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Author Jerry A. Greenwald, PhD: Revised by William Polowniak
(Originally published Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy, Volume 8, No. 1, pp-3-9,  Summer 1976)


Human encounters can nourish a person and provide experiences of joy, happiness and well-being or they can be toxic and destructive, thus leaving a person more deprived and frustrated than if the individual had no encounter at all. It is the responsibility of each individual to learn to discriminate between those relationships which are nourishing, healthy and gratifying and those which are frustrating and will tend to make the individual ill. Awareness of how a person experiences an encounter with others provides the raw data by which to recognize and reach out for nourishing relationships and, equally important, to avoid those which are ungratifying and toxic. Like any process involving the development and growth of human potentials, the ability to be discriminating in one’s human relationships is and on-going learning process.
    This process involves a commitment by the person to oneself that he or she alone is wholly responsible for the kind of human relationships with which one involves oneself, and the subsequent gratifications or frustrations one experiences. The central issue is the development of a conscious attitude of openness to human encounters and an awareness within oneself of how one experiences each interaction.
    The human organism is provided with a wealth of experiential data which it utilizes to a lesser or greater degree for its survival and growth. This is an integral process involving the reception of sensory data, and internal evaluation and some kind of behavioral reaction. Functionally this awareness-reaction-expression process is a unified, organismic phenomenon which can be validated experientially. Psychology has studied this process, divided and subdivided it, labeled and analyzed it and described it in numerous ways from atomistic approaches to gross categories. Existentially all that is required to utilize this marvelous human capability is self-awareness of HOW and WHAT one does with oneself in this continuous ongoing process.
    The goal involves striving to minimize distorting and blocking of one’s innate potentials. These potentials for emotional health, emotional maturity and creativity develop naturally when this process is not too hampered or distorted by destructive or toxic encounters or experiences beginning with childhood which may continue to operate indefinitely to the detriment of the individual. They always operate to some degree in everyone. The process of emotional nourishment involves awareness of WHAT distortions and blocks are occurring and HOW they operate destructively to hamper one’s awareness-reaction-expression capabilities.
    Reality exists only in the present. For a given individual, one’s reality involves what is actually occurring within the individual and in one’s environment at any given moment. Awareness of reality involves awareness of experiential data. The awareness process involves the traditional five senses as well as body feelings and sensations. Full awareness refers to “messages” which a person receives from all these various forms of sensory data. “Listening” means being “tuned in” on oneself. That is, consciously experiencing this data with a full, clear and undistorted reception. What invariably happens in the moment to moment process of experiencing oneself and one’s environment is that various “distortions” and “blocks” continuously occur which make any person’s perception of present reality less than perfect. Sensory data is either distorted or blocked to varying degrees. Distortions involve various types of misperceptions of reality. Blocking involves a “tuning out” of oneself. In this process some part of the available sensory data is cut off in the perceptual processes and, therefore, not utilized by the person interpreting present reality.


Need-patterns in human relationships are enormously complex. People want love, closeness, understanding, appreciation, sharing, attention, etc., from one another. The art of emotional nourishment involves developing one’s ability to gratify these needs. Gratification can be represented as a continuum ranging from complete satisfaction to complete frustration. Each point on this continuum would then reflect a degree of nourishment or toxicity a person experiences with others in encounters. The critical issue in the selection of one’s human relationships would be how realistically others are perceived and responded to accordingly. This will reflect one’s present proficiency in the art of seeking emotional nourishment from others. If one posits two groups  “Nourishing” (“N” people) and “Toxic” (“T” people), based on how a person experiences them, the two groups can be descriptively differentiated from each other.
    The “N” person is more authentic, more aware and has fulfilled more of his or her own potentials. These individuals value their own integrity and are capable of standing on their own two feet. They do not need to lean on others and thereby tax their strength.  They assume responsibility for their own needs. They stand openly and say directly what they want. In their relationships they are attracted to those who give freely of their own volition. They nourish themselves from others, and nourish the others in the same process, much like a person who cares for a fruit tree, enjoys its fruits and leaves the tree intact and undamaged; in turn the person prunes and fertilizes the tree, thereby increasing its health and growth.
    “T” people manifest the opposite qualities and behavior. Typically, anyone the “T” person encounters is in some way left worse off after the encounter. One has been strained or damaged in the course of the relationship. “T” people are of many types, but they share in common a pattern of phoniness, manipulation and deception. A “T” person’s life-pattern is one in which nourishment of his or her own needs is to the detriment of others. “T” people tend to use others as a means for their own ends. Contrary to the  self-reliant “N” people, the “T” person needs a more continuous supply of people, since the “T” person either uses them up or gets restless and wants something more. In one way or another, the “T” person is chronically dissatisfied with his or her relationships.
    “N” people are more available and responsive. However, their giving is not forced on others; it is offered. They do not try to persuade or cajole others in to accepting their favors or “help.” They do not intrude even in their own interest in giving. They do not insist on doing things or being “nice and giving” if the other expresses disinterest or declines for their own reasons. In turn, giving to “N” people is easy and gratifying. The “N” person is less demanding and tends to appreciate and enjoy what he or she receives. They handle their unfulfilled needs themselves rather than burdening others with them.
