Question: Acharya Ji, I wanted to talk more about relationships. And I want to talk about toxic relationships. When is it and how is it, that a relationship turns toxic?
Acharya Prashant (AP): We have to go to the very beginning of the relationship. Most of the times, a relationship does not really (emphasising on the word 'turn') turn toxic; it is toxic in its inception, in its genesis itself. It's just that the toxicity remains hidden when things are rosy and pink. And when the situations change and things turn a little adverse, then the toxicity surfaces, and we feel as if the relationship has turned sour or toxic. It hasn't. How are relationships founded in the first place? Tell me how does that happen.
Questioner (Q): It's usually with someone you see more often. Usually what happens is if you're in the same class, or in the same workplace with somebody, you get familiar with the person. You know, you see him or her around a lot, or he or she approaches you.
AP: So first thing is - somebody has to be in your sensual field, the field of the senses. And then why does one feel attracted to that particular object?
Q: 'Cause they fit a certain model that you like.
AP: More explicitly. More explicitly. How do most relationships take place?
Q: You have a certain need, and you feel that the person can fulfill it.
AP: It could be emotional, physical, sometimes even financial, right? What's usually that need about? Why does a man feel attracted to a woman? Why does a woman go towards a man? What's the nature of the need?
Q: So they feel a certain lack maybe that the other person can help them with; a certain insecurity.
AP: A certain lack, a certain insecurity, right?
So that's how the relationship begins in the first place. You lack something within, and to make up for it you're going to the other person; you're looking at the other person primarily in a utilitarian way. You want to use the other person.
If you really want to understand things, we'll have to be blunt, right? You want to use the other person. It's not very different from exploitation. It appears like love but you just want to use the other person as something that would plug a hole here (pointing at heart) , or here (pointing at head) , or somewhere. Right?
The woman, for example, might have been conditioned by the body or the society to have somebody walking by her side. The man might again be driven by his physical needs or peer pressure to demonstrate that he too carries a partner or a consort. That's how people feel attracted. Somebody's body is attractive, somebody looks a super achiever, somebody carries a lot of money, somebody is quite famous, and then you get drawn towards that person, right? Why? Because that is something that you would want to add to yourself.
"Can I have her body available to me? That will fulfill a certain need. Can I have her money available to me? Can I have his prestige or his power available to me that would compensate for my lack of these things?" So that's what is happening. Now, the need that is there, somehow it happens that it never can get fulfilled.
Be it a man, be it a woman, be it any person, all of us feel a certain hollow within; there is a void, there is an emptiness, an incompletion that constantly bugs us. We feel it. We feel it, and it is for the sake of filling up that hollow that we work so much, that we do much of what we do, including striking relationships. So that's how you get serious with someone.
But we said that the need cannot really be met by anybody. So what would happen now? I’ve brought something home, and that which I have brought home is not doing what I expected it to do. Won't I be annoyed?
AP: There is resentment. And in many cases, it can take the form of very obvious toxicity. You may even get physically violent or there could be micro episodes of subtle violence continuously. You might probably be cultured or sophisticated enough to not physically beat up the other, but through your expressions, through subtle hints, gestures, through all those little things that we do throughout the day with our partners.
Q: Because we know their buttons.
AP: We know their buttons, so we can play around with things; all the nonverbal communication and all such stuff. So we keep on beating up the other in subtle ways. We keep on hitting the other, hurting the other. Why? Because we are hurt in the first place that the other is not giving me what I really need. That's at the root of toxicity - a relationship that is founded on flawed principles in the first place. And if the relationship is flawed in the first place, then you cannot avoid toxicity later on. Toxicity is bound to surface.
So the common refrain that is there, and the poetic expression that says that relationships have changed, poets love to put it that way. They say, "You know, relationships have changed much like the weather." And then we, in a very nostalgic way, look back at the past and say, "You know, he or she used to be so great till five years ago, and now he or she is no more the same person, and so much has changed." The fact is nothing really has changed.
Q: It's just become more clear.
