Okay, it’s the week of Mo*Con, so things are crazy on this end (read:  I have to clean the house top-to-bottom) and I’m trying to put a few projects to bed so that I can enjoy myself.  But we have a few more guest blogs.  First up, editor/publisher Steven Saus reminds us that our mental health isn’t just a “me issue” but impacts those around us and can bleed into our relationships.


512_feb2012On Toxic Relationships

Guest Post by Steven Saus


I believe people are usually logical.  Give someone a stimulus, combine it with their “givens” – their beliefs and rules about how the world works – and they arrive at a logical, reasonable conclusion.

That’s important to understand about me.  It’s a kind of comfort.  It is, itself, a given about how the world works for me.  It means that other people are reachable.  That no matter how bad things have gotten, there is hope.  There is a way to reach common ground, to slowly crawl back.  It means there is hope for me.
I didn’t really know what codependency was, or how a relationship could be “toxic”…or why someone would stay in a relationship like that for a second longer than they had to.  Too often, “codependent” is mentioned in the same breath as alcoholism or drug use – and none of that applied in my case.

The term is even a little confusing.  Dependent on each other?  Together?  That’s supposed to be a good relationship, right?  Even St. Paul – in one of the more misquoted bits of the Bible – argues that each person in a relationship takes care of the other… and lets the other take care of them.

And it can go so horribly, horribly wrong.

It’s hard to find good, simple definitions of codependent or toxic relationships.  Codependency is a dependency on other people’s moods, behaviors, sickness, well-being, and love for happiness.  A codependent relationship is one where other people’s moods control my emotions so I try to control their feelings.  A codependent is a person who has let another person’s behavior affect them and who is obsessed with controlling that person’s behavior.  That was me.

It’s hard to write about my codependency now.  I remember it.  I remember how awful, how trapped, how hopeless I was.  But I don’t understand my own reasoning any longer.  My givens have changed.

I know the process was gradual.  People are not born codependent.  They are trained.  A thousand little interactions, a thousand times left confused and upset, a thousand times knocked off-balance and trying to figure out how I, once again, ended up being the bad guy.  A thousand little nudges to my assumptions about how the world works.

The axioms about boiling frogs are largely true.  Increase the heat slowly, slowly, and the frog will never think to jump out of the pot.  I did not pay attention to the slow, small changes, the little nudges that ended up twisting my worldview.  The nudges that eventually left me in front of Despair’s mirror.  I was about to quit college a term away from graduation.  To stop writing fiction.  To stop blogging.  To stop going out.  For the second time in my life, I seriously considered killing myself.  The despair was far, far deeper than anything I’d felt while clinically depressed.  The water was boiling, and I barely noticed.

It took someone else to point out the bubbles and the heat.

And even though the air felt frighteningly freezing, I slowly – so fucking slowly – crawled out of the boiling water.

It was messy.  It was slow.  It was almost two years before I truly began to understand how badly skewed my worldview had become.  Another year has passed, and I’ve finally gotten to a point where my head is largely screwed on straight.  It’s often been two steps forward, one step back, a step to the side, and a small jig.  But the direction of progress has stayed the same.  During that time I badly hurt people I care deeply about.  That’s why I am writing this.

I call my situation “codependent”, but more broadly, you can call it a toxic relationship.  It’s irrelevant to assign fault or blame.  It’s a waste of energy to assign motivation to the other person.  It simply doesn’t matter.   The structure of the relationship will perpetuate the toxicity.  The other person might be malicious.  They might be scarred themselves.  These things Do. Not. Matter.  You can only observe their behavior, and decide whether or not to accept it.  You are in charge of what you let into your life.  You control your givens.

Toxic relationships could be anywhere – not just in our romantic lives.  They’re in the way we interact with our families.  In our offices and our workplaces.  It’s embedded in our culture.  We have to be awake, aware, and alert to recognize what’s happening.   It’s hard to recognize the toxic elements of a relationship – even when the whole thing has gone sour – when you’re in the middle of it.  Like depression, you may be aware there’s a problem, but not what the problem is, or where it comes from.

Naming it gives you power.

If you’re not sure about your relationship, or just think there’s something wrong, try reading “Sick Systems: How to Keep Someone With You Forever”.  If it resonates with your current situation, that’s a strong signal.  Melody Beattie’s classic “Codependent No More” was invaluable in extracting myself from a codependent relationship — once I realized that it applied to my situation.  “How to Avoid Problem People”, while specifically directed toward romantic (and sexual) relationships is a SFW post that has a lot of good tips and practices for staying out of those kinds of relationships in the future.

I’m heartened to see more and more things pop up about toxic relationships.  Learn them.  Educate others.  Know what your boundaries are for letting other people – other behaviors – into your life.

If you’re already in a toxic relationship, if things seem hopeless, it is possible to get out.  It is possible to find a way out of – or through – your situation.  I believe this.  It’s a given.


Steven Saus injects people with radioactivity as his day job, but only to serve the forces of good.  His work has appeared in anthologies and magazines both online and off.  He also publishes and provides publishing services as Alliteration Ink.  You can find him at stevensaus.com and alliterationink.com.





Sick Systems:  How to Keep Someone With You Forever

How to Avoid Problem People

All quotes defining codependency are from “Codependent No More” by Melody Beattie.

Mo*Con VIII: The Mind and Spirit of the Artist

May 3 – 5, 2013.  Indianapolis, IN

Previous Guest Blogs:

Maurice Broaddus – Being Crazy, Christian, and Creative

Lucy Snyder

Doug Warrick

Jim C. Hines

Gary A. Braunbeck

Nate Southard

Delilah Dawson

Michelle Pendergrass

Steven Saus

Janet Harriett