Toxic relationships are all around us. In fact, you may be smack dab in the middle of one, or know someone who is. You might wonder, “How did this relationship get this far? This bad? This dark?” You may consider leaving but feel afraid that it will only make things worse. You might think you’re in too far to back out.
The first step to getting healthy in the midst of a toxic relationship is awareness of your reality. You may have been telling yourself, “It’s not that bad,” or “I am strong, I can handle it,” or “He needs me, he has no one else.” But those things aren’t true. Those things are not reality.
Today, you will read someone else’s story to help you see your reality more clearly.
Joyce Mitchell has been the center of attention lately since being accused of helping convicted murderers Richard Matt and David Sweat escape from the Clinton Correctional Facility in New York in early June. The media has given the man hunt for Sweat and Matt second place to Joyce Mitchell’s story because it is so intriguing. How could she help these guys? Was she in love with one of them? What was going on inside her head? Why did she do what she did?
Joyce’s story is not so different than many women’s stories who get caught up in the web of a toxic relationship. A recent Today Show interview with her husband gives us revealing clues to what was going on inside of Joyce Mitchell. When I heard her husband, Lyle give his account of what happened over the last couple of years between Joyce and the two convicts, I felt my head nodding up and down saying, “yep, that’s how it happens.” Truly this story is age old, just with different characters. It happens in homes, in schools, and in churches. A wolf in sheep’s clothing, pretends to be good in order to get an unassuming person to do his bidding, all the while destroying all the sheep in his path. Here are five lessons that Joyce Mitchell’s story teaches the rest of us.
Desperation Attracts Predators: Lyle tells the Today Show that Joyce didn’t know if her husband really loved her anymore. They’d been married for years, but for whatever reason, she found herself questioning his love. When you start questioning your husband’s love, you start wondering if you’re really that lovable or worthy of love in the first place. These feelings of self-doubt lead to desperation. Abusers, con men and predators sniff out desperation like a wolf smells a wounded lamb. When you are feeling unworthy or unloved, you send out vibes to the people around you that attract the wrong sort of person who seeks to use you for their own gain.
- Predators Give You What You Think You Want: Joyce’s husband Lyle, reports Joyce liking the attention she was getting from Matt and Sweat. Maybe she felt attractive or flattered or even special. In a vacuum of worthlessness feelings, attention from other men can feel really good, even if it’s from con artists. You may start making excuses for their bad behavior, trying to believe that they aren’t as bad as people think. In the mean time, you feel sought after, special and maybe even adored. For Joyce, these strong feelings may have been the thing that blinded her to Matt and Sweat’s true intentions.
- Predators are Patient Groomers: We’ve been told that Joyce was a tailor in the correction facility, and that she had regular contact with both Sweat and Matt. All the way back in 2013, there was an investigation into claims that Sweat and Mitchell had a sexual relationship. Matt was later moved out of the tailor shop to limit their interaction. Predators are willing to wait as long as it takes to get what they want. Sometimes they use an inordinate amount of time so that your warning signals go quiet after awhile. You may even think you are off their radar, but you’re not. They are just very patient people, waiting for an opportune time to use you to get what they want.
- Predators Take More Than You Ever Signed Up for: Joyce’s husband Lyle, said in the interview that Joyce admitted smuggling in tools that would aid Matt and Sweat’s escape, and even agreed to supply means of a getaway. The attention that first felt good, quickly had a price tag. Joyce was reportedly threatened once she started to say “no” to Matt and Sweat. They allegedly threatened to kill her husband too, if she didn’t do what they wanted her to do. Joyce may have mistakenly thought she could handle Matt and Sweat, until they ended up handling her.
- Predators Make you Feel Powerless: Joyce told her husband Lyle, that she got in over her head. Though she probably never intended in the beginning to aid convicted murderers in their prison escape, or putting her husband in harm’s way, or to bring danger to herself and family, this is exactly what she did. Victims of predators often feel as though they have no choice but to do what is being asked of them. They’ve been lured and groomed to the point of trusting the predator more than they trust themselves. They say “ok” one too many times until saying “no” doesn’t feel like an option. Lyle reported Joyce saying, “It just got out of hand and I was scared and I didn’t know what to do,’”
We don’t truly know what drove Joyce Mitchell to do the things that she did, and I can only make assumptions given the information available. Sadly, I’ve heard this story over and over in my office just with different circumstances and characters. There is a bit of Joyce in all of us- the vulnerable, the dissatisfied, the Soul Hole that longs to be filled. There are counterfeits to TRUE and AUTHENTIC love that dress themselves up to look real. We may fall prey to Users and Abusers without intervention.
INTERVENTION: Often it’s the pain of your choices that can wake you up to realize when you are being used. The Users and Abusers in your life may believe they are having their way with you, but it is never too late to say “no.” This is the “Come to Jesus” moment. This is when the Prodigal Son wakes up starving in a pig pen and “Comes to himself.” This is the “Rock Bottom” experience that jolts you awake to your reality, and gives you one final exit before you destroy yourself in the predator’s arms. Joyce’s story helps us to recognize Counterfeit Love quicker so we can avoid toxic relationships. Her story also warns us to just how bad things can get when we start entertaining feelings for a Wolf.