As members of the animal kingdom, we humans are herd animals — the same as cows or sheep. We want to be around a herd, and not being with a herd does funny things to us. So, it's no surprise that humans are drawn into relationships. It's a primal, biological instinct that we just can't help. But just because we're drawn into relationships doesn't mean we're always drawn into good ones. In fact, sometimes this instinctual desire to be in relationships leads you into downright toxic ones — and you might feel like your instincts are letting you down because you never seem to find a relationship that is good for you.
Well, despite how let down you might feel, don't worry. There's a scientific reason that you find yourself in these toxic relationships. And because there's a scientific reason for it, there's a scientific way you can get out of it.
Why you keep finding yourself in toxic relationships
As humans, we have a natural radar that attracts us to people who complement us. Think of it this way. If you're a financial saver, you're likely to find yourself attracted to people who are financial spenders; or, at the very least, financial spenders are likely to be attracted to you.
There are many more complementary roles we fill — the funny guy, the emotionally available one, the emotionally distant one, the worker bee, the artist. All these roles we play are attractive to others with complementary traits. You will find yourself being pursued by people who have traits that complement yours.
Unfortunately, this scientific principle of finding people who complement you also works to your detriment. For example, if you have a hard time setting boundaries, you're likely to attract people who often push boundaries. Or, if you're a soft-spoken person, you're likely to attract people who are domineering.
When you find yourself in a toxic relationship, it's probably because you have a trait that attracted that toxic person into your life. Some traits that most commonly attract toxic partners include being too soft-spoken, not being assertive enough, bending over backwards for others, being driven to help others and wanting to be liked by everyone. Unfortunately, while these traits are positive things that make you a nice person and a good friend, they also make you a target.
But science got you here, and science can get you out.
How to stop attracting toxic people
Because others are attracted to you based off of your behavior and how you respond to others, there is a solution to ending your toxic relationships. You simply have to stop responding to others in ways that invite toxic people into your life.
I know, I know. It's not as easy as it sounds. There are thousands of things you do on a daily basis (many that you don't even think about), and to pick out which of these things is inviting toxic people into your life is tough.
An easy way to begin is by talking to a few friends. They know you better than you think. They can probably tell you how you're coming across to others in certain situations. Don't be defensive when friends are honest with you. Listen. Take it in.
Another idea is to start a journal, and keep track of the people you meet. After a few weeks, reread your journal and look at the ways you responded when others approached you or talked to you. Were you overly inviting? Were you shy or timid? Pay special attention to all the signals you send to others.
If you continue to struggle, there's simply no substitute for good old fashioned counseling. Seeking help shows strength and courage — and there's no better opinion than a truly objective one.
After determining which traits you have that are attracting toxic people, you can begin to change your behavior, finding ways to repel toxic people away from you. As you change, so will your herd. And you'll soon find that the people you surround yourself with won't be toxic at all. They'll be caring, supportive and loyal.
Aaron Anderson is a therapist and Director of The Marriage and Family Clinic in Denver, CO. He is a writer, speaker and relationship expert. Checkout his blog for expert information on how to improve your relationship.