Liz Reed on Toxic Relationships & How to Avoid Toxic Love – Smart Sex, Smart Love

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This week Joe‘s guest is Clinical Social Worker, Therapist & host of the ‘Liz Life Guru’ podcast, Liz Reed. Liz joins Joe to talk all things Toxic Relationships & How to Avoid Toxic Love.

“You deserve to be happy,” says Liz. “In order to make that happen you have to choose a good tribe!” Liz, a psychotherapist with a passion for helping people change their lives, specializes in anxiety, depression, addiction, as well as family issues. “Often, we think that since we share a bond with family, a DNA with them, that they are the people that we need to be with, no matter what they say or do to us, or how they make us feel. That just simply isn’t true. You can find a fabulous family, a fabulous tribe of people from perfect strangers as long as you are looking for the right people, says Liz.  “Toxic people in our lives are energy vampires! They destroy our energy. They’re abusive, unsupportive, unhealthy and emotionally negative to us. And we just really don’t realize the damage they’re doing. We think that’s my mom, my dad, my brother or sister, a good friend of 40 years and I should be able to look past that, and just accept them, because that’s what society says. That simply isn’t true!”

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Podcast

Speaker 1:

Hello to all my new listeners and welcome back to all my regulars and those of you that are listening via telehealth and these trying times right now. Thanks for continuing to listen and for following me on Instagram. I really appreciate it. Today I’m joined by clinical social worker, therapist and host of Liz LifeGuru podcast, Liz Reed. We’re going to chat about toxic relationships and how to avoid toxic love. Liz, a psychotherapist with a passion for helping people change their lives, specializes in anxiety, depression, addiction, as well as pain management, family issues and trauma. Liz herself has been in recovery for 17 years. Her Liz life guru podcast specializes in mental health issues. Liz is here to talk about what a toxic relationship looks like, why it’s so hard to get out of one plus how we can heal from them as well. You deserve to be happy. Says, Liz, in order to make that happen, you have to choose a good tribe. Welcome, Liz.

Speaker 3:

Hi. Thank you so much for having me, Joe. I appreciate it.

Speaker 1:

Oh, I love, I’m so happy to, and I really like in order to have, in order to make that happen, to be happy, you have to choose a good tribe. Can you start with that? That’s great.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, absolutely. One of the things that I find with many of my patients is a lot of times they’ll say, I’m, you know, my family doesn’t love me. My parents don’t love me like they should. A brother doesn’t love me, my boyfriend doesn’t let me like I should, blah, blah, blah. And we have this disconnected attachment to people that we feel that if we share blood with shared love with that we have to continue to stay in that tribe, that our DNA somehow connects us for life and that we don’t have a choice to choose our own tribe. So unfortunately for a lot of people, this can lead to a life of addiction, a life of failed relationships, as I like to call it, looking for love in all the wrong places, trying to supplement what we didn’t get from our parents, and then we end up kind of spiraling out of control and wondering why we can’t have a successful relationship with anyone or a successful life for that matter, because they both are intertwined.

Speaker 3:

So my focus and what I try to help people with is, you know, why can’t you have Easter without, I don’t know, aunt Bessie or this or that person? Why can’t you choose the people that you surround your with? Well, that’s usually because they feel a lot of guilt and shame if they don’t stand up for themselves and choose the right people to be around. We think that since, like I said, we share a bond with them, a DNA with them, that they are the people that we need to be with no matter what they say or do to us or how they make us feel. And that just simply isn’t true. You can find a fabulous family, a fabulous tribe of people from perfect strangers as long as you are looking for the right people. So I really, I really tried to get, implement that with my patients to look out there and find people that are good for them and healthy for them.

Speaker 1:

You know, that’s so important. And you know, the culture also shames people for not staying in contact with their family because they have their own issues about not being able to find their own family of choice. Isn’t that true?

