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Dr. Gail Gross Headshot

5 Toxic Personalities and How to Break the Bad Dating Pattern

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You've been dating the same type of guy or gal for years -- controlling, dominating, manipulative -- and you can't seem to break the pattern. Your friends are constantly asking: "Why are you always drawn to these type of people, when they make you so unhappy?"

Do any or all of these former partners remind you of someone in your life? If you examine closely, I bet you'll see a resemblance between these toxic personalities to the earliest relationship you had with the opposite sex: usually, your mother or father.

The Patterns Begin at the Beginning

Our relationships are often based on projected material. We gravitate to people who let us do what we know how to do -- whether positive or negative -- people who are familiar to us. The early patterns of interactions that we learned with our opposite-sex parent might lead us to the same patterns again, keeping us in our comfort zone.

So even though you may keep telling your friends that you want something different -- maybe a more thoughtful partner, one who accepts you for who you are and doesn't try to control you -- you will likely still gravitate to the controlling parental figure, a personality you are familiar with and have experience handling.

Breaking the Early Patterns

As you mature and grow, you may recognize that you want a different kind of partner in your adult life. To know yourself is the first step to gaining the ability to acknowledge and recognize similar patterns in relationships -- and to avoid them. Though still drawn to those familiar personalities, you can choose to deliberately override the compulsion, through conscious awareness.

If you do this, then you make room for the right relationship to enter. Because you have changed, you may begin to attract a different person, a better person.

Five Common Toxic Partner Personalities

From my experience as a researcher and educator, with a Ph.D. in Psychology and Doctorate of Education, I've found a few common toxic personalities that people may tend to be drawn to, based on their early relationship patterns, and the red flags to watch for as you recognize the need to break free from these toxic types.

1. The Dominant and Controlling Partner
An overly intense person who exhibits characteristics of dominance and control -- someone with a temper, who pouts, withdraws, and has to have his or her way.

2. The Narcissist
Narcissism can be hard to detect because, in part, they are great at hiding their self-interests. They are the perfect chameleons, seemingly highly tuned in to your wants and needs. Nevertheless, everything for the narcissist directs back to self-interest. So pay attention: if you date long enough, the narcissist will reveal their need to have it their way, to see things from their perspective, and their demanding behavior will be revealed. Further into the relationship, you may notice that narcissists are punishers and if you don't do things that fulfill their ideal, they become upset and withdraw. Narcissists are manipulative and will do anything possible to accomplish their goal.

3. The "No Room For You" Man/Woman
Watch out for the man or woman who is so focused on themselves that there is really no room for you. You may notice that all the conversations are directed towards them. They may not even ask you about your interests or experiences, never mind your feelings.

4. The Damaged Soul
Then there's the person who is so badly damaged from their own childhood wounding, there is no way that they can be in a healthy relationship, not without serious therapy. Many times the caretaking child becomes the caretaking adult and gravitates to this kind of person. It is extremely important to be aware and recognize this and override the impulse to think that you can make a difference in this person's life. Rescuing is an addiction in itself, and can only lead to serious problems later on in the relationship.

5. The One Without Empathy
Another sign to look for is a person lacking in empathy. This person finds it impossible to relate to the challenges or even triumphs of others who are not like him/her. Empathy can be taught, but if it's missing in an adult, it requires a lot of therapy for rehabilitation.

Again, knowing yourself is the key to recognizing your tendency toward these bad dating patterns. As you use your self-awareness to begin to break free and move toward healthier relationships, one of the most important questions you can ask yourself about someone you are dating is this: does this person share your values? Regardless of whether someone is controlling or supportive, domineering or timid, just like the opposite sex parent you grew up with or radically different, at the end of the day, you can't have a relationship with someone who doesn't share the same core life values as you do.