing to blame ourselves too much, and it happens to basically everyone.

Paradoxically, when I'm in this space of self-blame, what helps is to be as kind to myself as I can. For me, that sometimes looks like taking a break to run a fancy bath with a bath bomb and a glass of wine. Sometimes it looks like taking a lovely walk, or cooking myself a special meal, or watching a favorite TV show. That angry, self-blaming voice needs my kindness -- as hard as it can be to give it that in the moment.

Sending you good vibes (and myself, too). We'll make it through this hard thing.
posted by woodvine at 10:00 AM on October 2, 2020 [6 favorites]

The only thing you did wrong was stick around after realizing he wasn't going to meet your needs.*

People aren't toxic. You aren't toxic. Resentment is the thing that's toxic - as soon as you feel it, it's time to close that door.

Even better, close the door as soon as you see a mismatch between words and deeds.

*Looks in mirror, repeats.
posted by headnsouth at 10:07 AM on October 2, 2020 [5 favorites]

I'm trying to acknowledge my part in the demise, along with things I can learn moving forward, but am stuck in the guilt / shame feelings of blame for becoming the toxic person.

This might be the strangest response you get. Those bolded items are profoundly similar to qualities of people in 12 step recovery.

I have MDD and a raft of other problems, but one common element between us is behavioral impact on relationships.

I'm in talk therapy, doing step-work focused on 'recovery' from persistent negative thinking and devastating shame. It's a destructive, habituated behavior that I've admitted was out of control.

Love him or hate him, I'm using Russell Brand's book Recovery as a guide. I find it funny and authentic and so far profoundly useful.

Admittedly, an odd application of step-work.


(mefi is largely opposed to 12-step and AA particularly. Probably one response here saying "AA and 12-step is bullshit" is sufficient.)
posted by j_curiouser at 10:12 AM on October 2, 2020 [1 favorite]

Please be easier on yourself. You were making all the effort in the relationship and wanted to believe things would change for the better. It's not unusual to have outbursts when you've been holding your feelings in for so long while feeling lied to and strung along. It can even be healthy. Now you've ended something that needed to be ended long ago. Learn from this and truly move on. If this means you apologize to him then tell him to not contact you again, so be it. Please don't use it as an excuse to see him again, though.
posted by DixieBaby at 10:50 AM on October 2, 2020 [3 favorites]

In a culture that prizes self-improvement and emotional intelligence, it's easy to imagine that relationships are a game we can win or lose. That if we don't navigate every interpersonal situation with perfect grace, self-awareness, and emotional detachment, we are Toxic People and entirely to blame for our own heartache.

OP, this was a bad relationship. But I don't believe that you are at fault for having stayed with this person longer than was wise, or that you "should have just kept [your] mouth shut, remained calm and peaceful, and closed the door respectfully." This is how we interact with our coworkers or the jerk who cuts us off in traffic. With our loved ones, it is okay to be messy and emotional, to make mistakes and cave to the sunk-cost fallacy, to walk away with a broken heart and a bruised ego. It's the price of being human.

I hope you can find a way to process this experience - whether that's journalling, therapy, venting to a trusted friend, or listening to some high-quality breakup albums. In addition to reflecting on what you'll do differently next time, try to give yourself the gift of compassion.
posted by toastedcheese at 11:02 AM on October 2, 2020 [4 favorites]

What you are describing sounds to me (someone with no professional training in relationships, therapy, psychology, etc) like an anxious-avoidant trap. It's quite a roller coaster. It can be addictive and dramatic to both people. When you are available, he needs space because he's not comfortable with the same level of intimacy; his retreat will be really stressful for you. But then when you back away, he sees that, and suddenly feels safer moving closer. You start to relax, thinking, "Finally!" But then his need for space asserts itself, and he'll pull away. It's very hard to get escape this trap. The book Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment is incredibly illuminating, but you can also learn a lot by doing web searches for "anxious avoidant trap."

