Many empaths have a history of emotional abuse and find themselves years later in a cycle of choosing toxic relationships. These toxic partners will undoubtedly share certain toxic traits with the original abuser. No one means to choose toxic partners. However, they’re used to toxicity and their experience with it from childhood makes them unconsciously seek it out.
The Origins of the Cycle of Toxic Relationships
Childhood neglect and abuse create an energetic signature or pattern in the nervous system. The nervous system receives messages from the body and reacts appropriately. For example, say there was an alcoholic parent in the house during childhood. The pattern of behavior that becomes typical for this parent in the household might be coming home late, drunk. The spouse is mad and berates the drunk parent, the drunk parent gets angry and rages around the house, possibly hitting the spouse or kids, or maybe just throwing and breaking things.
The children hide till things calm down, then walk on eggshells, trying to be as good as possible so as not to elicit a rage episode from the alcoholic parent. This whole episode plays out over and over for months or years, the nervous system of the child (or spouse) who experiences this pattern repeatedly learns to anticipate each episode and produces stimulation throughout the body to help the child cope and react in ways that keep the child as safe as possible.
The Role of the Nervous System in the Pattern
The nervous system knows the cycle of ups and downs–the drama and chaos that come with toxic relationships. The hormone cocktail conditions the child to seek the people and situations throughout their life that emulate the cycle. It will continue until they discover this pattern isn’t who they are, but how they are conditioned.
Recognition of the pattern begins the healing journey that allows them to recognize there are other ways of living their life. Awakening a cycle of healing when they learn to settle the nervous system. The healing journey also known as spiritual journey begins and ends with self-awareness.
The #1 Strategy is Self-Awareness
Self-awareness is the ability to recognize and understand one’s own reactions, feelings, thoughts, and behaviors, as well as the impact those things have on other people in their life.
An important component of emotional intelligence, self-awareness allows people to better understand themselves, their own actions, and the motivations behind those actions. All of which leads people to become conscious of their own needs, values, and strengths. All the parts of themselves they had to stifle and ignore when they were children and had to be “good” and “helpful to others.”
The experience of living to be “good” and to “help others” feels empty. I had a client once explain it as feeling like they don’t exist. Their entire focus was on the other people in their life—what those people needed or wanted from them. My client had never developed their sense of self. Their connection between their consciousness and their body, mind, and spirit was disconnected. They rerouted the connection outward so they could be conscious of what everyone around them needed or wanted.
Breaking the connection to your body, mind, and spirit is self-preservation and necessary at the time they put it in place. And, it is no way to thrive. Without connection to our consciousness, we don’t trust ourselves and will never successfully create a life that honors us.
Reestablishing the connection to the body, mind, and spirit leads to more fulfilling and healthier relationships, as well as better work-life balance and a more authentic lifestyle. Self-awareness supports people to better manage their emotions, make sound decisions, and take positive steps to establish and then achieve their own life goals, instead of living out the goals other people set for them.
One useful tool for reestablishing your connection with your body is to do regular body scan meditations. I recorded a Mind Body Attunement meditation based on the work of Dr. Mario Martinez, who developed the 5 Portal System helping to decipher the signals your body is sending through sensation.
What You Gain Through Self-Awareness
When an empath practices self-awareness, they will learn the ways their programming undermined their peace and safety. They will see how their unconscious conditioning continually pulls them into toxic relationships that feel familiar. Once they break the programming, they can finally choose something different.
Energetically, self-awareness is consciousness. And consciousness is the fundamental energy that connects all living things in the universe and ties them to the greater universal consciousness, allowing us to experience a deeper level of understanding and connection with the world around us.
Developing self-awareness is shadow work. The deep inner work that frees us from the shackles of our programming. What do we gain through self-awareness? We gain freedom–Sovereignty.
Resources for Developing Self-Awareness
When you are ready to begin this process, I recommend The Empath Apprenticeship for one-on-one healing work, empath education, and spiritual mentorship or if you would like a group environment, you can begin with the Tools for Thriving as an Empath Workshop that can teach different tools and methods for developing your self-awareness. This workshop is beginning again March 3rd, 2024.