Speaker 3:

Absolutely. Absolutely. It’s like, you know, that is your mother. I gave birth to you. That’s your father. He did this, he did that. But it doesn’t matter. You share the same DNA. You need to accept them and have them in your life. And for many people, if you can sever that connection, and I don’t mean in a cruel way, but just keeping these put, setting apart boundaries and you know, you can be connected to me on a certain level, then you can eventually overcome this and start feeling better because what as I call them, um, it’s in a show that I watch on TV that is hilarious. Energy vampires, these type of people destroy our energy. They take away our, they’re abusive, they’re unsupportive, they’re unhealthy and emotionally negative to us. And we just really don’t realize the damage they’re doing. Cause we think that’s my mom, that’s my dad, that’s my brother or sister or you know, a good friend of 40 years and I should be able to look past that and just accept them because that’s what society says and it simply isn’t true.

Speaker 1:

And you’ve grown up with this. So it was familiar. Uh, you know, it wasn’t until I met my husband and I said, Oh, you’re going to love my family. And then he didn’t love my family and I thought that’s really with you. But really I had always known in the back of my mind, it just took me time that there was something wrong with my family and the way they treated me. And he didn’t like that. So it took me a little while to kind of wake up to the dynamics in the family that weren’t helpful to me. They were actually, um, destructive to me. And the, I think that’s true for the clients as well.

Speaker 3:

Oh, without a doubt. And um, you know, oddly, uh, you and I share a connection there. My husband suffered from the same thing when I was integrated into his family. I, it was just some kind of crazy, dysfunctional dynamic there. And I w I said, I’m not going back for Christmas or Oh my gosh, this is insane. I don’t, the way they treat you, the way they talk to you, I won’t have it. I won’t put myself through it. And he was really nervous, really nervous about that. So it was, it took a long time. But we’ve been together 22 years now and he seems to be better for it. He talks to his mother. And so forth. But still, you know, he has to keep that distance and that really effected his health as well.

Speaker 1:

Oh yeah. Right. You can. Absolutely. So in that sense, can you tell people as they’re listening, what are, what are toxic relationships? How would you define it?

Speaker 3:

Well, okay, so a toxic relationship is going to be a relationship that you have with a family member, a close friend, a work related person. Um, a boyfriend, a girlfriend. So they’re all going to have a little bit of variance to them. But these are people that are unsupportive. They know exactly what they’re doing. They’re emotionally disconnected from their own emotions and they want certain things from you. So they hunt for people. I like to put it in this context. They look for people that are loving, giving, supportive, and will actually put up with their stuff. So they, um, they are emotionally there. It’s not a reciprocal relationship. It’s one sided. So in, in a lot of ways you feel like you’re working for them. Okay. You know, you walk on egg shells, Oh, you know, I don’t want to say this. I don’t want to do that.

Speaker 3:

I know maybe this, maybe that they’re going to be nice. No, they won’t. Yes they will. So you find yourself becoming somebody you don’t want to be when you’re around them. And a lot of times this is subconscious, so you don’t even realize it’s happening until you start really starting to get depressed yourself. And so that’s when it is a hairline trigger of you saying, Oh, you know what, this, this isn’t, this isn’t good for me. And I just went through this myself ending a relationship after 40 years of a friendship. And it’s not an easy thing to do. It is not an easy thing to do. It is very hard on you emotionally and physically because this is where you’ve shared a bond with somebody for so many years.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, I had, um, so I’ve been with my husband 27 years most successful relationship of my life really. And, um, over the years I have had to let go of my relationships with various family members and mother and father. I have some contact with them, but it’s really, really horrible to, to be in their presence and to be treated the way they treat me and the losses and the, the doing. It took years and years. It was like, it was like a divorce, but it wasn’t because there’s, you’re still in con, it was really, really, really painful. I think people need to remember that and know that, but it’s not an, it’s not that you can’t do it. You can, it just comes with a lot of emotional work.