    The “N” person is more capable of accepting what he or she does not like in another and still continues to find meaning and gratification in the relationship. “N” people do not, like “T” people, simply cut people off because of their failings, or withdraw completely and permanently when they attempt to manipulate or use others in some way. Rather, “N” people have a variety of inner resources with which to cope with these occurrences in an on-going relationship. The “N” person is more aware when he or she is being used, or in some way “sucked-in,” and is able to more effectively avoid or stop this from occurring or continuing. “N” people can say “no” without excessive need to explain or justify themselves. “N” people do not need to win approval of their own actions or attitudes. “N” people can reject someone without feeling guilty. “N” people remain free to be themselves and to give and be responsive when they choose.
    The “T” person, on the other hand, tends to react in an all-or-none fashion. The “T” person lacks flexibility and elasticity. “T” people relating to another may seem stable and responsive as long as they like the give and take of the relationship. However, when they encounter a conflict or get angry, they are more apt to end the relationship. The other person suddenly becomes “no damn good.” This dogmatic attitude is a major factor in the “T” person’s excessive tendency to terminate relationships. Hence The “T” person is frequently lonely and isolated.
    “T” people are not “evil” nor are they willfully destructive to a relationship. To criticize or scapegoat “T” people for their hangups is itself a destructive “T” type attitude. One might as well condemn a rattlesnake as “evil” because its bite is poisonous. The “T” people are themselves a product of too many toxic encounters.
    An aware “N” person will find his or her relationship with a “T” person to be largely a one-way street and will seek to minimize such encounters. An unaware “N” person in a prolonged encounter with a “T” person will experience more or less continuous emotional drain and frustration. Indeed, without awareness of  their experience in this kind of encounter, “N” people may eventually become unhealthy, under-nourished and eventually will themselves manifest more of the behavior typical of “T” people.
    Instead of being “self-starters” and self-reliant, “T” people tend to wait for cues or stimuli from others, and their overt behavior begins with a response to someone else. They tend to be “reactors” rather than initiators of behavior. One form, for example, is the “clinging vine” wife who becomes anxious and threatened when the husband wants to do something which happens to exclude her. Another is the passive-dependent husband who becomes angry, hurt or resentful when his wife engages in some pursuit which excludes him.
    “T” people seem incapable of making another person feel good. They are unable to give in a straight-forward, honest fashion with no strings attached. The joy or happiness a person experiences from “T” people is apt to be short lived or conditional. For example, having enjoyed a dinner, the appreciative “guest-victim” is told about the laborious effort involved in preparing the dinner, or receives hints of expected reciprocation. It is as if the “T” person is unable to initiate an effort to please another without in some way contaminating the simple act of giving, and bring joy to someone else.
When giving, “T” people instill a sense of obligation in the receiver. They want the other person to feel indebted and grateful; often they insist on it. When their victim rebels at being ensnarled in this kind of trap, he or she is made to feel guilty, selfish and worthless. The “self-sacrificing” parent often maintains dominance and control over children even after they are well into adulthood by this pattern. Again, the victim is emotionally drained to one degree or another.
    “T” people are “poor receivers.” When one gives to a “T” person, there is always something about the manner in which the giving is received which contaminates the experience, not only for the giver, but for the recipient  as well. For example, the adult who visits the elderly parent is thanked by the parent with some added comment to the effect that he or she does not come over as often as one should.
    The ability to communicate is impaired in “T” people. They don’t listen. Another person seeking to express himself to a “T” person will experience frustration regardless of repeatedly trying to make one’s point. Married couples may have the almost identical argument for years and yet remain stalemated. Neither hears the other, and neither is genuinely interested in being understood or understanding the other’s point of view. The conversation between “T” people consists of a dialogue which does not reflect a responsiveness to the last statement of the other, and vice-versa. Rather, each has in mind what they will say before the other is finished, hence listening is impossible.
    The excessive criticalness of “T” people prevents them from accepting people as they are, and enjoying whatever they like about others. They tend instead to focus on the negative; on what they don’t like about another. For example, when a “T” couple spends a social evening with a group of friends, their conversation with each other afterwards is focused on critical, derogatory observations and experiences, i.e., what was wrong with the other guests, the host, the refreshments, etc.. They have a negativistic attitude towards the world and themselves. It is as if they are attracted to troubles and unhappiness. Often they appear suspiciously eager to hear about the problems and sorrows of others. They rarely seem to enjoy a good movie, a play or a vacation. Instead, they talk mostly about what was bad or unsatisfactory about the experience. When this is a chronic attitude, such people may have a facial expression as if they are experiencing a bad odor.
    “T” people are greedy and insatiable. Because their capacity to enjoy and appreciate a person or an experience is so limited, they incessantly demand more. This insatiability reflects their inner self-dissatisfaction which they seek to compensate for by gorging themselves and their appetites. They hunger for an inner peace and contentment, which they are incapable of finding, hence their greed tends to be endless and eventually may take the form of a compulsion. This is true whether their futile search takes the form of an obsession for money, material things, success, sex, food, etc.. Whatever form of commitment to a life-pattern such people choose, they become more desperate with success, as they become aware that reaching their goal fails to bring the hoped-for happiness. They can then only redouble their greediness or fall into a state of depression, despair and futility.
