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When we are children, caught up in a toxic family dynamic, we spend much of our young life yearning for the day we can escape. However, unfortunately, when you leave the toxic family dynamic behind, your work has only truly just begun.

As children, we are like sponges. From the moment we are born, we require emotional and physical support. We depend on our caregivers to give us everything we need. Those caregivers become our major focus, providing us with a lens through which to view the world. If our parents and family are cold and callous, we may respond on an emotional level with coping mechanisms that are unhealthy.

In many cases, psychologists believe, and science agrees, that when children are neglected on an emotional level and conditioned and programmed to accept toxic behaviors from others, it causes them to adapt to unhealthy attachment behaviors. In turn, they up their people-pleasing behaviors, and will do anything not to lose the people they love. They seek out validation, even when it comes at their ultimate expense.

Dr. Ramona Roberts, a psychologist and trauma counselor, speaks in-depth about this and explains “Often, people who experience complex trauma in their early familial relationships unconsciously try to recreate that dynamic. They might become involved in relationships that mimic the early negative experiences they had with an unavailable or potentially emotional or physically abusive partner. It’s almost as if they want to recreate the circumstances of the early experience so they can have an opportunity to fix it and experience the unconditional love that was missing in the first relationship.”

She compares this addiction to love to other addictions by gambling and says that when we become programmed to associate obtaining love as an adrenaline game, we may get bored with relationships that are normal and happy.

Additionally, she says that boundaries play an integral role in all of this, or the lack thereof. When we fail to learn how to implement boundaries, and never do so, it can lead us down a long hard road of toxic and failed relationship attempts.

But there is a difference between completely isolating or placing unhealthy guards up that block us from getting close to others and establishing boundaries that allow for us to get close to people healthily and reasonably.

If you find that you are in an unhealthy relationship, knowing that is the first step. Once you realize that, and once you realize what the root of the problem is, you can begin the pathway towards growth and healing. And just because someone is conditioned to accept toxic behaviors doesn’t mean that they are unable to change that and to move forward towards healthier attachment behaviors. On the contrary, if you understand the root of the problem, you have the power to find healing.