It sounds like you have been pretty honest with yourself and with him about what you want and need in a relationship. And those needs are particularly fine and healthy! Don't shame yourself for wanting to be in a relationship where you spend time with your partner. That's not bad or weird or wrong. It also sounds like he has different wants and needs. The thing that's tricky is that it's really hard to let go, even once it starts to become clear that you have clashing needs. It doesn't mean either of you is a bad person. It's just that the combination doesn't work.

Here's the thing: even if you have a relatively secure attachment style, being with someone avoidant can be crazy-making, and can make you feel even more anxious. And it's incredibly hard to move on from this kind of relationship until every fiber in your being truly knows and believes that this person is not going to change.

Right now you are in an attachment crisis. You are feeling the loss of this important relationship. You are probably blaming yourself in part because you are trying to come up with excuses for him. Like, if you're the toxic person, then you can fix that and make the relationship work. But this relationship won't work ever because you have clashing intimacy needs.

Sometimes relationships just don't work. That doesn't mean he's toxic or you're toxic. It just means... you aren't well aligned. It's sad and hard and really awful. I think you are seeing that it's time to let go.

Also, as a warning: you being distant will probably draw him to you, and he might seek to reconcile. I want to encourage you to make it hard to contact him; unfollow/disconnted from social media and block/delete his number.

Also, instead of focusing on how you are bad and toxic, I really want to encourage you to learn more about the anxious avoidant trap. I think it will sound very familiar to you. That book I recommended has suggestions for getting through a break up in that situation, too.
posted by bluedaisy at 11:03 AM on October 2, 2020 [6 favorites]

Let's unravel this a little bit. You dated a person who:
1. moved without telling you
2. never invited you to his home
3. never introduced you to friends or family
4. was kind enough to spend one lunch hour a week with you
5. was even more generous at times and would come over at 11 pm once a week
6. ignored your requests for distance
7. minimized your concerns over and over
8. Fed you empty promises for months and months, while very aware you were very invested in the relationship and in him

Should I keep going? And now you're asking why you're so toxic? You aren't. You were treated badly. And when treated badly, sometimes we react badly. And sometimes the person on the other end needs to see that.

Please stop making yourself so tiny. You apologize in 5 million different ways in this post for wanting the bare minimum from another human. You are allowed to want things and to take up space. You are allowed to get angry. Why on earth should you keep your mouth shut?

You don't need to feel any guilt for how you treated him. I'm serious. He doesn't matter. How you treated him after months of this behavior doesn't matter. You had an "outburst" (are those his words?) after being treated like garbage by a person you cared about. Of course you did. Good. Outbursts take up space. You are allowed to do that, you know. He took up a shitload of space. Did he apologize for that?

I suspect some of the guilt and emotions here may be coming from how you treated yourself. You didn't walk away. It caused you more pain. That's okay. Don't focus on the "outburst," don't concern yourself with why you're so "toxic." (But believe me, he wants you to focus on the outburst and on your toxic self, because that's how you change the subject.) Delve into why you stayed. That's where the meat is, and that's where the transformation will happen.
posted by namemeansgazelle at 11:29 AM on October 2, 2020 [22 favorites]

Sometimes the only way to make a person actually hear the thing you've been telling them calmly for months and months and months is to completely lose your shit and just pay out on them.

Nobody got hospitalized. It wasn't a disaster. You didn't get plastered and crash your car and kill your best friend, you just lost your shit for a little while is all. Happens to the best of us. Unfortunate but there it is.

I understand and accept that knowing you've done this is fucking with your preferred perception of yourself as a reasonable, rational, compassionate, non-violent human being, but that's all it's doing. Really, all you actually need to do now is tweak your self-image a little, giving a little more weight to the "human" part and a little less to the aspirational idealism. You have teeth and claws. Doesn't do much harm to flash them occasionally.

