Whether it was Chuck Bass from Gossip Girl or Damon Salvatore from Vampire Diaries, we found ourselves immediately attracted to these classic 'bad boys'. Toxic masculinity, corrupt morals and their masochism were just some of the bad traits that we completely chose to ignore over their devilishly good looks and undeniable charms.
While they were fictional, we have often found ourselves (or know of someone who has been) attracted to or sometimes even dated toxic men. While our conscience usually tells us to steer clear of this bad boy trap, why do we find ourselves attracted to them?
Firstly, what is 'Toxic Man'?
Men who exhibit signs of boldness, exaggerated sexuality, rebellion, dislike for commitment and emotional unavailability can be characterised as toxic. In extreme cases, such men are known to exhibit symptoms that psychologists call the 'The Dark Triad'. The Dark Triad is essentially a deadly combination of 3 maladaptive personality traits that if found in a person, make for the 'perfect toxic man'. Those 3 personality traits to watch out for are-
- Narcissism : They think no end of themselves and have a superiority complex
- Machiavellianism : They are extremely cold and manipulative in nature and frequently exploit other's for their own gain
- Psychopathy : Basic psychopath behaviours like being antisocial and impulsive
While these personality traits could be a big red flag to just about anyone, we tend to let ourselves be charmed by them and in turn, go against everything we already know. So why exactly do we find ourselves in this toxic cycle by being attracted to them?
You have the 'Florence Nightingale' syndrome
Described as the scenario where someone who is a 'fixer' falls in love with the person they're healing (emotionally), this syndrome could perfectly explain why you find yourself attracted to toxic men. It is no secret that men who have serious unresolved issues like emotional unavailability , inability to commit or compulsive lying could be extremely toxic in a relationship. Such toxic men tend to seek out relationships where the other person would go to extreme lengths to help them psychologically and emotionally.
"For someone who suffers from rescuer syndrome or savior complex, nothing engages their heart more than a person who is toxic and could use some ... help," breakup coach Chelsea Leigh Trescot, tells Bustle. In such relationships, you may believe that your love can 'change him for the better' but the bottom line is that it is not your job. Leave the fixing for his mother or his therapist.
While one may be attracted to such men because they want to 'heal' them, some just are attracted to such men for the 'thrill of it'.
It's all about the games for you
The cat-and-mouse game in an initial part of a relationship is undeniably fun where both you and your partner chase each other in an attempt to get each other to commit. However, with someone who is toxic, these games can be particularly exciting because you are trying to get someone 'unattainable' to commit.
"By being with someone who is a '10,' or just out of your reach, you feel like for once you have proof that you've made it ... that you are more than you once were, that you are, in fact, enough." says Trescott. These games in turn also act as a temporary self-esteem boost because you feel you were able to 'get the hottest guy in the room’ to commit but at the end of the day it's just a game and such men will rarely want to be in a committed relationship.
All these games end up leaving you with a constant feeling of butterflies in your stomach (we've all been there) and your hormones could be the reason you find yourself attracted to him, even when your brain is telling you otherwise.
Your dopamine could be blamed
Experiences like unforgettable dates, amazing sex or over-the-top attention could leave you with a high that no joint could ever give you and the release of dopamine is the reason for that high. However, this high only leaves a maximum effect when it is inconsistent. This means that our brain is more likely to secrete more dopamine when we have alternating good and bad times rather than when we are constantly having a good time.
In a relationship with a toxic person, the good times are never consistent because you are constantly worried about his 'side chicks' or he isn't giving you enough attention or he could altogether ghost you for days but when he does give you the attention you crave, nothing else seems to matter and you are once again feeling that rush of happiness that comes with being with him. Their long absences and short periods of attention towards you seems to be just the combination that the brain requires to secrete dopamine and trick us into thinking we are happy.
This could also explain why we typically favour the 'bad boy' over the 'nice guy'. A person who is consistently kind and affectionate to us is not as rewarding as the person who is hot-and-cold with his affection. Seems twisted, I know.
Sex with toxic men is the best (according to you)
If you have seen the meme 'I want a healthy relationship but with toxic relationship sex' then you know that sex in a toxic relationship is always great. While no one really has the scientific answer to why it is so, many people attribute it to the toxic partner's hypermasculinity and high sex drive. Relationships with toxic men are usually tough to let go of but if you add in satisfying , passionate and fulfilling sex into the mix, the relationship ironically could start to seem too good to let go of.