AP: It's just become more clear, more apparent now. In fact, the thing has become more honest now. The thing has become more honest.
We need to, first of all, stop blaming fortune or circumstances. It's not that the weather has changed, it's not that outside situations have made one or both persons change into something else. On the contrary, we continue to remain who we are. We were ignorant people when the relationship was founded, and we are ignorant even right now; so actually we have just not changed. Actually we have just not changed. The relationship has just not changed.
Maybe she is your girlfriend of twenty years vintage, maybe the relationship took place when both of you were sixteen, and maybe now you are thirty six, and you keep breaking each other's head. It appears that in twenty years so much has changed, but the fact is that both these thirty-six year-olds are still sixteen, or not even sixteen in the mental sense; they have not changed. Because change in the positive, the affirmative sense is about growing up. You have not grown up, so the old toxicity is just finding expression.
Q: It's also maybe, if I would understand it, I would understand it that if you're not learning from life, then life kind of hits you harder, and harder, and harder.
AP: Yes, yes. Life keeps peeling layers off your personality. And beneath all these layers is hidden the toxic core. What life, and time, and experience do is that they keep on removing the veneers, the layers that hide what lies within us. And so things get exposed. Of course life also keeps adding layers, but then that's a different thing.
Q: So why do people not leave such relationships? Once you see that it is a toxic relationship, why don't they leave it? Or maybe they don't see it. But you can see that day-in and day-out, you're getting into the same violence, same extortion, same embarrassment, same resentment.
AP: Awkwardness and all.
Q: So why do people just not leave? Or would you advise them to leave in the first place?
AP: Leave, as in physically leave?
Q: Physically as in, at least be separate from each other......
AP: In the sense of not staying together?
Q: Not staying together, not being in the relationship.
AP: Not staying in the same house or the same room. That's what you mean by splitting up, right?
Q: 'Cause the thing is, sometimes you do better when you are away from that person.
AP: You see, that might be a temporary kind of measure, and that measure might be needed sometimes to temporarily stop seeing the other or stop staying with the other, living with the other, but then that won't help much. The real solution to toxicity is maturity.
This kind of separation is advisable only to those who do not have the appetite for maturity. If they say, "We cannot have the real solution, we do not have it in us to implement the real solution, just give us some kind of a painkiller; we can't have a surgery. Just give us some analgesic that we can keep on having continuously and somehow subside our pain," then maybe this would work for them - like separate physically, break up, or go for a divorce. But that's not the real solution. That's not the real solution.
The real solution is to see what is really going on. The real solution is to, first of all, heal oneself by acknowledging in an honest way that one is not a victim, at least, not a victim of the other; one is just suffering due to his own mischief and ignorance. The moment you stop charging the other, or holding the other responsible for your problems, much changes.
You have to see that you are responsible for the rut you are in. And not only are you responsible for the rut you are in, you are probably to some degree also responsible for the rut the other is in. And then, not only do you stop totally vilifying the other, it is possible that you may even develop some kind of a compassion towards the other. Otherwise, blame and vilification are so easy. Are they not?
"I'm in a toxic relationship" usually translates into - "The other fellow is toxic." "I'm in a toxic relationship" means that - the other fellow is toxic.
I do not advise people to separate, usually, not because I'm an advocate of marital continuity, not because I'm some kind of an anti-divorce activist or something, not that I am in great awe of the traditional institution of family and marriage; not for those reasons. It is because I see it as an act of escapism and cowardice. To just drop the other person and run away should be absolutely the last option. And that last option should be exercised after you have honestly tried everything else and it has failed.
Nine hundred ninety-nine out of thousand times, something would work out for you. It's not that everything would be insufficient. When absolutely nothing seems to be working, then fine, leave the other person. And even then, the leaving or separation part, I feel, must be temporary. Never strike someone permanently out of your life; nobody deserves this kind of apathy or hatred.
You can do that. You can very well say, "No, no, no. I don't want to carry this relationship or that person forward anymore with me." Do that. But that would leave you a little smaller than what you could have been. The decision to chuck somebody out of from your life would leave you a little poorer, it would deprive you of a certain richness in life. So it is not merely the other that you are hurting by kicking him out, or by yourself walking out; you're hurting yourself as well.
