This article will help you deal with 3 major problems many people struggle with.
Those problems are about human relationships.
Or, as some call them, interpersonal relationships.
Why is it a big deal?
People can hurt you, and toxic relationships can be painful.
They can be dangerous to your mental health. And they can extend their harm to hurt your physical health.
On the other hand, having healthy relationships in your life is associated with psychological and physical benefits.
So, relationships, of all kinds, are not minor things in your life. They do affect you and you should work on making that effect as positive as possible.
That being said, some relationships are pain points for most people.
Many of us are not well-equipped to deal with the toxicity and the pain and the chaos that those relationships bring to our lives.
Here’s what I am talking about:
- Toxic parents: We will start here because, you know, it’s somehow always your parents’ fault (Just kidding! Or not!). Our relationship with our parents is so important. If it’s fucked up, it can take a toll on our life for the rest of it if we do nothing about that. And, of course, toxic parents are highly likely to create toxic family interactions, which makes things worse.
- Romantic relationships: though love is great, there’s a lot of pain associated with romantic relationships. No one wants to have their heart broken. And no one wants to be in a relationship that is full of pain in negativity. But it seems that success with romantic relationships eludes many of us, especially those who grew up in toxic environments with toxic parents. We are likely to meet and involve, romantically and non-romantically with…
- Toxic people: as adults, we can encounter many toxic people who make us hate ourselves. They are bullies, psychopaths, narcissists, and just quite toxic and harmful to be around. If we don’t have enough skills to stand up for ourselves, be assertive, and set clear boundaries, we are risking being exploited and hurt and bullied by them. And the price is our self-respect and sanity.
You see how is that all connected?
Fortunately, there are some good books written on such topics.
I will discuss 6 of these outlining what you can find in each book and how it can help you.
Generally, those books will help you move away from toxic relationships/environments and create healthy, nurturing ones.
I tried to include as much information about each book. You can also preview each book and read a few pages of it for free.
Below are 2 books.
They talk mainly about parents. They will show you how to navigate through toxic environments and help you become an emotionally mature and secure individual.
They are useful if you hate your parents/family, and if you believe you grew up in a toxic family environment.
Adult Children of Immature Parents: How to Heal from Distant, Rejecting, or Self-involved Parent
This is one of the books I keep recommending.
Adult children of immature parents shows the difference between emotionally mature and emotionally immature parents (and people in general). And it tells you how to recognize if your parents were immature. There are a few types of immature parents and general characteristics.
Lindsey discusses the effects of immature parenting on children, which is going to shape the way they interact with the world to a great extent. Much more like coping styles we develop to deal with such immaturity.
Those coping styles can be useful during childhood, but now we need to unlearn and challenge some of them. Especially if we grew up with immature parents.
In addition to emotional maturity/immaturity, Lindsey talks about emotional intimacy and emotional loneliness.
What I liked the most about it was the comparison between internalizers and externalizers. It’s based on the concept of locus of control. And it helps you understand all the shitty interactions of whose responsibility it is and taking less/more responsibility for your actions and the consequences of that.
I talked about this concept indirectly in this article.
In the book, there are ways we can start breaking free. I think of them as different ways of looking at our lives, parents, and selves.
There’s this technique of relationships vs. relatedness. It is one of the things that can help you strategically keep your distance from emotionally immature parents (and people) and set your boundaries effectively.
One of the great things about the book is that it contains a chapter about identifying emotionally mature people. I believe one of the ‘strength points’ of this book is that it nudges you into becoming emotionally mature and surrounding yourself with such people. It’s not just about ditching your parents and complaining they were toxic.
“Emotional maturity” means a person is capable of thinking objectively and conceptually while sustaining deep emotional connections to others. People who are emotionally mature can function independently while also having deep emotional attachments, smoothly incorporating both into their daily life.
They are direct about what they want, yet do so without exploiting other people. They have differentiated from their original family relationships sufficiently to build a life of their own (Bowen 1978). They have a well-developed sense of self (Kohut 1985) and identity (Erikson 1963) and treasure their closest relationships.”
Toxic Parents: Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life
This book is a bit different than the previous one.
It starts by ‘debunking’ the myth of the perfect parent or, in more extreme wording, the godlike parents.
There’s no such thing and parents can be toxic. Regardless of their intentions.
In Toxic Parent: Overcoming their hurtful legacy and reclaiming your life, Susan outlines 6 types of toxic parents. She explains in detail the characteristics of each one and how they affect their children.
- The inadequate parents “just because you didn’t mean it doesn’t mean it didn’t hurt”
- The controllers “Why can’t they let me live my own life?”
- The alcoholics “No one in this family is an alcoholic”
- The verbal abuser “the bruises are all on the inside”
- The physical abuser “Sometimes the bruises are on the outside, too”
- The sexual abuser “The ultimate betrayal”
Reading through the characteristics of each type can help you understand the toxic environment you were (and maybe still) in. What I liked the most was that Susan described how the children of each type are likely to behave as a result of growing up in a toxic environment.