Obviously it's in all our best interests to do our best to stay rational and non-violent but when it comes right down to it, we're feeling beings who think, not thinking beings who feel; and if having gone through this means that you now know where your limits are just that little bit more accurately, well, that's no bad thing.
posted by flabdablet at 11:34 AM on October 2, 2020 [7 favorites]

Congratulations, you got a soul-sucking asshole out of your life!

I realise that you're not happy about how you did it, but from this perspective it sounds as if it was about damn time. Like oh noes, this guy who was stringing you along for who knows how long finally got yelled at. Good!

Now you just have to KEEP him out. Enjoy your new freedom and do some fun things just for you that he would have hated.
posted by inexorably_forward at 1:42 PM on October 2, 2020 [1 favorite]

It seems that you have a significant emotional investment in him. No logic supports that sort of thing, so I hope you don't blame yourself for what appears to be a huge emotional inequity here. Sometimes the heart can take you on a rollercoaster ride, even when you can see it coming.

Nevertheless: Take him at his word--he's doing the best he can. You won't get any more out of him than he's already given. It's clear that this level of interaction suits him fine. In so much as your needs don't conflict with his, he doesn't care much aout them. I cannot judge what he means when he says he loves you; it's clear that you and he don't share the same idea of what it means to love someone. You have been very patient. I believe he has some qualities that you value; they don't seem to add up to grounds for a fruitful relationship.

That being said, it's possible that he's just an asshole, using you for some peripheral benefit to himself. You don't have to look at it this way; but it's clear that the relationship is doomed. You don't have to coordinate with him should you decide to go your separate ways. You don't have to wait for a dramatic blowup to end it. You don't have to have an intense confrontation. You don't need to explain yourself to him.

You don't need his permission.

You can do this by telephone: "Hello, is this Joe? Hi, Joe,this is goodbye."
posted by mule98J at 4:15 PM on October 2, 2020

Some jerkasses are too weak to actually say they want to break up, so they slowly push the other person further and further until you get to the breaking point. Maybe the jerkass goes out later and complains about how toxic you are and how you broke up with them and were so mean, well I say it's far more cruel to pretend that one is still interested in a relationship when that's not the case, block them and move on with your life.

You've learned something here and hopefully you will not encounter this "refusing to actually admit they want to break up" behavior in the future, but if you do in the future you will recognize this pattern and know to end it sooner.
posted by yohko at 4:51 PM on October 2, 2020 [2 favorites]

While the details differ, one of the things that helped me process my shame from unhealthy behavior in an unfulfilling relationship that lasted much too long was to reframe it as everyone has a 'worst' side (not toxic, agreed w posts above that people are not toxic)that they're not proud of and that was probably mine.
And then taking steps in therapy to gain the tools I didn't have (and that no one is born with) to prevent things from getting that bad again by controlling what I could: respecting and communicating my needs, and realizing when they weren't being met and that it's ok to leave those relationships.
Still not perfect, but getting better all the time and that confidence also gives me the strength to forgive my past self.
You can move past this - no partner is worth that much stress and you will be making space for kinder people down the road.
posted by PaulaSchultz at 7:33 PM on October 2, 2020

Behaving in "toxic" ways in response to another person's poor behavior is just that, a reaction. Most, if not all, of us have been there at one time or another. I'm sorry you had such a lousy experience, no one deserves to be treated that way.

I think you'll get more healing and make more progress by addressing the antecedents -- that is, what brought you to acting that way instead of walking away earlier? In reading your account, my suggestion would be to look into what in your past laid the groundwork for you to respond the way you did when that person treat you so badly. I'm making an educated guess that these search terms might be helpful: Codependency, also more recently called the Developmental Model of Immaturity.

Best wishes, and hoping that better relationships are ahead of you.
posted by dancing leaves at 5:28 AM on October 3, 2020 [2 favorites]

Did he ever think this was a relationship? No inclusion in any of his life, one lunch and one 11pm stay over per week? Sounds to me something very different from his point of view.

