Toxic Relationship + Co-Dependence = Emotional Malnutrition
By Rhoberta Shaler. PhD.
Do you often feel depleted, exhausted, and rundown, but can’t identify why? Those are all the signs of imbalance in your body–like malnutrition. Malnutrition is an imbalance between what your body needs and what it gets.
From an emotional point of view, it’s similar. Are you getting what you need in your relationship? You might be starving for love, attention, acceptance, or acknowledgment. You can feel exhausted for no apparent reason. Listless, defeated, and rejected. So, it’s no wonder that, when you’re starving, a bread crumb can feel like a feast.
If you’ve been with a Hijackal®* for any length of time, you may be running on fumes. It’s characteristic of these narcissistic folks to view life as their private smorgasbord, intended to satisfy their own needs, wants, and desires. That leaves no room for your thoughts, feelings, and preferences. And while they do it, HIjackals try to tell you why you have no business expecting to visit that buffet. Until they need something from you, or fear they are losing you. Then, all of a sudden, they hand you a plate.
They’ll give you just enough for you to think, “Oh! They DO see me, they DO love me, they DO want me around.” And as soon as they’re sure they’ve got you back on the hook, they’ll take your fork away.
You may say, ‘Oh, I’m fine. I’m fine. I’m used to it.’ But do you want to be used to living with endless hunger? I know that thought can really strike you at a very deep place. You may not have recognized how longingly hungry you are.
It’s important, too, to see that you may have been emotionally malnourished in childhood; and this current relationship is just more of the same. It feels regular, familiar. And so, you don’t think much of it. It’s just usual for you.
Step back and reflect for a moment. When was the last time you felt important in your relationship? When did you feel that what you said, felt, or wanted actually mattered? Now, compare that to your Hijackal. How often do their needs, wants, or opinions get all the airspace, attention, or priority? That is their prime goal, after all, to be the center of everything and do all the getting and taking.
In a relationship with a Hijackal, you may find yourself shrinking to accommodate them as they take up more and more space. This is what the Hijackal wants because it puts them in control. However, shrinking yourself is not a healthy solution, as it supports an imbalance in the relationship.
Hijackals cannot tolerate equality.
They always need more supply and will do everything in their power to take up more space. Not much left for you. An occasional breadcrumb, if you’re lucky. True equality is a necessary component for a healthy adult relationship. The Hijackal will ensure that equality does not exist, as they prioritize their own needs above all else.
Are you contorting yourself into a pretzel to please a narcissistic person? You may believe that if you move, act, or think a certain way, they will leave you alone or at least stop putting you down and making you wrong. Again, you’re hooked on the hope that you can make them change. But this is not a healthy way to exist. You become a shell of your former self, trying to stay out of their way. And, being overly accommodating, you are thus continuously depleting.
Pretzels don’t have much nutritional value.
Alternatively, you may have given up entirely and become a doormat, accepting that they walk all over you. This is a sad and difficult place to be. You’ve given up so much that was rightfully yours. You were not asking too much, even though the Hijackal insisted you were. If you recognize you are in this situation, see this as your call to action.
Conserve your energy. Don’t waste time berating yourself for allowing this to happen. That doesn’t help. Acknowledge that the Hijackal’s controlling behaviors and dismissive comments have worn you down. You’ve given up your equality. Think about taking back control of your life.
When you live with the constant stress and tension of life with an emotionally abusive person, you are on edge. Fight, flight, faint, freeze, or fawn are the defense responses to try to feel safe. You’re likely familiar with these, but fawning deserves special attention here.
Fawning is when you’re tripping over yourself to please, appease, or over-validate your Hijackal. It’s the opposite direction from fight and flight. You turn your people-pleasing dial way up and say, ‘Oh, you’re wonderful. Oh, I would never do that. Oh, you’re absolutely right. I’m a mess, I’m useless.’ And you hope that, by agreeing, complying and self-deprecating, the Hijackal will at least see you as no threat. Maybe they’ll even see you as having some value, and will throw you some breadcrumbs!
Over-giving is exhausting. Over-giving is not balanced. Over-giving is unhealthy. Being expected to over-give all the time is outrageous.
Are you empty, starving, thirsty, and depleted?
Do you feel as though there is little left of you?
Do you feel empty, hollow, with nothing left to give?
Do you find yourself still saying, “I’m okay. Oh, I can do it. I can manage. I can make it.” And yet you know, in your head and your heart, that you’re not and you can’t. That’s emotional malnutrition.
Think of it this way: you’ve run out of cash, and someone says, give me money. But you don’t have any cash. So, they demand you use your credit card. You get a cash advance on your card and give them what they want. Then, then the bill comes. You still don’t have the cash, so you can’t pay the bill. And then the next bill comes and there’s interest, and it builds. It’s not long before you realize you’re caught in a cycle where you do all the giving…AND all the losing. Total imbalance. Emotional malnutrition. Hijackals will take everything and demand more and more. And they’ll make you wrong for not being their continuous source of supply!
Malnutrition is all about extremes and imbalances. Emotional malnutrition is the result of significant deficiencies of love, respect, trust, reliability, and safety coupled with excesses of demands, control, expectations, over-giving, and under-receiving. Hijackals create and maintain this imbalance in order to exert power over you. See this clearly and start moving in a healthier direction.
You deserve to be in a healthy relationship based on equality, reciprocity, and mutuality. Start now.
*A Hijackal is Dr. Shaler’s term for a person who hijacks a relationship for their own needs and purposes, and relentlessly scavenges that relationship for power, status, and control.
Host of the Save Your Sanity podcast, Dr. Rhoberta Shaler helps clients worldwide to recognize, release, and recover from toxic relationships and emotional abuse. She is the author of Escaping the Hijackal Trap and Kaizen for Couples. https://www.forrelationshiphelp.com/