By September 20, 2016 8 Comments Read More →

3 Mixed Messages Toxic People Use to Manipulate Your Affection

Amber AultBy Amber Ault, Ph.D., MSW

Cognitive dissonance — the mixed perceptions and feelings that result from inconsistent experiences — helps to explain why people find it difficult to leave toxic relationships.

On the one hand, the toxic partner tells us they love us; on the other, they engage in behavior that is cruel, disrespectful, or exploitive. Our brains work overtime trying to make sense of these mixed messages —and in the process, we often stay longer than makes sense; in the meanwhile, the toxic partner continues to benefit from our attention, support, and resources.

Here are three mixed messages that toxic partners often create through their words and actions:

  1. They are brilliant, extraordinary, charming — and pitiable

Think of this as the “wounded superstar.” This person is appealing in so many ways, but unable to support themselves because of some fatal flaw. Partners become attracted to the charm, then vulnerable through their desire to rescue and to support someone so wonderful to overcome their bad breaks and achieve their full potential. It’s great to support our partners, but rescuing and becoming responsible for them creates the groundwork for exploitation, imbalance, and resentment.

  1. Totally into you — and totally disinterested

Many survivors of toxic relationships believe they had found true love because they had never experienced such intense interest from someone else before their toxic partner arrived. Because of our culture’s romantic storylines, we can misperceive “love bombing” as falling in love. Once we become comfortable and, indeed, hooked, on their attention, the toxic partner backs off, disappears, ghosts us, or becomes far less available and interested. A vulnerable partner may experience withdrawal and begin to “play chase” to re-engage. Once this happens, the power in the relationship lies with the toxic partner — until their target decides to end the game. 

  1. Really great with money — and totally broke

Many toxic partners show up giving the appearance of being well off and able to indulge you with expensive gifts and experiences, or they share early on that they “come from money.” After installing an initial impression of wealth and financial success, they reveal that they have fallen on hard times, have a temporary cash flow problem just as they are about to make it big, or have been the victim of someone else’s irresponsibility. Of course, they are happy for you to help them out.   And if you have bought into their lovefraud, you just might, at great peril to your own financial security, goals, and health.

Consistency vs. inconsistency

 It’s true that all of us have our inconsistencies. However, solid partners are more consistent than not. They are consistently responsive, consistently responsible for themselves, and consistently clear about who they are and what they want, even as that is evolving. When people are mostly consistent, we relax; when people are mostly inconsistent, we become caught up in solving the riddle of how to return them to consistency: how to get their steady love, or how to solve their crisis so that life can be good again — until their next crisis or they withdraw again.

When we are ready for something healthier, more functional, and less exploitive, we realize that these are not the most helpful questions to ask. Instead, we begin to ask, “Is this relationship contributing to my health, welfare, and happiness?” and “What am I avoiding by focusing on rescuing or re-engaging my toxic partner?” and “How can I have the best life possible?”

When we begin to ask these questions, we begin to let go of the cognitive dissonance created by a toxic partner’s erratic, exploitive behavior or mixed messages and start to come up with clear answers that serve us well.

About the author

Amber Ault, Ph.D., MSW, coaches people in the US and EU who are leaving or recovering from toxic relationships. She is an instructor for Lovefraud Continuing Education and will offer a five week online Roller Coaster Relationship Recovery Seminar & Support Group starting September 24, 2016 through amberault.com. Dr. Ault is the author of The Five Step Exit: The Skills You Need To Leave a Narcissist, Psychopath, or Other Toxic Partner & Recover Your Happiness Now, available on Amazon.com.



8 Comments on "3 Mixed Messages Toxic People Use to Manipulate Your Affection"

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  1. Bev says:

    This is so good.

    Lol…charming, yet pitiable. Totally in, yet disinterested. Great with money, yet broke.

    As usual, the convoluted clusterf**k that IS these types.

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  2. slimone says:

    This is so to the point and accurate! Experienced every one of these dichotomies, and just couldn’t quite wrap my head around it until I came to Love Fraud.

    The spath I dated was the ENVY of so many people. Gregarious, handsome, fit, motivated, fearless, and upbeat. Little did they know just how incredibly pathetic/pitiable he was when you got close to him. Just a bag of nonsense really.

    He travelled ’round the world teaching movement classes and ‘shaman’ type energy work. Everyone thought he was so successful. However, again, up close and personal his finances, rental house, and basic living needs were in shambles. He was a mess, in every aspect of his self-care.

    And then the lovebombing, over-the-top sex, constant calling. Followed, and very quickly, by complete disinterest, cheating, nit-picking, and criticism. Then, poof, no attention at all.

    I dumped him when I finally knew that he was a ‘no win’ game. I get now that this is exactly what he wanted. He was tired of playing the game with me because I just required too much effort, and he wanted an easier fuel choice. The ratio of energy in, energy out was not to his benefit.

    They are like machines, gathering what they need, without feeling or care; methodically estimating where they stand the best chance of getting just what they need, just when they need it.

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    • Bev says:

      Lol…love your second paragraph slimone…little did they know what a pathetic pitiable bag of nonsense he was…too good and too true.

      SON, as I refer to HIM, is exactly that. Charismatic, motivated and the good old family oriented boy on the outside…none of those things in the chewy center. The complete opposite, actually.

      HIS finances, smelly dirty ‘bomb hit it’ one room cabin (his ex kicked him out of a huge two story house), and basic personal care and hygiene are laughable. He lives like a disgusting pig but manages to outwardly ‘look’ like he’s really making it.

      And yes, we, who can really see through THEM, are much too much effort. Correct.

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      • stillrecovering says:

        Yeah, I remember the disgusting living quarters thing. The toxic guy I was with had two houses. One a literal mansion, and the other house, where he kept his office as well, was disgusting. The houses didn’t match at all. Then again, maybe they did. The mansion represented his outside and the other house was a mirror of his inner world.

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        • Bev says:

          Hah! Bingo.

          The illusion versus the reality.


          I remember before SON and his ex split, HIM telling me that she was a terrible messy housekeeper, as if HE wasn’t that way himself…lol. SON always blamed their messy house on her.

          Fast forward to now, on HIS own…his place is 100x worse. I am talking absolute filth. Even his clothes and his teeth…ugh.

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          • stillrecovering says:

            Oh, and the teeth!!! When I was with him, “Toxic guy” had a cavity in EVERY TOOTH. That says something, doesn’t it? The rottenness of the core is evident in the pearls of the mouth.

          • dragonlady says:

            My ex sociopath also had bad teeth. The only time he was seen by a dentist was when in jail

  3. stillrecovering says:

    This describes the toxic loser to the T! This is exactly how I got sucked in and why it took six miserable years to finally get out. It’s been over four years since the divorce, but my brain is still dealing with the long lasting stench of his toxicity.

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