Move on and don't spend any energy at all on worrying about your behaviour. Go find someone who wants to be with you.
posted by tillsbury at 10:37 PM on October 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

This guy was using you and jerking you around and eventually, you got upset and lost it. That's not toxic, that's human, and you reacted that way because you are a person and not a robot.

That said, taking responsibility for your behaviour is a good thing and the fact that you recognize that this situation caused you to violate your personal standards is a powerful message to never let someone treat you that way again.

Women are told to ignore their inner voices and legitimate needs and to make excuses for the other person to the point they can't take it anymore, and then blamed for their reactions. It's not fair and you don't have to play that game. Hold out for a guy who shows that he wants to be with you.
posted by rpfields at 2:20 PM on October 4, 2020 [3 favorites]

Here's the thing that is striking about your post: YOU don't actually believe you are toxic. Every word in your post describes how hard you tried to be a good, kind, reasonable, communicative partner even though he treated you badly over and over. 90% of this post details his history of toxicity throughout the relationship to illustrate that your final blow-up was justified. There's no indication in your post that you doubt your own goodness (and you're right, you shouldn't doubt this).

But his judgement of you as toxic feels unbearable to you. You desperately want him to see you as the reasonable person you know you are. You desperately want him to love you and include you in his life.. This desperation makes you suppress your true needs and hide your true feelings from him.

Even when you clearly identified authentic relationship needs within yourself, you were so afraid of his judgement that you backtracked saying, "Maybe I'm expecting too much." Even when you obviously realize he treated you badly and fully deserved your anger in the end, you are so upset by his judgement that you are backtracking saying, "Maybe I'm the toxic one."

This is your only problem, the only aspect of yourself that you need to work on. You're not toxic (and you know it); however, you have internalized cultural misogyny which says women must erase ourselves and our needs in relationships... and perhaps you have low self esteem which makes you feel like your true self is too shameful to be allowed to be seen. But really, a partner always has a fundamental right to see the real you -- including everything they won't like about you -- and make their own assessment of you. You haven't allowed your boyfriend this freedom. You've been hiding parts of yourself that he (not you!) might judge as toxic.

Nah, sis. Allow him to hate you. Grant other people the freedom to judge you any way they wish without stepping in to convince them of how good and reasonable you are. In granting other people this freedom, you will grant yourself the freedom to be a person instead of a living breathing sales pitch. You deserve to exist as a person.
posted by MiraK at 11:55 AM on October 12, 2020 [4 favorites]

Grant other people the freedom to judge you any way they wish without stepping in to convince them of how good and reasonable you are. In granting other people this freedom, you will grant yourself the freedom to be a person instead of a living breathing sales pitch. You deserve to exist as a person.

That's brilliantly expressed and I'm totally stealing it.
posted by flabdablet at 3:20 PM on October 12, 2020 [3 favorites]

This is word for word exactly how my past relationship was, how I was in it, how he was in it, and how I ended it. I felt exactly all you are feeling. It's a lot of things causing that bad feeling, one of which was my desire to leave as "the good person" he came to know, and for him to not feel justified in being afraid or pulling away from me. (It didn't end there, after my outburst and our decision to "amically" break up, he called me a month later while drunk and I ended up telling him that he is passive, avoidant, and how his mom probably fucked him up and he is in denial of his problems because he never does anything, lol). He did the bare minimum in our relationship, and I was right the entire time in feeling not acknowledged. I tried to solve for a relationship he was not committed to- so no matter what I emotionally manage to express, it seemed like overkill. There was no way I would have had that outburst if I felt acknowledged throughout. Funny enough, managed to meet the love of my life later that year after that break up and he helped me process it emotionally, too. Admit it to yourself: you're not toxic, you were reaching in for something that is not there and was never there, and when you realized that, it hurt.
posted by SkinsOfCoconut at 12:15 PM on October 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

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