6 Harsh Reasons Why Smart People Stay In Toxic Relationships

Emotional abuse strips you of your sense of dignity and of the freedom to choose.

Last updated on Jul 16, 2023

unhappy woman stuck in bad relationship Drazen Zigic / Shutterstock

Why a smart person stays in an abusive relationship is a mystery for many, including you, the victim. You are labeled and blamed as needy, co-dependent, or an enabler.

When two people are under the influence of love, they are tethered together, interconnected, and interdependent.

Everything each does serves the relationship. The two become one — a team, depending and relying on one another. You have each other’s back. Your joy is magnified.


With abuse, however, that tethered relationship becomes self-serving and therefore loses its integrity.

Here are six harsh reasons why smart people stay in toxic relationships: 

1. You are deceived by the abuser

Lies and deception cause you to feel confused and powerless and to even wonder if you are going crazy. Deception, the pinnacle of conscienceless behavior, causes a cloud of ambivalence that freezes your ability to keep safe from abuse.


The combination of powerlessness, betrayal, and ambivalence overwhelms the brain. At these times, the brain may release oxytocin (the love hormone) to maintain connection and promote closeness. Instinctively, you respond by repairing the connection in order to regain the security you once had in the relationship.

In essence, your biology moves you to see your abuser through the eyes of empathy and love.

RELATED: 8 Ways To Deal With A Malignant Narcissist — The Most Evil Type Of Narcissist

2. They use destructive conditioning

A narcissist conditions you to become afraid of doing the very things that once made your life fulfilling as they now bring you frustration or anxiety. In time, you learn to associate your strengths, talents, and happy memories with abuse and disrespect. Being ineffective in being able to influence your partner makes you feel inadequate.


The conditioning silences you and withers away your self-esteem.

3. They assert dominance and control over you

Entitlement and exploitation are hallmarks of a malignant narcissist. The abuser’s goal is to keep you hinged on him.

Control and dominance begin in subtle ways. The most powerful weapon the abuser uses is toying with your emotions. The more power over your emotions, the less likely you’ll trust your own reality and inner wisdom. The abuser parasitically bleeds your strength, sense of self, and dignity.

4. They disrespect and abuse you

Abuse is about power imbalance. The abuser exploits your vulnerabilities and takes advantage of the strengths you bring to the relationship. Emotional abuse uses a set of ingredients: control, entitlement, excuses, justifications, and victim blaming to diminish your power.


When you try to protect yourself, passive-aggressive behaviors or anger are used to intimidate and keep you in fear of losing the relationship. Your head spins with confusion and feelings of guilt for not doing or being enough for your narcissist.

RELATED: The Science Behind Why People Cheat

5. They gaslight you

Gaslighting is a form of thought control and brainwashing. The toxic person slowly convinces you to question your perception of reality and to believe the problem isn’t the abuse itself, but your reactions to the abuse.

An abuser uses gaslighting as entertainment to see you squirm, a quick, effective fix to end conversations and redirect the focus onto what the narcissist calls your issues, e.g., nagging, being controlling, or being too emotional. You’re overwhelmed with self-doubt and anxiety.


6. They create destructive trauma bonds with you

Betrayal is a form of abandonment that can create trauma bonds between the abuser and you, the victim. 

In these exploitive relationships your interests, your personality, and your well-being are continually ignored and neglected. Betrayal includes experiences of cheating, lying, breaking a confidence, failing to defend or protect, and not being given priority.

These trauma bonds occur when the victim clings to someone who is destructive to him or her due to the perceived presence of danger or of something to fear (often, of losing the relationship). The bond is an addictive attachment to the person who is hurting you. In essence, the brain is tricked into believing it needs the relationship to survive.

Because the relationship has positive attributes, you may blame yourself for the abuser’s negative behavior and may even attempt to convert him to become a non-abuser.


RELATED: 15 Tragic Signs You're Stuck In A Toxic Relationship

Trauma bonds appeal to emptiness, unfinished business, wounds, and trauma from your past. There’s an unspoken, even unconscious hope that this relationship will make up for those earlier losses.

Most people have unresolved wounds from the past; therefore, a traumatic bond can happen to just about anyone.


Abuse strips you of your sense of dignity and of the freedom to choose. The guilt, self-doubt, and anxiety you feel were manufactured by your malignant narcissist. Enlist the help of those you trust and a counselor to help you get through the healing journey where you can live in freedom, peace and find real love.

You are worthy of respect, love, commitment, and protection. It’s my goal to empower and educate so you have the tools needed to avoid people who are incapable of expressing love as well as to support your healing journey when love and the loveless collide. You’re wired to give and receive fearless love.

RELATED: What Is Betrayal Trauma? How To Identify & Heal The Wounds

Jianny Adamo, LMHC, founder of Fearless Love Coaching and Counseling supports singles and couples breaking through fears and limitations to create safe and intimate marriages and relationships.