A toxic relationship can best be compared to a long dark tunnel. Once you are in, you feel completely lost and have no clue when the nightmare will end.
Just the fact that you could recognize and accept the relationship as toxic is in itself a big step forward. You are so much under the influence of your toxic partner that you can get totally lost in the relationship. You lose your identity and sense of self. You no longer remember to prioritize or love yourself.
It must have taken monumental effort on your part to get out of such a harmful relationship. You must have summoned every last ounce of energy to give yourself the courage and willpower to walk away from it. As you are walking away you may feel euphoric and must be looking forward to some carefree time.
Unfortunately for many in this position, the reality is not as rosy. Many feel so confused and lost in the real world and struggle to cope on their own. It is as if your entire world has vanished in the blink of an eye. Though you are free to do anything you want, you just don’t know what to do.
When you lose your identity, it can be incredibly hard to regain it. When you stop loving yourself, you tend to forget about all the good emotions you have ever experienced. When you don’t even remember how to feel good, the journey back to normalcy can be quite hard.
When you get out of a toxic relationship, you are just physically walking away from the person. The power and control this person has over you will continue for some more time. To free yourself completely takes lots of effort and time.
The first step in the recovery is to begin loving yourself. You may ask, “How can I learn to love myself again?”
Why is it hard to get over toxic relationships?
Toxic relationships are far too common among us, often not easily evident to others. The loss of respect and love for oneself is the worst thing that happens to a person in a toxic relationship. Even after leaving the relationship, these lost aspects of the persona are not easy to retrieve. It is a painstakingly slow and difficult process.
Psychologists call it trauma bonding. It is a kind of emotional attachment that a victim of a toxic relationship develops with the abusive partner. When the victim is subjected to repeated cycles of maltreatment, exploitation, humiliation, and positive reinforcement, their self-worth goes for a toss. They begin to seek validation to feel better. Soon, the relationship will turn into a codependent one.
If the abusive partner is a narcissist, things can get incredibly difficult for the victim. They will lose touch with reality soon enough and will start believing that they need their partner in their lives and cannot survive on their own. Once this idea sets in the mind, it can be extremely hard for the victim to leave.
However, at some point, the victim may get a break and begin to see the light at the end of the dark tunnel they find themselves in. They start realizing how beautiful life can be without their abusive partner. Though their own situation seems hopeless, the idea starts growing in their minds that one day they gather enough courage to break free.
Even after they end the relationship, the aftereffects last for a long time. It is not easy to change the mindset at the flip of a switch.
11 steps to regain self-love after a toxic relationship
Leaving a toxic relationship is hard. Picking up the long-lost threads and learning to cope after this is harder. Rediscovering the art of loving oneself is one of the hardest of them all.
Here are some suggestions to regain the ability to love yourself after you have forgotten what self-love is for a long time. Though this article is about recovering your footing after you have ended a toxic relationship, these steps can also be applied to all breakups.
1. Give yourself time to recover
Understandably, you want it all fast and easy. You feel that you have already lost so much time and don’t want to waste anymore.
Do remember that your emotions have been through the wringer. Tossed around, neglected, belittled, and subjected to all kinds of negativity. When the emotions remain repressed or suppressed for a long time, you will need time to recover.
Remind yourself that you have been through hell and survived a storm. Take a deep breath to help you feel alive again and start the healing process. The healing has to be multi-dimensional because of the kind of trauma you endured.
You may experience wild mood swings and temper tantrums during this period of recovery. Try to forgive yourself and not judge yourself. Be patient with your emotions. Recognize and acknowledge them and offer them the care they deserve.
2. Stay alert to bad habits
In your endeavor to feel happier and better, you may fall prey to unhealthy practices like smoking, drinking, and substance abuse. It would help to remember that none of them are going to help you in any way. You may find temporary relief but in the long term, these habits can only make you feel worse.
And, you don’t need these habits to make you feel better or love yourself. Self-love comes from a place of worth, respect, and positivity. By succumbing to these toxic habits, you are going from a bad place to a worse one. They will end up enslaving you much more than your toxic ex-partner.
You definitely deserve better than this. To help you cope with your emotions better, stay away from your ex. No messages, no calls, or no checking their social media accounts. Maintain the policy of absolutely no contact. Even when they try to get in touch with you, deal with the situation with a firm hand. Always remember the reasons that made you leave them.
Don’t keep anything that reminds you of your ex. Remove them from your life in all senses.
3. Rediscover your passions and hobbies
Just close your eyes and transport yourself back to the good old days. What made you happy? What were your favorite things? What activities did you enjoy the most? What made you you? Do you think these same things will make you feel happy and whole today? Would you like to restart your old hobbies?
These are the questions for which you need to find answers. You may not be able to find them in one go. Take it slowly. Pamper yourself and surround yourself with people you love and who love you. Self-care and love can work wonders.
Relearn how to laugh. Start with a smile and go all the way. Don’t let anything stop you or create roadblocks for you. Get out of your comfort zone and seek adventure if that is what you want to do.
Slowly yet surely pick up the pieces of your life that were shattered by the abusive relationship. Make sure you are doing all the things that make you happy. And, do only those things that you love.
4. Be kind and compassionate to yourself
Now that you have escaped the bad times, you may feel the need to review your actions. Blaming yourself is a very common reaction at this stage.
- “What did I even see in this person?”
- “How could I have gotten myself into such a relationship?”
- “Why did I allow things to go so bad?”
- “Why didn’t I do anything about it?”
- “How come I did not see it coming?”