Speaker 3:

It does. And one of the things the toxic person does is they find a way to control you on some level. So is this can be with parents, like they’ll give you money, they’ll watch your kids, they’ll do whatever, but as soon as they need something from you, they bring that stuff up. I mean, you know what we did for you. You know, we have, uh, you know, toxic friendships. They don’t like you to have any other friends in there. Everything that you do is all about them. It’s never a reciprocal relationship. I know with women, you know, we like to get together and whine about different stuff when we’re upset, we talked to each other about what’s going on. But when you’re in a toxic relationship with somebody, it’s all about them all the time. The minute you bring up who you are and how you feel, they immediately disconnect.

Speaker 3:

They don’t want to hear it. They don’t wanna hear about any of your unpleasantries. They might even be Curt and nasty and say, Hey, suck it up. You know, and you’re a famous line of a toxic person to one of their victims as I call them and is, um, you’re so much drama. You’re so much drama and you’re just simply talking about day to day life and things that are going on with you. Parents do the same thing, coworkers to do the same thing. You stick up for yourself, you say anything and they will say, you know, you’re just bringing too much drama to the table. Oh gosh. You know, Oh yeah, what is wrong with you? You always got something to complain about when in fact they’re projecting. That’s exactly what they’re doing all the time.

Speaker 1:

Right? And you’re challenging the family system. This is what I remember learning in my own family and helping my clients that there’s a system in place long before you got there and that was maintained while you were going through it. So when you start to, it’s like a wheel that stops working well on a car, right? All the other tires tried to figure out what, what are we going to do? You know, how are we going to make, so they become maladaptive even more to try to, you know, figure out what to do with that wheel. And the fact is, you’re not a bad wheel. You’re just a different wheel. You know? And people end up taking it personally. And I think it’s also important to remember that these are bad families necessarily. They’re not bad people, they’re just, they’re saying their lines, they’re saying the things and maintaining their structure that they have always felt comfortable with. And when you stop, they don’t know what to do. But engage in what’s also called, I don’t know if you’ve heard of this change back behavior. Right? I’m going to get bigger, I’m going to get more stronger around issues cause I’m trying to get you to change back to how you used to be to make me more comfortable. Have you seen that?

Speaker 3:

And nobody wants a, someone in a toxic, the toxic person does not want you out of your role. Whatever your role is, whatever you provide to them, they want to keep you there. So as I often will say to patients, now, listen, if you truly want to end this toxic relationship, you know, with whomever it is, it’s going to get worse before it gets better. So be prepared because as they see you change, as they see you, distance yourself, as they see your boundaries come up, they are going to start pulling out all the stops, all the things that go to your Achilles’ heel, all the jabs, all the digs that hurt you and cut you the most in order to get you back. As you were saying in your role where you belong.

Speaker 1:

And they might have been right and they might even know that they’re doing it. Would you agree with that?

Speaker 3:

Um, yeah. Oh, absolutely. Because in a lot of ways, if we were like to, you know, I hate this overused term all the time, narcissist, but it’s a lot of like narcissistic, self-centered type tendencies, right? We use narcissism and we say a constantly now like second language. It’s not truly a definition of what these people are or what a many, many people are. A lot of people are just selfish, you know? And they just really want to keep you where they have you. They don’t want to change. Nobody likes change. And what is the best place to be is in denial. Because if you’re in denial, you don’t have to do anything about it.

Speaker 1:

Yes.

Speaker 3:

And a lot of people don’t want to change.

Speaker 1:

They do not want to change. Right. So the other thing I wish you could also speak to that I talk about is that after your, your, you have your family experience, you grow up, you enter relationship, you’re drawn to familiar love. I had one client saying it’s like custom made love, right? You meet people that fit in to the framework that you know, and so you’re going to be drawn to people that resemble your families. And then another toxic relationship develops. Could you speak to that?

Speaker 3:

Yup, exactly. So what happens is when we have a family, uh, usually our parents, because this children were little sponges, so we absorb and take in everything that our mother and father says, right? Everything they say it’s there are God and goddess say if they say it, it must be right. They’d never want to hurt me. Gosh, you know, they never want to hurt me. So they must be correct. So that’s why we say all the time, watch what you say in front of your children. They, they’re going to absorb this. This is where they’re going to get their identity. This is where they’re going to find out who they are and their self esteem. But a lot of, you know, families don’t take that into consideration. So as they go through their life, um, let’s say I’m going through this with a patient right now, her parents were always hired on her, do this, do that.