    When experiencing a feeling of threat, the “T” person tends to react too quickly and conclusively. The “T” person’s tolerance in experiencing threatening situations is more limited. He is less able to await more experiential data. The “N” person, in contrast, has greater tolerance and his or her reactions are more moderate and flexible. For example, under the stress of a feeling of threat, one may choose to respond with a positive or amicable gesture. The “T” person is less willing to take such risks and has great insecurity and anxiety in the face of threat. This elicits in the “T” person more rapid and conclusive responses which tend to be excessive and unrealistic. The “T” person has an exaggerated fear of the threat imposed by other people and tends to over-react in a defensive or hostile manner.
    “T” people are control mad. For example, they seek to seduce people into friendships and involvements. Once they win them over, the relationship becomes one in which the “T” person controls, manipulates and dominates. Often the victim is emotionally involved and sacrifices one’s freedom and integrity in order to maintain the relationship.
    “T” people manifest a variety of patterns by which they control and manipulate others. These patterns are often subtle and deceptive. Sometimes they appear as innocently helpless, naive individuals who are always needing to be rescued by someone else. The “hero” in such instances ultimately turns out to be the victim. One may go on hoping for years that if one does enough, the “helpless” person will finally become capable of standing on his or her own feet. The person does not realize that the helpful attitude only deepens the trap as the emotional investment  becomes greater and greater.
    “T” people oppress the environment and those around them by their attitudes. They dominate with meaningless and incessant verbiage while their victims must listen politely or risk offending them. Their conversations lack the quality of self-expression, giving, and a genuine desire for communication. There is frequently a close correlation between meaninglessness of their conversation and the rapidity or quantity of words they disgorge. In addition to their dull chatter, they further oppress the atmosphere by their depression and miserizing.
    “T” people do not see others as individuals. They show a lack of respect for the integrity of those with whom they come in contact. In their sexual relationships they are selfish and inconsiderate. To them sex is something one person does to another at the other’s expense, rather than a mutually shared and enjoyed experience. “T” people see their sex partner as an object. Often they use sex, or the withholding of it, as a means of manipulating the other person.
    “T” people resent sharing. Even when they have all they want it pains them to see others have the same thing. They are so starved for nourishment, and so insecure about its continuing supply, that even when they experience some gratification, they need the added assurance of the deprivation of others. In their futile attempt to reassure themselves, they need to compare and come out on top.
    “T” people seem less insecure and anxious when those around them are frustrated, unhappy and generally miserable. They tend to surround themselves with such people. Usually they are unaware that they are comforted by this morbid kind of human environment, or that they seek it. On the other hand, they tend to experience increased anxiety, insecurity and frustration when they encounter happy, joyous people who are full of life. Their intense discomfort with self-nourishing, healthy personalities may become unbearable. They usually either seek to pull the other person down into a state of misery similar to their own, or withdraw from such healthy people and seek again the comfort of the misery of their own kind. Like the two “Jewish” mothers whose children have grown up and “abandoned” them, they seek consolation from each other.


Sincerity and action in good faith can be met with manipulation and action in bad faith from others. In the practicalities of everyday interaction with others, the more crucial issues of learning to be discriminating involve increasing awareness and efficiency of action in protecting oneself from the pitfalls of “T” interactions. Avoiding what is toxic or non-nourishing is the critical point in enabling the person to experience adequate emotional nourishment and growth.
    In giving or loving indiscriminately one contributes to one’s own destruction. Similarly, in giving to a “T” person, one plants seeds in a barren field. The least one can do is to be aware of the nature of the relationship. If a person, for one’s own reasons, ethical, moral or otherwise, continues to give to a “T” person, let one at least not delude oneself that one will be nourished in return.When one acts out of a sense of moral obligation or loyalty, one then makes one’s choice knowingly, and thereby frustrates oneself less than when one clings to some unreal hope of gratification.
    When one feels no moral or ethical obligation, the healthy, aware person will reconcile oneself to some pattern of self-protection, reduced emotional investment or outright termination of toxic relationships. The unaware, or neurotic persons, in contrast, remain stuck, unable to extricate themselves. Their strength is drained and not replenished. In this way they become increasingly toxic. Such people become bitter and cynical as this exhausting process continues. They may abandon their quest for meaningful human interaction. Or they may seek to compensate for their emptiness by the use of distractions or substitutes; for example, the compulsive business man, the alcoholic, and the recluse.
    Since adjustment is an ongoing process, the development of awareness can enable a person to modify one’s behavior, regardless of one’s past experience or one’s age. These potentials are not lost in the sense that they cannot be recovered and utilized for self-preservation and growth. Reversals are possible when people become aware of their own toxic attitudes, i.e., how they frustrate themselves and allow others to frustrate them unrealistically.

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