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Life is about change. We’re always pushing forward and striving to better ourselves. We surround ourselves with those who have similar interests, life circumstances or even the same lofty ideas. Meeting people along the way who help us, nurture our spirits, but also some who may hurt us. There will be those who describe themselves as protectors but ultimately end up as a predator, only keeping friendships for their own self-aggrandizing and ego.

It’s through these selfish predators that we learn the tough lessons of life. We may leave scarred and broken, but most learn resilience. We learn never to put ourselves in a situation like that again. It toughens our skin, makes our broken parts stronger and wise beyond our years.

It’s my hope that this article will help someone who’s caught in a situation such as this.

Unfortunately sometimes the lessons are learned too late. The emotional and physical scars linger. One can ask, but why did you stay? Didn’t you realize how terrible things were? The answer to this is simple. Predators are insidious. They may look great on the outside, present themselves as a very knowledgeable and well liked individual. On the inside, however, they’re self-serving, egotistical and willing to do anything to make themselves feel important. Always at the expense of others. Often using the subordinates as an emotional dumping ground.

The abuse inflicted by these individuals can be both mental and physical. The outward signs of physical abuse are easy to spot. Bruises, various lacerations or old scars. It’s the mental and emotional abuse that can sometimes be hard to spot and report. The victim, presented with the prospect of being shunned or rejected by the abuser will sometimes keep themselves in the relationship out of sheer dependency or fear of being alone.

These relationships can start out innocently enough, but can grow into something terrible very quickly. Love can turn into lust and jealousy, kindness into resentment and good intentions into severely harmful behavior.

The abuser will use phrases such as “how do you think this makes ME feel” and “I don’t know what I’d do without you”. Both phrases designed to force the victims to feel an emotional connection with the abuser.

If there are multiples in a relationship, they’ll use a divide and conquer strategy, saying “don’t tell so-and-so that we’re hanging out”. Phrases like, “I just can’t make him understand” belittle one of the members and makes the other feel falsely important or that they’ve got the favorite status. They force dependency on the subordinates.

Don’t be fooled by those who talk about themselves, how many friends they have and how they never take anyone else’s opinion over their own. They’ll ask you to have a discussion about something, but end up wanting to have a one-sided rant. Any popularity or attention given to the subordinates will be met with jealousy. These individuals are toxic.

After the relationship has ended, they will continue to slander and blame in order to deflect any wrongdoing away from themselves. It’s easier to point the finger at others than accept any fault in the breakup.

But for every bad guy, there are plenty who love and nurture. Provide healthy interdependent, safe, loving care to those in their charge. Fostering with love, education and necessary discipline. Decisions are mutual and everything is consented to. Relationships are about sharing your lives together, not exerting punishment and a “my way or the highway” attitude.

Don’t rush into a relationship because you feel that you need to be in one. Let things grow organically. Sometimes the urge to be part of something larger, like a club or a pack can cloud one’s judgement and open them up to these predators.

Because life is about change, don’t let yourself stagnate and wither under these individuals. You’re worth more than you know and you have the power to say, “no more” and flourish somewhere else.

If you’re in a bad relationship or slyly being forced to stay in one, there’s plenty of places to go. Don’t think that this is the best you could do. Reach out to anyone. This sometimes takes a little time and a whole lot of courage.