An obstinate person is a headache, is a challenge. When I say 'obstinate', I mean obstinately toxic. So an obstinately toxic person is a challenge, but also an opportunity. Is he not? Now, if you take up that opportunity, and really fight hard to win it, then it leads to your own betterment, enrichment. You become somebody bigger, deeper, more profound.
So don't try to quickly run away from someone. That also does not mean that you continue to bear violence or hardships or abuse. No, not at all, not at all. Obviously that is something that you have to take care of, by whatever means. The emphasis is on - not quitting. And when I say, "Not quitting," I do not mean that the husband must not quit as husband, and the wife must not quit as the wife. Do quit as a husband, no issues, but never quit as a person. Don't forget that you have been with this fellow for two years or twenty years, whatsoever. You have spent a part of your life with this person. And it's an opportunity. It’s a part of your basic humanity, it's a part of being human to not to dump the other when the other too is in distress.
You might say, "But the other does not look in distress, the other is in fact an exploiter, a violent person." One who is doing all these things - shouting, shrieking, biting, hitting, scratching, is surely not in a good mental state, right? See whether you can be man enough or woman enough to really redeem that person.
It is very alright, I said, to change the name of the relationship. You need not carry the same names that you gave yourselves at the beginning of the relationship. In fact, you should give up those names as early as possible, because it is those names that are at the root of toxicity. Don't carry those names. Drop those names, but don't drop the person. Please.
Q: So husband-wife relationship is violent, let's say. So how do you stop being the wife suddenly, or how do you stop being the husband?
AP: If needed, move out of the house. No issues. If needed, move out of the house. See what practical arrangements you can make for the kids, see whether you want to take the kids out with you. But then for that you need to have financial independence, which I hope you have. I hope the relationship has not lulled you into a kind of imaginary comfort, in which you decide not to earn anything and depend on the income of the other. If that is happening, then the first thing in gaining freedom from this toxicity is financial independence. Go find a job for yourself. Go find a job for yourself. If needed, quit that house, but not that person, not that person, because, you know, permanently blacklisting a person is almost like killing a part of yourself. Heal.
When a patient comes to you, it probably is easier to declare him a hopeless case and let him expire on the table. But it requires somebody fantastic to take up the challenge, and cure that person.
Q: A When I mean leave, like leaving the house, in that sense, a lot of times people are worried about getting out of that relationship. What I understand is, self-love. First you have to heal and only then can you heal. Otherwise, if you not heal yourself, then how do you expect to even help the other?
AP: Right. See, that will tell you why the relationship is bad in the first place - you probably enjoy dependency, you probably have no spiritual basis to the relationship. Now, this dependency was a very happy thing as long as you were being provided for by that person. But now the same dependency keeps you arrested and restricted in the household.
Q: So now you don't like it.
AP: You don't like it. Now, you say, "Oh, what do I do? I'm so dependent. How do I move out?" Why don't you state in the same breath that you were quietly and happily enjoying the same dependency for the first five or ten years? Right? So always be very-very sure of the solidity of the fundamentals.
Even when everything seems to be going right in a relationship, keep checking - "Have I become dependent? Have I become exploitative? Have I started holding expectations? Has the other started holding expectations? Is the other blocking my view of the larger universe? Has the other become too central to my mind, my thoughts? Has the other started occupying my inner space to an extent that may be called 'unhealthy'?" These are the things that you should check for when there are no troubling symptoms. Often, when the symptoms appear, it is already too late.
Are you getting it?
Relationship going bad is a euphemism really, and it does not really clarify what is going on. Relationship going bad means - the minds of the two people in the relationship are bad. And if their minds are bad, it's not only this one particular mutual relationship that would be bad; all their relationships with all possible, conceivable objects in the universe would either be bad, or waiting to show up as bad.