Speaker 3:

She did everything and she was never rewarded for it. So consequently she has moved on to a new relationship, one of many. There’s a bunch of really nice men out there that would love to be with her. But no, like I say, you can go to a whole room of great guys and pick out the jerk in the back who’s just like your dad or your mom, right? Hi, there you are. I want to, for me it’s, I’ll take the one who needs a mom. That’s how I roll. But what happens is, is you bring them in and what they give you is what your parents did. And a lot of times we did that little grain. You know when you’re in a toxic family relationship, you just sit and wait for that little granule of love that they throw your way. Just whatever it is.

Speaker 3:

It’s like, I’m going to let you eat it up. You know, just Oh God, there I can get, I can carry on for yet another day. Then the vicious cycle continues. So we look for this in our next relationship, we find a man or a woman or whoever we’re going to be with them and like, Hey, I am subconsciously, I don’t even know. But you know what? You remind me of my mom and how she used to talk to me or my dad. But you know what? You like to have sex with me. You like to kiss me, like to love me and then I can let all that nasty stuff that you do. Me put that on the back burner and I’ll put up with it. Cause that’s what I’m used to because you’re filling something I couldn’t get with my parents.

Speaker 1:

Exactly. Is there a way that people can, um, fix their toxic relationships? Can they turn to a family member? And if so, how do they do that?

Speaker 3:

Well, toxic people. Okay, so you can go in, you can fight this battle, you can Duke it out, you can try to engage them. You can say, Hey, this is what you’re doing, blah, blah blah. You know, a, B, C, D, E, F, G. you can have the evidence in front of them. You can plead your case if they don’t want to change. If they don’t take full responsibility, you’re beating your head against a wall. And unfortunately in a lot of situations, and I’ll say this in my own, I’m 58 years old. Um, I am the last of five. I was the um, little mascot in the family. Okay. The funny one, the one who kept everybody together and I had a long history of trauma as a child. Um, but my family has me in a role like every other family does. No matter how many degrees I get and how many accomplishments I have, no one gives me the respect that I deserve.

Speaker 3:

And it’s equally frustrating. It’s incredibly frustrating. So you’re going to find that with your family members. You can tell them, explain to them and you know, but if they don’t want to change and it’s rare that they will, um, then nothing’s going to happen. So that’s when you have to seriously make those. That’s why I try not to say end relationships with my patients, but they will eventually kind of just, you know, I say just distance yourself. You know, if you’re on the phone, this is a great example. So you’re on the phone with your toxic person, your mother, let’s say it’s your mother or whomever, and they start on that role of, you know, this, that and the other thing and you need to this that it’s just, you know what mom, I love you. I’ll talk to you soon. I got to go click. It doesn’t have to be rude. Doesn’t it have to be engaging because you’re really beating your head against a wall trying to get somebody who doesn’t want to change to change,

Speaker 1:

right? Or who can’t, right. So some people are really limited and they really can’t. They look like they can, like my family, talk about other people and the exact same dynamics that go on in our family about other families. They see it crystal clear. But when it’s in our family, it’s like there’s an, uh, something, a cataract on the eye or something, you know, they can’t see it. It’s bizarre to me. But it’s true and they’re limited and they’re never gonna be able to change that in the in themselves.

Speaker 3:

No, no, they aren’t. They? Well, and then like we were talking about with denial, I mean people don’t want to see flaws within themselves. A toxic person actually thinks that for the most part they’ve got it all going on. They know what they’re doing. You’re the one with the problem. They’re not the one with the problem. Hence comes in, you know, not being a reciprocal relationship. They aren’t healthy, they aren’t supportive. They’re not somebody that you can fall on when you’re around them. You feel like you’re walking on eggshells and you feel stressed out. Like when the phone rings, it’s like, ah, who? Oh gosh, who is it? You know,

Speaker 1:

I call it, this is not going to sound very therapeutic. I know I’m a therapist, but I call people like that alpha stupid. So they, they’re very alpha. They think they know everything that’s going on, but they’re really not intelligent about the concepts. That emotional intelligence is down the tubes and it’s like being alpha stupid. And it can be very irritating when you’re trying to negotiate, Hey, I don’t want to lose that relationship, but I want to have some mutuality here. And it’s not forthcoming.

