Why Do Toxic Relationships Swallow People with ADHD?

Toxic relationships hound many people with ADHD, whose persistent symptoms and battered self-esteem make them especially susceptible to “love bombing,” “trauma bonding,” and other romantic red flags. Here, learn how to spot signs of an unhealthy relationship.

Toxic relationship with love bombing

How can we differentiate an abusive or toxic relationship from one that suffers from poor communication but is not necessarily unhealthy? Not easily.

Abuse takes many forms: verbal, physical, emotional, psychological, sexual, and economic. Many abusive relationships also have moments of seemingly loving behavior. This pattern, known as “trauma bonding,” compounds the difficulty of leaving a toxic partner.

Toxic Relationship Phases: From Love Bombing to Leaving

There are three phases to a toxic or abusive relationship:

  1. Idealizing. When you begin to date someone, you may be showered with gifts, compliments, and attention; you may feel pressured to commit too quickly. This behavior is called idealizing, or “love bombing.”
  2. Devaluing. Love bombing is different from the intense beginning phase of a healthy relationship. The intent of idealizing is to get you hooked and then start the devaluing stage of the relationship. In the idealizing stage, you can do no wrong. In the devaluing stage, you can do no right.
  3. Discarding. In this third stage, your toxic partner may suddenly leave the relationship after finding another partner, or you may discover that the person had multiple partners during your relationship. If you leave, the toxic person may try to suck you back into the relationship by saying things will be different. However, if you return, your relationship will only grow more dysfunctional.

[Download: Manage ADHD’s Impact on Your Relationship]

ADHD in Toxic Relationships

At times, relationships impacted by ADHD may suffer from communication problems and emotional dysregulation — common symptoms of ADHD in adults. You have difficulty stating your needs and, possibly, some processing issues.

In a healthy relationship in which one or both partners have ADHD, there is an honest attempt to understand each other, even when communication is strained. Abuse is about power and control. In a toxic relationship, you may find that your wants and needs are ridiculed or aren’t considered.

Your ADHD may be used against you in an abusive relationship. For example, some of my clients report that their partners said they “couldn’t be trusted” because of ADHD, or they needed to sign over their accounts and assets due to their “bad decision-making.” These clients came to believe they couldn’t manage their own lives. In reality, the abusive partner was weaponizing their ADHD to gain control.

Many of my clients have found that taking stimulants for ADHD helped them see an unhealthy situation more clearly. Not surprisingly, their abusive partners pressured them to stop taking ADHD medication because “it makes you more difficult.”

Leaving a Toxic Relationship

The most effective way to handle a toxic relationship is to leave it and have no more contact. This includes blocking the partner’s phone numbers, emails, and social media accounts. If you have children with a toxic person, and stopping all contact isn’t an option, consider going low-contact. See a family law attorney regarding your and your children’s rights.

Many people with ADHD experience intense feelings of rejection and loss at the end of a relationship. Those feelings are intensified at the end of a toxic relationship. A licensed mental health professional can help you process the relationship’s ending and any trauma you may have experienced. This will help you to recover and rebuild.

Keep in mind: A healthy relationship isn’t manipulative; it’s gradual and built on trust.

Toxic Relationships and ADHD: Next Steps

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