So a bad relationship fundamentally indicates a bad mind. And what is a bad mind? When I say "A bad mind," I'm not talking in the sense of morality or ethics. A bad mind is one that does not know itself, a mind that has no self-knowledge is a bad mind. A mind that is obsessed with the world and with its enthralling objects is a bad mind. That's a bad mind.
You should have some clarity about what is really going on. You should know your body, you should know your thoughts, passions, emotions. You should have some inclination towards self-inquiry. If you do not have it, then you will suffer. Relationships just bring out the ignorance within us, so we blame relationships. Actually, it is ourselves that we have to blame.
Q: I think Osho Ji also said this once that - "In relationships you find out who you are. "
AP: Who you are. Everybody, I mean. Krishnamurti was fond of saying this.
Q: But one cannot take that sentence and enter into a relationship to know oneself.
AP: Everybody is already in a relationship. You see, if you are not formally or physically related to a person, aren't you still related to that person's idea? One might be chasing a girl, and the girl is not responding, so it appears that there is no relationship. But the fact is that the boy is obsessed with her, and there exists a strong relationship; maybe not with the body of the girl, but with the idea of the girl.
Krishnamurti is perfectly right when he says, "One knows himself only in relationships." But then that does not mean that you have to have an additional relationship to know yourself. You are already neck deep in relationships. Everybody is.
What does that mean - being neck deep in relationship? The inner sense that we have, that 'I', the ego thing, it lives in such incompleteness, that it is always attached to somebody. It always describes itself with respect to somebody else. For example, "I am a worker. I'm somebody's friend. I'm a rich man. I belong to such religion." So along with the 'I', there exists something else that helps define the 'I', that's ego. Ego is the I sense that cannot define itself without the help of an external object; sans the external object, the ego starts feeling asphyxiated. It has nothing to really base itself on.
We are always related. We must know what we are doing, why we are getting related, why we must have this, this, or this. "What does the universe mean to me? What does this piece of clothing mean to me?" One must really ask these questions. Without these questions one is pushing himself into a lot of trouble. Another thing I must add. You are talking about why people continue to be in toxic relationships. Never forget that man is fundamentally pleasure-seeking. The wise ones who knew a few things, they would say that the nature of the self is - Joy. The nature of self is, Joy. And what is Joy? Joy is pleasure or happiness that does not depend on anything else.
So the nature of the true and pure self is Joy, and Joy is Freedom, because Joy implies no dependence on anything - "I'm not happy for some reason." So, Joy is happiness without a reason; therefore, Joy is happiness without a beginning, without an end; therefore, Joy is happiness without a definition. The nature of the ego is a little removed from the nature of the pure Self. Pure Self is Joy, ego is pleasure-seeking, so whatsoever the ego does, it does it for the sake of pleasure. That's what we mean when we say, "I want to be happy. I want to be happy. I want to be happy."
So when someone says, "Oh, I'm suffering so much in a toxic relationship and I'm yet continuing to tolerate it," then he is just stating only half the story, either ignorantly or deliberately. The fact is - if you are tolerating a toxic relationship, you are deriving some pleasure out of it. The ego cannot do anything without getting something from that thing. So if a lady comes to you and says, "I get beaten up and all the abusive things happen to me, and yet you know, I choose to remain in the household," then she's not telling you the full story. The full story is - she is still seeing some benefit in staying put, otherwise she would have just walked out long back. So you must ask her, "What is it that you are tolerating all such abuse for?"
Q: What is the return that you're getting for...?
AP: What is the return that you are getting? She might not be very willing to acknowledge, because it is a little awkward, indeed shameful, but then that payoff surely exists. One has to give up the greed for that payoff.
Once you have gone beyond the greed to get something in return for your humiliation, then you find that you are free of your humiliation. Nothing really happens to us without our consent.
Don't I say that very often?
Get rid of greed, and that freedom from greed is spiritual advancement. Otherwise, how can you have freedom from greed? Freedom from greed is not some kind of a bold decision coming from nowhere. Freedom from greed comes only from deep clarity about the nature of the self. Once you know who you are, only then it becomes possible to drop greed. Once you drop greed, you also drop fear and humiliation and all the misbehavior that you tolerate. * *
Q: Can I say that - if you drop greed, you can save yourself from being exploited?