However, a study by Ghent University in Belgium tried to seek answers on why 'women want to have sex with bad boys'. According to scholar Tristan Bridges, "masculinity is sexually appealing in our society when men are dominant, powerful, and strong. Risk-taking becomes just another way for men to demonstrate their power, and women are told to admire that."
While craving good sex could be why you find yourself attracted to toxic men, your low self-esteem could also be the reason.
Low self-esteem is the harsh truth on why you attract toxic men
This may not be true for everyone but people with low self-esteem are frequent in falling prey to the charm of toxic men. Since such people seek external validation, they are likely to bend over backwards in trying to please their partners and even let them get away with any wrongdoings.
Searching for romantic love in the wrong places is something we are guilty of indulging in. However, being low on self-esteem could leave you purposely seeking and staying in relationships that do not serve you well simply because you wrongly believe that you do not deserve to be happy.
Such patterns could be extremely harmful to yourself and your mental health and over time, could end up being too tough to break.
Dating toxic men is a pattern you can't seem to break
If you've identified with any or multiple of these reasons, chances are (like many of us) you just can't seem to break the habit of being attracted or dating toxic men. "The dynamics become familiar, you learn how to deal, and not before long you're in a pattern that you just can't break." Michael Bruch, the founder of social app Willow, tells Bustle.
Over time these patterns can get extremely addicting and start to feel extremely normal. "We get so addicted, in fact, that we become willing to sacrifice an entire lifetime for five minutes of exhilaration," says relationship coach Evelyn Chong.
Since we start to normalize being in such relationships with toxic men, we tend to downplay how detrimental they are to us. "Our brains can become masochists, seeking the very people that hurt them. They become so accustomed to good behavior from nice guys that they stop releasing as much dopamine. That's why even in a healthy relationship, we can become so "used to" the safety and security of a gentle partner that we find him or her less exciting over time and tend to prefer the company of a 'bad boy'" says Shahida Arabi, author of Power: Surviving and Thriving After Narcissistic Abuse.
Clearly dealing with toxic men takes a toll on one's mental health but sometimes it can affect you physically too!
Toxic men are harmful for your health..seriously
It is evident that toxic men are extremely harmful to your mental health, but turns out you could suffer physically too! "In a long term study that followed more than 10,000 subjects for an average of 12.2 years, researchers discovered that subjects in negative relationships were at a greater risk for developing heart problems, including a fatal cardiac event, than counterparts whose close relationships were not negative." Sherrie Bourg, tells Evie Magazine.
While dating or being attracted to a toxic guy can be thrilling and exciting, it's never really worth the heartbreak and emotional stress that comes along with it. Following these rules could prevent future-you from being heartbroken over a bad boy-
- Recognize the red flags : Ignoring all the red flags in a relationship could be one of the main reasons why you find yourself attracted to toxic men, even when you know better. Recognizing the toxic behavior and not being in denial about it is one of the first essential steps in cutting off the toxic men in your life.
- Cut off all communication : "Continuous exchanges can prolong the healing process. After some time has passed, if both people heal and change their ways, a friendship may be possible. But right after a breakup, don't try to be friends, and definitely don't engage in any flirting or sexual activity with the person." says Dr. Kelly Campbell, an associate professor of psychology and human development at California State University
- Take some time to heal : While you've definitely done yourself a favour, cutting off contact with someone you liked or even dated can be tough. This time can be used for some much-needed self-care and giving yourself the attention and care that you deserve. "You can also spend time with animals since they provide a good model of unconditional love and help alleviate loneliness. They can also get you out into nature and interacting with others " suggests Campbell
- Work on yourself before getting into another relationship : Getting into a new relationship may seem enticing, but it is important to properly heal yourself before doing so. Carrying emotional baggage of a past relationship into the new one will only lead to more failed relationships and heartbreak.
Someone once told me that love in a healthy relationship will always be circular- you get back the same amount of love that you give and that is the secret to why such relationships last for a long time. However, a relationship with a toxic man will always be linear- no matter how much love you give, only a fraction of it will ever come back to you. So it is time to put yourself first and blast out Due Lipa's 'New Rules' and cut off the toxic men in your life to flourish.