Healing your heart after a toxic relationship
“Above all, be true to yourself, and if you cannot put your heart in it, take yourself out of it.”
Jane* was in her early 30s when she started going out with Mike after they met when they were both out with friends. He started bombarding her with messages to say how wonderful she was and how he wanted to the same things in life as she did. This was music to Jane’s ears as she really wanted to settle down and find a life partner. Everything progressed really quickly and Mike kept building a picture of their shared life together with children but the image seemed almost too perfect with Mike setting certain standards for their relationship and Jane felt that she had to be on her best behaviour to meet Mike’s expectations.
Soon Jane and Mike moved to live together and Mike’s behaviour started to escalate. Mike was going out a lot, drinking and taking drugs. He would question Jane’s honesty and faithfulness, blame her for seeing other men behind her back. He would then criticise her weight and how much makeup she wore. He would buy presents to make up and say that Jane shouldn’t be so sensitive. The worse it got the worse Jane felt. She was anxious and felt low, even feeling that it would not bother her if she did not live anymore. One day Jane woke up and thought: “This can’t be my life forever!!” She contacted her sister and finally confessed about what had been happening in the relationship. She felt ashamed. With the help of her sister, Jane moved out of the shared home.
Have you been in a toxic relationship? Are you now trying to recover and rebuild your life again, and heal your heart after all the anxiety and stress?
This is the 2nd part of a 3-part post series on toxic relationships. The first part looked the signs of a toxic relationship and 11 strategies how a partner can be emotionally abusive. You can read it here. This part focuses on healing after you have come out of a toxic relationship and the finally part will focus on moving on & dating after a toxic relationship. It will be out in the next couple of weeks.
When a relationship ends, it is a very emotional time, but if you have been in a toxic relationship your feelings are likely to be even more intense. Whatever the circumstances and how the relationship ended, you may initially feel you are likely to experience a variety of feelings and these can vary throughout the day.
You may, for example, feel:
- Lost and confused
- Like life has no purpose anymore
- Scared of the future and what it brings for you
- Anxious about the change
- Low because your initial hopes for the relationship did not materialise
- Self-loathing for allowing the relationship to continue as long as it did
- Relieved that it is over
10 Steps to healing after a toxic relationship
Your heart has been broken in a toxic relationship and now you are wondering will it ever be able to fall in love again. Or perhaps it’s even too early to think about that. You may question whether the damage done in the toxic relationship is going to be with you forever or can you heal after such a difficult experience. You can heal. It will take time and your best effort. Here are some tips on helping you to heal your heart.
- Acknowledge the ending of the relationship and accept that there is a grieving process even ending a toxic relationship. There was one time when you thought this relationship would be worth investing in your time and emotions. It can be hard to come to terms with the relationship turning into a toxic one.
- Make yourself a priority – You are the most important person in your life. It is likely that during the relationship and perhaps in general in life, you focus on others and take care of their well-being before yours. You are equal to the other and you need to take care of you.
- Accept and acknowledge your fluctuating feelings – If you feel like bursting into tears at one minute and feel angry the next, be your own source of support and notice your feelings.
- Take ownership of your actions – Become curious about what drew you into a toxic relationship and that dynamic. Things don’t happen by accident, sometimes they just may not be so obvious. Only when facing those really uncomfortable parts of you, true healing can start. You may need external, professional support with this exploration.
Tip: Journaling can be a great way to explore your feelings, thoughts, motivations…
- Practice self-compassion – if you are blaming yourself for what was going on in your relationship or that you were in the relationship, be kind. Take this as a painful lesson about a relationship you don’t want to have in your life in the future.
- Practice good self-care – pamper yourself, nurture those parts of you that you have neglected, find new interests.
- Reassess your boundaries – often in a toxic relationship boundaries are merged and there are no clearly defined boundaries between the partners. Where your personal boundaries?
- Assess and explore what your early relationship patterns taught you about relationships? Assess what were the messages you received about relationships in your early relationships at home.
- Seek support – don’t isolate but surround yourself with positive people and consider seeing a professional for additional support
- Go out and date yourself! Find out who you are, what you like or don’t like…
Be patient with healing your heart after a toxic relationship. I can take time and self-exploration really to be able to move on. The better you know yourself the easier it will become to start healing your heart.
Hope you have found this post useful. The next post will be on moving on and starting to date again after a toxic relationship.
* The case example does not refer to any actual either past or present client, but is a combination of stories I have heard over the years.
©2017 Dr Mari Kovanen, CPsychol. All rights reserved.