She then, in the next chapters explains why parents behave this way. More interestingly, she clearly states that you don’t have to forgive. Healing doesn’t have to start by forgiving, according to her, and I highly agree. Lastly, she doesn’t leave it like that and offers good solutions and ways of thinking and coping.
“Most children of toxic parents develop a high tolerance for mistreatment. You may have only a vague awareness that anything out of the ordinary happened to you as a child. Chances are, you don’t even know how angry you really are”
“The things we’re afraid will happen if we get angry are the very things that have a good chance of happening if we don’t!”
“Physical violence against children is often a reaction to stress at work, conflict with another family member or friend, or general tension over an unsatisfying life. Children are easy targets: they can’t fight back, and they can be intimidated into silence”
Below are 3 books.
2 of them are by John Gottman, the famous relationship researcher who conducted researches in which he could predict divorce with over %90 accuracy.
The last one is for a different author who is not less qualified to talk about the topic, Dr. Susan Johnson. She is one of the therapists who did some fantastic work on attachment theory and was able to come up with useful insights.
They can be useful if you want to have healthy romantic relationships that don’t drive you crazy. You know, take the unnecessary pain and create safe, secure connections.
The Science of Trust: Emotional Attunement For Couples
The Science of Trust is a giant book! But it’s worth it.
I will not be able to talk about everything it discusses, so I will give you a sense of its overall content and how it can help you.
The word ‘science’ is meant quite literally. The book uses a lot of scientific language and methods, yet it’s comprehendible for non-scientific readers.
The book talks about trust and how to measure it using what it calls, ‘trust metric’. The same is done for untrustworthiness and betrayal.
It further explains how those things build up in a relationship. And it talks about general ideas and practices that can improve relationships or save them. Those ideas and practices are derived from Gottman’s and his colleagues’ long research.
For those of you who have difficulties understanding trust, or who have trust issues, this book can offer some great insights.
And sure enough, for those who want to improve their relationship in any way, this book is a good read. However, I recommend you give other Gottman’s books a read first and not start with this one. This will make understanding it and applying it easier.
There are interesting topics the book talks about such as healing from betrayal, what’s toxic when a relationship is ailing (it’s not what I thought it was), the importance of repairing negativity during conflicts.
And one of the most interesting things I learned from it was the idea that interactions aren’t just positive or negative. There are ‘neutral’ interactions that we don’t talk about often.
Of course, interactions affect largely the process of building trust, managing conflict, and satisfaction levels.
It’s clear what positive and negative interactions do. But neutral interactions can be a good thing despite them being boring and mundane. This is one of the moments when you realize that real relationships can be (I would argue: should be) boring and mundane sometime and it’s OK. It’s even useful.
The book explains in more detail how the positive, negative, and neutral interactions exist in, affect, and influence the relationship. And this is pretty damn eye-opening and interesting.
“Our goal is not to get couples to avoid fights, even ones that are painful and alienating. Nor is our goal to get couples to avoid hurting each other’s feelings, or avoid times when they do not respond to each other’s needs for emotional connection. Instead, our goal is to help people process their inevitable fights and moments of miscommunication or hurt feelings, and to enable them to repair the relationship. Regrettable incidents in interaction are simply par for the course. The goal is to be able to heal the emotional wounds created by those incidents.”
The 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country’s Foremost Relationship Expert
This is almost a classic!
As the title suggests, the book offers 7 principles that can make your marriage work. And they are not just for married people; they are about strengthening relationships.
Before introducing the seven principles, Gottman starts by laying down the basics. He briefly talks about his research and Seattle’s ‘love lab’.
Dr. Gottman, then, speaks about two ideas: what makes a marriage work and what makes it fail (or how he predicts divorce).
Then, he starts by explaining what makes relationships work. Here he talks about the great things which keep relationships together without getting into details, for that’s what the book is about. He introduces concepts such as attunement, sound relationship house, and repair.
The part about how he predicts divorce is about how he was able to predict divorce with an over 90% accuracy. He mentions and explains many concepts such as The Four Horsemen, Flooding, and failed repair attempts. Those concepts are discussed as signs the couples are heading into a divorce.
Then, he starts explaining the seven principles which can make your relationship a happy and stable one. Those seven principles are based on his research. More specifically, they are based on what he has come to call The Sound Relationship House theory.
The concepts are explained in separate chapters and they contain quizzes and exercises which can be helpful with putting the knowledge into actions.
There are many interesting ideas in the principles. There’s this shocking fact that 69% of conflicts in relationships are not solvable. And it’s all about the way you discuss them as a couple. The failure to discuss them well is going to turn them into what’s called ‘gridlock’ which can eventually cause emotional distancing and nastier fights.
The 7 Principle for Making Marriage Work , among other Gottman’s books, has helped me with my own relationship. I wrote about that here. It’s one of those books you should read if you are serious about creating a loving, happy, and healthy relationship.
