As I work on a new book, a story of a sister unravelling the mystery of her late estranged sister, but also of rape victims turned vigilantes, I’ve been thinking about the presence of violence and darkness within even the least sociopathic of us. By our nature we share the traits, good and bad, of humanity and as a whole it seems that our capacity for love is matched, if not in frequency then in scale, by our capacity for evil. It seems that this capability to harm others is the golden thread that draws innocent people into toxic relationships with harmful individuals. The toxic individual is comfortable in acknowledging the darkness that lives within us. A toxic person can recognize and call out the abyss in another, skewing the role that that darkness plays, amplifying it. In doing this, the toxic person does something that the greatest of lovers hope to achieve: they see you, they get you, they know you.
We spend so much of our lives congratulating each other and coasting on social niceties that when someone challenges our being by engaging the dark side of us, we experience it as a breath of fresh air, even though that breath may be two-day garlic binge after-hours basement rancid. We’re so desperate to be seen for who we are, that we’ll settle for someone truly seeing the honest darkness within us, and ignoring the lightness.
One way to evaluate a relationship and whether or not it’s a healthy one is to find the points you have in common. Are the things you share in common the things you’re proud of? A happy history of friendship? Common goals? Or are the things you have in common your shortfalls, indulgences, and addictions?
It’s healthy to recognize the bad feelings and thoughts within us. It’s okay to enjoy a nightmare every now and then, especially when you get zombie-bitten and totally rock your new brain-eating lifestyle with gusto and panache. It’s okay to have panic attacks, depressive episodes, bipolar binges and confusion about where life is going. Those moments help us to reset and readjust. The dark days remind us to plan ahead, and plan wisely. But in order to have holistic, healthy relationships, we need to stop separating our groups of friends and lovers into the people we brag to when we’re doing well, and the people we run to when we want to drown in a bottle of tequila.
So start talking to your loved ones about your Mr. Hyde, and let yourself be seen for the beautiful, complicated, whole that you are.