Why We Choose to Love Bad People.

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Bottle of poison

When I started this article I wanted to explore the reasons why people skip healthy partnerships, in favour of unhealthy ones. At first I thought this piece would be about dating, but as I got deeper, I began to realise that this pattern can be found in all types of relationships.

So let me start with why I believe we keep bad or poisonous people around.

As I’ve stated in other articles, at the end of the day, we are all responsible for our own choices. So when considering why bad people are more attractive in a relationship, one must start with themselves.

Psychological theory will have us believe that bad relationship choices start with our parents. I’m not going to get into that side of things. You might have a great relationship with your parents, you might not, let’s not blame everything on mummy and daddy. Especially when we consider other overarching influencers such as societal beliefs. My point is, despite the origins for why we keep bad people around, the more important question is ‘what’. Specifically, what beliefs lead us to choose poisonous relationships to begin with.

Let’s start with the knowledge that having bad people in our lives can be, in itself, an addiction. These people suck you into their dangerous behaviours. They make you fight to keep them around, or on the flip side, manipulate you to the point where you both believe they cannot live without you. All the while they are treating you like crap. The sad thing is, you spend so much effort fighting for these relationships that there’s never a spare moment to ask if you actually want these people around anyway.

Knowing how you feel and why you feel that way, is not a pie in the sky concept. It’s a clear and logical step many people fail to take. And it’s a big reason why people stick to bad relationships as long as they do.

We must remember a person and their actions are NOT two separate things, even if on occasion they show you a sweeter side. What they are doing is scattering breadcrumbs of kindness amidst the multitude of crap they dish out. And what they give you is just enough to keep you sticking around.

Consider this statement:

“the survivor says things like ‘I don’t want to judge him…’, ‘I’m not saying he’s a bad person…’ when describing a person who committed murder.” –source

It’s amazing what we will justify when we want to believe someone is not a bad person. Again, there may be psychological reasons. We might have lived in an environment where we’ve numbed ourselves, pandered to, or rationalised bad treatment in the past. Conversely, the poisonous people may have a similar story, except they’ve interpreted this stimuli by becoming the abuser rather than the abused. Which brings me to my next point…

statues- hear not evil, see no evil, hear no evil

Just because you know the back-story, and you know WHY someone is the way they are, does not mean you need to stick around and be their whipping dog.

The cold reality of life is that we are born alone and we die alone, and no one can do these things for us. No one can handle our ‘issues’ on our behalf, just as much as we cannot handle theirs. You can be there, but you cannot fix much, especially if they are doing zero to help themselves.

‘We love people not so much for the good they’ve done us, as for the good we’ve done them.’ – Leo Tolstoy

Often we chase less-than-healthy relationships because they reflect what we believe about ourselves. They reflect what we believe is ‘normal’, and more notably, what we believe we deserve in a relationship. Bad relationships confirm we are not good enough, and we think that if we can prove ourselves, we might achieve some kind of enlightenment. The idea is that by healing this relationship, we will heal ourselves. But I’m sorry to tell you, that type of enlightenment does not exist.

We choose poisonous people because they confirm our belief that love is hard work. That love is supposed to involve massive highs and massive lows. Poisonous people distract us from our own poor decisions, while we focus on theirs. In the end we get to play the sad and all suffering martyr, and we reside in a hollow version of happiness. The by-product is we settle for the crumbs, when we should be focusing on the belief that relationships don’t have to be that hard.

Some of us thrive on the drama, but of course no one puts their hand up to admit this. Drama is like a drug – you keep taking it until, hopefully, one day you couldn’t take it anymore. And when that happens you get better at letting go of the things you don’t need. You’ll recognise this achievement the next time you get a taste of drama. It will feel like a poison in your veins, and it will no longer feel as good as it used to.

So what do you do with the bad people in your life?

sad teddy bear

There are two elements to this. On a subconscious level we know that if we call these people on their bluff they will likely realise you have cracked their mask. From there they will either deny, deny, deny, OR they will run away and find other people to partake in their jack-assery—often all while doing their best to muddy your name. The problem is sometimes this poisonous person is a family member, or someone with strong connections to our wider circles; it can be difficult to just cut these people off. I can’t say what is best or right for you, but I will say that it’s very telling when a person purports to love you, yet refuses to reconsider their behaviour when you reveal that they are hurting you.

When you approach these people they will usually throw the ‘there’s nothing wrong with me, it’s you’, ‘you’re being too sensitive’, or ‘you should love me the way I am’ types of arguments. Their logic is it’s their basic human right that you should be a victim to their every whim and tantrum. It’s your fault for not loving them enough at your own expense. You have to remember this is not love, it’s self-inflicted pain, and you’re both doing it. No matter what the poisonous person says, at the end of the day, they are responsible for their own decisions. It’s their choice to continue their hurtful behaviour at the sacrifice of their relationships. You don’t own that, they do. And you are not their rehab!

So while you might feel bad for cutting someone off, remember, you are not the only one in this relationship. Whether your poisonous person knows it or not, accepting bad people into your life will never make the foundation for a healthy relationship. It is possible to be a kind person, AND have the self-defences to tell hurtful people to take a walk. To believe otherwise is a fools game.

What do you think? Feel free to share your ideas.

Hope you enjoyed today’s post. I love reading and responding to everyone’s comments, so feel free to leave a comment of your own.

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Image credits:  couchlearner,  ˙Cаvin 〄,  Armando Maynez


  • Melissa
    September 27, 2015 - 4:49 pm · Reply

    I would like to hear more on this topic. This is a very good article.

    How do you recognize why you feel the feelings that you do, how to recognize a bad relationship, and what do you do once you recognize it is what it is? If you have a family member who is bad relationship material, how do you address that, while keeping them in your life?
    Also, how do you recognize if its you that is creating an unhealthy relationship? How do you change your behaviour and still maintain that relationship? (Friendship, family, partner, ect).
    I would like to hear anything more you might want to add to this article (these questions were just ideas of what to answer)

  • Charlene
    September 1, 2020 - 12:58 pm · Reply

    Thank you Katerina, this is an exceptionally well written article. Thank you for taking the time to write this. It has been immeasurably helpful.

    • Katerina Simms
      September 1, 2020 - 10:17 pm · Reply

      Hi Charlene, Thank you for your positive feedback. It’s been a while since I wrote this, but rereading was helpful to me too 😀 I’m glad you got something out of my words

        • Katerina Simms
          January 26, 2024 - 10:24 am · Reply

          Absolutely. We tend to be taught to find the positives in others and to separate actions from personality, often to our detriment. But people are their actions, and some people really aren’t good.

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