“Couples who are demanding of their marriage are more likely to have deeply satisfying unions than those who lower their expectations”
Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love
Dr. Sue Johnson is known for what she calls Emotional Focused Therapy (EFT). And a lot of her work is based on attachment theory.
I read the popular book about attachment theory Attached, and I liked it. But I felt something was missing. I felt that attachment theory was broader than what Attached described. And when I read this book, I understood attachment theory more.
Hold Me Tight introduces seven transforming conversations.
- Recognizing the demon dialogue.
- Finding the raw spots.
- Revisiting a rocky moment.
- Hole me tight -engaging and connecting.
- Forgiving injuries.
- Bonding through sex.
- Keeping your love alive.
It’s one of those books that contain exercises. The exercises are useful, and so are the insights you learn in each conversation.
I like this book because it taught me that ‘attachment injuries’ and those ‘raw spots’ we have can be painful to touch. And nothing touches them like a close relationship. So, you probably need it when things aren’t going well in your relationship more than you need it when everything is going swimmingly. But it never hurts to learn something or two at any time.
Those concepts are explained in the book better than I can explain them, but let’s just say they are wounds, and they are one of the things that make relationships hard.
But it doesn’t just stop there. It shows how to handle those issues as a couple.
One of the things this book does is help you understand yourself and your partner more empathically. This can help you work together and stop seeing each other as the enemy.
I believe it’s a book about healing.
If some of the issues and concepts I mentioned when discussing Gottman’s books don’t ring a bell, then probably your relationships’ issues are about wounds related to connection and attachment. And this book is where to look.
And generally, I would say that it’s a great book for anyone who wants to improve their relationship, especially if you are going through a rough patch.
“Remember that the facts of a fight (whether it’s a fight about the kids’ schedule, your sex life, your careers) aren’t the real issue. The real concern is always the strength and security of the emotional bond you have with your partner”
“When marriages fail, it is not increasing conflict that is the cause. It is decreasing affection and emotional responsiveness, according to a landmark study by Ted Huston of the University of Texas. Indeed, the lack of emotional responsiveness rather than the level of conflict is the best predictor of how solid a marriage will be five years into it. The demise of marriages begins with a growing absence of responsive intimate interactions. The conflict comes later.”
“Nothing brings people together like a common enemy, I remembered. I realized that I could help couples by helping them see their negative patterns of interaction — their Demon Dialogues — as the enemy, not each other”
“When safe connection seems lost, partners go into fight-or-flight mode. They blame and get aggressive to get a response, any response, or they close down and try not to care. Both are terrified; they are just dealing with it differently. Trouble is, once they start this blame-distance loop, it confirms all their fears and adds to their sense of isolation.”
Unfortunately, I am not able to provide a preview for Hold Me Tight. I will keep checking and I will add the preview as soon as it’s available.
Toxic people can perpetuate the already toxic environments you are trying to break free from.
Well, not quite literally. If you are equipped with what it takes to handle them and scare them away, you will be fine.
If you can stand up for yourself, then nothing can intimidate you or toxicate your life.
And this is what this book does.
This can be useful if you have a lot of toxic people in your life and if you believe you are too nice and need to learn more about assertiveness and setting boundaries.
Becoming Toxic People’s Worst Nightmare: Learn How to Set Boundaries and Stop Anyone from Mistreating You
This is my own book.
Becoming Toxic People’s Worst Nightmare dives deep into what makes someone toxic, types of toxic people, and how to be a high-status individual who demands respect.
The first three chapters help you “study evil” to understand toxic people on a deeper level. Some tips to protect yourself are included.
The last two chapters are not what you might think. They don’t focus on toxic people and how to handle them. Rather, they focus on you and how you can become a higher status individual.
They build on the knowledge of the previous chapters but focus mainly on developing skills and thinking patterns that should lift your social status.
It also discusses setting boundaries and being assertive and standing up for yourself. Without those skills, you are going to be pushed around, walked over, and not get your needs met in social interactions.
If you believe you are too nice, or you think you are not that assertive, or if you are being walked over, or if there are some toxic people in your life who you cannot stand, then this book will help you.
One of the things that some readers enjoyed was the chapter about social intelligence. It’s one of the things that can make you a nightmare for toxic people. And it’s one of the things that will give you a huge advantage in social settings.
Also, some readers enjoyed the part about demonstrating strength by actually being strong and competent.
I, on the other hand, enjoyed writing it.
“They expect you to behave and act and breathe and walk and talk as the fucked-up image they have of you in their minds. And should you not do that, you will be reminded of who you really are.
And who you really are?
To them, you are but a projection of their insecurities and anger and resentment and fears.
They see the badness in you because it reminds them of their own badness that they hate (Which is uncomfortable) or because it makes them feel less bad (Which is a cheap way to feel good about one’s self). Or both.”
“Just because someone is harmless doesn’t mean that they are virtuous.“
“Just as you when you try to be cool, you end up sounding desperate and stupid. And just as when you try to impress other people, you end up impressing no one. When you try to project strength, you sound anything but strong.“