Don’t bother answering such questions that may pop up in your mind. Because they are not relevant anymore and won’t serve any good purpose. All they can do is keep you stuck in the vicious loop of self-blame.
Just say that whatever happened is in the past. You didn’t either look for it or set yourself up for abuse or exploitation. All you wanted was to be loved and in a beautiful relationship. Even when things didn’t appear good, you were giving your ex the benefit of doubt and a few more chances.
Now that the relationship is behind you, you want to look forward and not turn back. Even if you feel that you did something wrong, now is the time to forgive yourself. Regrets, blame games, and self-criticism are of no use to you now. Just flush those thoughts down the toilet, figuratively or even literally.
5. Stop being angry
This is the hardest of them all. When you are finally free and can do and think whatever you want to, the devil will try to make its presence felt in your mind. You may feel insanely angry and your mind may get deluged with hateful thoughts about your ex. You need to stay alert to this eventuality.
Negative thoughts have this tendency to take over the control of your mind if you give them even the slightest encouragement. Just like the proverbial camel in the tent, these harmful feelings may push out all the good ones you have. Ultimately, this will end up making you feel bad. You definitely wouldn’t want this to happen.
Letting go of the anger and bad memories is never easy. You can make it easier for yourself by adding new happy memories so that the old bitter ones will become outdated and go away on their own. If the negative memories are still persisting, you can either get help from a friend or go to therapy and let it all out.
No matter the process you choose, it is important to get rid of anger. This is vital for you to feel positive emotions like love and happiness.
6. Surround yourself with loved ones
You have been living in an environment filled with negativity for so long that you need the presence of love and positivity to heal your mental wounds. Keep the company of people who love you unconditionally. And, of course, stay away from people who are not helpful for your happiness and peace of mind.
People who uplift you can help you recover from the trauma of a toxic relationship much faster. Moreover, positivity is highly infectious. When you are surrounded by happy and cheerful people, this will have a contagious effect on you. When there is so much to laugh and be happy about, you won’t have time to dwell on negative memories and emotions from the past.
You can also open up to people who care about your well-being. This will lighten up your heart and make you feel better in no time. You may have lost touch with many of your friends during the dark phase in your life. Seek them out and bring them back into your life.
7. Improve your ties with yourself
When you were going through the dark phase in your life, you most probably must have shut yourself out so as to numb the pain and suffering. You are no longer in touch with your emotions and thoughts. You have abandoned your dreams and goals. You have no idea what you want to do with your life.
This is not unique to you. This is a coping mechanism of the mind to survive traumas. Now that you have freed yourself from the harmful situation, you need to work on getting back in touch with yourself. This is not easy either. But don’t feel discouraged and give up.
Just remind yourself that the past is past and the whole future is there for you to live the way you want to. Set boundaries and ground rules for your relationship with yourself and follow them assiduously. Make a promise to yourself that you will not allow anything or anyone to harm you ever again.
8. Make yourself your top priority
For a while now, you have been ignoring your wants, needs, and desires and prioritizing that of others. It is high time you restore the top position in your priority list back to yourself. You need to know yourself inside out, what you want to accomplish in life, what you consider important and most important of all, who you want to be.
When you are in perfect sync with yourself, there are no more doubts in your mind and no more dilemmas. You will start feeling more confident and secure. You will be an improved version of your old self.
9. Get rid of that nasty voice in the head
The voice in the head is your own subconscious speaking to you through your conscience. When you are in a toxic relationship, your confidence and self-worth will be destroyed so completely that even the voice in your head will turn against you. You could hear it constantly criticizing you and preventing you from taking positive steps.
You need to stop this harmful narrative going on in your mind to recover from the trauma. This critical voice speaks the same words as your abusive ex. So to free yourself from the relationship in the true sense, you need to banish this voice as well.
You can choose not to pay attention or listen to these toxic words. If it helps, you can tell yourself that this is not what you feel or consider as true.
10. Find your purpose
Distraction is the easiest way to get rid of negative thoughts and emotions. As the saying goes, an idle mind is the devil’s workshop. You may have left your dreams and lost your sense of purpose during those dark days. You really need to figure out what you want from life and what you want to do with it.
If you are finding it hard to figure out your life’s purpose and long-term goals, settle for small intentions. These are easier to achieve and will give you motivation and sense of purpose. Every intention realized is a source of joy.
11. Say thanks to yourself
After all, you are the only person who stayed with yourself through thick and thin. You helped yourself survive the trauma. You took the decision to get yourself out of the abusive relationship. All the positive things you are enjoying today are all because of your initiatives and actions. No words of gratitude can suffice the emotion you feel.
How you express this emotion is up to you. You may appreciate, pamper, or prioritize yourself. You may explore every avenue to make yourself happy. You may remind yourself what an amazing and courageous person you are.
The feeling of gratitude for yourself can offer a big boost to your efforts in rebuilding your life.
Get active in all senses, most important of all, physically. The more you move your body and exercise, the better you will feel. Do volunteer work or help others without expecting anything in return. Repeat positive affirmations for self love and confidence or use journal prompts to learn more about yourself. This will lift you up in no time.
Despite all your efforts to rebuild your life, you may have moments when you will feel lonely, sad, lost, confused, and feel as if you are going around in circles. Think of these as small setbacks in the bigger scheme of life. There is so much beautiful life left for you to enjoy in the coming years. Just shake off these feelings of gloom and turn your attention to positive things.
You should know that you have so much love left in you to offer others as well as yourself. Don’t let it stay hidden or remain unutilized. Take steps to loving yourself with all the energy you can muster. You should know that this too shall pass.
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