Speaker 3:

No, no. And it’s not going to happen. So, so one of the problems with trying to end a relationship with somebody, um, that is, uh, toxic to you is that they decide when the relationship’s over. You can’t, they don’t like that. They, they get real upset about that. So if you’re really trying to end a toxic relationship, you have to be aware that there’s going to be consequences in the toxic relationship that I have gone out of. Um, they, they keep trying to lure me back in like different things. A text message, a text message there, an email, um, um, a comment trying to engage, try to even start if I try to do anything to keep it going and um, and you find yourself getting drug back in and feeling sick to your stomach and it’s like, Whoa, Whoa, Whoa. I need to back out of this.

Speaker 3:

I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to be in this. I am happier away from it. And so for people who’ve had family, had friends, relationships with lovers, you know, we can get it a whole different thing with love or really toxic lovers and things like that. Cause I can get into full blown abuse, you know, that not just physically that just mentally but physical abuse. But if the consequences are the things that keep people in these relationships such as, you know, um, they’re, they’re calling back, they’re getting other people to turn against you. Um, they’re, they’re doing whatever they can to hurt you in any way. And with social media, that’s real easy to do. So that’s what I mean by it can get way worse before it starts getting better.

Speaker 1:

Right. And with one thing, I did hear a speaking of narcissism, it is overused. I agree, but sometimes it’s true. And there’s a therapist, um, who said, if a narcissist is attached enough to you and doesn’t want to lose you, they might not change who they are, but they’ll, you can modify the behavior they engage in, um, towards you so they can stay in relationship with you. And I’ve actually seen that. Have you seen that

Speaker 3:

you w I well I would say for me in my eye, I don’t doubt that, but I mean cause there really is no cure for narcissism, but I, they really have to want to change to some degree. But I think that the only people we can change our ourselves, right. You know, and how we bring in the information. So whatever’s information that is brought into us through this person, do you know? So this is one of the things that I often talk about with patients as well, being an observer of your own mind. Okay? So this is by being able to, and you can do this instantaneously or you can, you know, it takes a little while in the beginning, but you can start doing it instantaneously. So the negative person is bringing this information into you. You have your spontaneous reaction, you know, through the neuropathways in your brain.

Speaker 3:

You just respond as you should, as you would through repetition. So if you stand back, stand back behind your eyes as the negative information is coming into you and they’re saying, listen, you know what? You always do this, you’re always a jerk and blah blah, blah. Sam back, think to yourself, okay, wait a minute, is that true? Is that really true? No, it isn’t true love. And then eventually you can do this instantaneously. The truth of the matter is they’ve done ABCDF G and that’s what has led me to do this. So you don’t give the automatic response, you have time to calm down, relax, think about it and say, you know what? I don’t see it that way and start changing up your to this negative person and they will start giving you a different reaction back. So that one’s helpful. Cause we teach people how to treat us as dr Phil would say.

Speaker 1:

Right? And that’s what I meant. So you’re not going to change your narcissistic parent or person that’s in the family. But if they want to be in relationship with you and you set firm boundaries, there is a possibility that they’ll maintain those boundaries on the up. But also what has to happen is a reset on a regular basis. They will cross those boundaries, but I have seen that where, again, it’s not a change. They don’t does that like curative for the person on how they’re treating you, but because you’re important enough to them for whatever reason, they’re willing to modify their behaviors, which I think is, you can’t count on that, but, but it can happen.