AP: Obviously. Because you see, it's a trade-off. You humiliate me, at the same time you offer me something. And when I weigh the humiliation against what I am getting, I find what I am getting outweighs the humiliation. So I'm prepared to take the humiliation. Now, outwardly and to others, I might keep saying that I do not like what is going on, but the fact is - it's a happy trade-off.
Q: So people don't end relationships because there...
AP: Because there does exist a trade-off, which they still take to be beneficial. If you really want to advise, counsel such people, you'll have to demonstrate to them that the payoff is not positive, that the kind of abuse that they are tolerating, or the kind of loss of life they are bearing, is far more damaging and bigger than any perceived benefits that they might be getting.
Q: So that's where you draw the line in a sense.
AP: See, the moment it becomes clear to someone that in a particular situation he is losing, then you don’t have to tell him what to do next. Just bring that clarity to him that here you are getting so much, but in the process of getting this much you are compromising or sacrificing so much. That's all. Now, the fellow will decide for himself and act on his own.
Q: And when in this case one is made to realize that one is losing out way more than what one is getting, is there a leaving out? Does one leave the relationship? Or does one understand this, heal oneself, and then come back and help the other?
AP: There is no absolute answer possible to this. Go into the basis of your question. When you say that the relationship has exploitation in it, what does 'exploitation' mean? "My self-interest is different from your self-interest, therefore I can eat you up to maximize my self-interest." That is exploitation, correct? What is at the basis of exploitation? The concept, the feeling that - 'I am different from you, my self-interest is separate from your self-interest'. Now this is exploitation.
To cure exploitation, if I recommend walking out as the only way possible, then what am I saying? "I am defending my self-interest by walking out, quitting you, dumping you." Am I then not still the same person who was previously playing the game of exploitation? At the root of exploitation is the feeling of separation, division - "I am me, you are you. I can exploit you and be a bigger me"; that’s exploitation. I walk out. And why did I walk out? To take care of my personal peace. Am I still not the one who was thinking previously in the language of division? So this walking out, then, will not be very beneficial. Therefore, one has to take quitting or walking out just as a temporary thing, right?
Freedom from exploitation is very incomplete without compassion. Not only you have to end your own exploitation, you also have to bring compassion to the other. And these two must go hand-in-hand. Obviously there might be some phase lag between these two; one may come first, the other may come later. There might even be a gap of many years between these two. But these two will exist together. You cannot have just one of them. You cannot say that, "I have to save my skin, I broke out of the house like one breaks out of a jail. And then I never turn back to look at what is happening in the house." It doesn't happen this way, it cannot happen this way.
If you break out of the house just to take care of your own self-interest, then wherever you go, you would find that you are still caught in the cycle of exploitation and suffering. If you really want to end exploitation and suffering, then you have to take of yourself, and also try to do as much good to the other as possible.
Q: So it's a full circle. It's not...
AP: It's a full circle. You cannot just take care of only yourself. You see, if I take care of just myself, then how am I different from the exploiter? Is he not following the same principle? He too is saying, "I’m taking care of just myself." And I say, "I too want to just take care of myself, so I'm walking out. I'll go, settle in some other place, and be happy."
Q: So there you become the exploiter.
AP: You become the exploiter. And now the exploiter has fully won. He has totally converted you.
Q: He has made you one of him.
AP: Yeah. Now you belong to his creed.
Q: So the way to get out of the relationship would be to understand...?
AP: To not remain the person who entered the relationship; that's the way to spiritually break up.
When you break-up in the material way, you leave the house. When you break-up in the spiritual way, you leave who you are. That's a great break-up.
And in this break-up, the other person will not even know that you have broken up, because externally you will appear just the same, internally, you are no more the same person. Break-up.
"I didn't break up with you, I broke up with myself." Fine. So you cannot really charge me or blame me.
The art of breaking up.