Speaker 3:

Oh, absolutely. Yes. Because in reality, a Joe, in reality, the narcissist, the toxic person really is very insecure, extremely insecure, and they have chosen you for a reason because they need you. They need Joel. They need you more than you need them, but we don’t feel that way. We feel it’s the opposite. But in reality it isn’t. They’re very weak, very insecure. They bully. They do what they can to get you to conform to their wishes. And when you start stepping out of that role, they start to panic. So they start pulling out all the stops and if they’re, if, if they really want to keep the relationship going with, like I said, most of them do because they require your love, you know, they find they will change and modify and adhere to the boundaries, but it takes a long time. This relationship I’m in trying to end here currently, it’s taken almost a year. It’s still dwindling. I’m still getting little bits and pieces. Even with deleting and blocking and everything else, little things are coming through. So it’s, it’s if they need you, if you supply something to them, that’s super important for them because they pick people that are loving, kind and supportive because they’re the least likely to go away. I’m a therapist and a loving therapist. I love people and want to help everybody. Why wouldn’t somebody pick me to be that person? You know?

Speaker 1:

I’m glad. Yes, and I’m glad you’re talking. We don’t have a lot of time, but just a few minutes about how it is so hard. In fact, L my twenties, I remember, this is why I didn’t get into relationship until I turned 30, because I was not, I could see my clients and friends get into relationship and then they couldn’t get out of relationship. And I felt like it was like a trap. Like an imprisonment. No, but it really is extremely hard to get out, isn’t it?

Speaker 3:

It is extremely hard. And that’s why I say people like this don’t have relationships. They take hostages in return for that. They do, they take hostages. You don’t even know that you’re living Stockholm syndrome. Okay. You’re sitting there empathizing with your captor. They condition you to believe that if you do this or that, that you know they’re going to, that they’ll, that they’ll get better or that it’s a flaw in you if you don’t help them out. They are very smart in what they’re doing. For some reason, we feel at certain points when we’re really dug deep in one of these, that they, um, that we need them to until we can, you know, detach ourselves from it. Slowly but surely. And one of the things I wanted to mention that’s super important is like I went through with this friend was, Oh there she is, there’s my buddy, there’s my girlfriend from high school.

Speaker 3:

I love her, she’s great. And then a little while later and like, Oh, there’s that jerk, I can’t stand. Who is that person? I don’t even know who they are. And then a little while later, Oh, there she is. And so we make excuses for them. If, you know, there’s my mom, there’s my dad, they’re there, I love them. And then we make excuses and then we think, but no, the negative is really outweighing the positive. I’m really suffering here and it’s a, it’s a difficult spot to be in, but it can be done. You can. And the thing of it is, you’ll know your start getting healthy and that you’re doing better by surrounding yourself with positive people. I’m really into yoga and meditation. I said I want to be around those kinds of people, upbeat people. I’d love to laugh, you know, things like that. Being around people that make me laugh and smell, that aren’t, um, the critic critical of me. Cause toxic people are very critical. And that’s, and then the phone will ring and just toxic person will enter your life again and then you feel your stomach drop.

Speaker 1:

Thank you so much, Liz. This is so awesome. We could probably go an hour or we’ll have you back some time. Tell us how people can find you.

Speaker 3:

Oh, I am on Instagram. I’m also, um, if you go on psychology today, my name is Liz Reed. I’m the name of my company is Liz life guru. I have a podcast as you know, on podcast Detroit. Right now we’re all in kind of locked down, but I have a bunch of episodes. I have 21 episodes on there. I’d been down there. I’m supposed to be celebrating my year anniversary this Friday of my podcast. Unfortunately, we’re all in lockdown, but I’m on Instagram under Liz life guru and my phone numbers are on there. Contact me anytime I take in patients over the phone and in person when we’re out of all this, it’ll be in person. And, um, I just hope that everybody is doing much better with this. This is a very difficult time for everybody.

Speaker 1:

Thank you so much, Liz. Take care and we’ll make that all right. Thank you Joe. Have a good day. Okay. You too.

Speaker 1:

Thanks for listening to this episode of smart sex, smart love. I’m dr Joe court and you can find me on Joe kort.com. That’s J O E K O R t.com. See you next time.

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