When it comes to break-ups, I have yet to meet anyone who had a “good” one. However, there are some that are worse than others.
Leaving a relationship with someone who is abusive, who cheats, or who is a narcissist isn’t just hard—it can be downright traumatic.
My own experience leaving someone who was abusive with severe control issues left me with symptoms on par with those who had post-traumatic stress disorder. For well over a year, the relationship left me feeling so scared that I really thought I would never be able to be involved with anyone again. Even hugs from male friends were enough to trigger a negative response.
Eventually, I had sought out a therapist who dealt specifically with trauma to help me sort through my issues.
While my experience may be extreme, many people have a tough time healing from toxic relationships. While the advice below is no way intended to replace a therapist, it may prove helpful for those going through a tough time. At the very least, it can be a reminder that we are not alone and many of the things we are feeling are quite normal.
1. Feel it all.
Often times we tell ourselves or are told by well-meaning friends and loved ones that the best thing we can do is try to forget our experience and move forward.
This is wrong. In order for the latter to happen, we have to acknowledge what happened and that includes feeling it all.
In my case, I was shocked by the conflicting emotions I felt. Even thought my logical mind knew this man was wrong for me and it was good thing he was out of my life, my heart still loved him and wanted him back.
Furthermore, even though I knew I wasn’t supposed to miss him, I did. In fact, I missed him with every fiber of my being.
At the same time, I hated him.
I denied all of this for a long time which only delayed the healing process.
2. Get rid of timelines.
Once I acknowledged my feelings along with both the good and the bad parts of the relationship, I found it was much easier to move forward. I also discovered it was not a linear process. Some days, weeks, and even months were better than others. Sometimes it felt I went forward only to fall backwards.
Lesson learned: there is no right or wrong way to travel on these path. There may be detours, but these aren’t necessarily setbacks.
3. Don’t look to the other person for closure.
Closure is one of those words that is tossed around a lot but seem to mean different things to different people. For some, closure can only occur if they have the opportunity to confront the toxic person. For others, closure may mean they no longer have a negative emotional reaction when they think of the past relationship. Whatever your definition happens to be, the one thing that is certain is that closure cannot be achieved by the other person.
I used to fantasize that I would one day I would sit down with my ex and by using logic and reason, point out the ways that he hurt me while he, overcome with emotion, would realize he had been wrong and apologize profusely. Needless to say, that never happened. In fact, he remained steadfast that he was in the right, but that was okay. I no longer needed his approval to feel the way I did about our relationship. Indeed, not need that approval went a huge way in achieving the closure I needed.
Breakups in general are painful. Breakups with toxic people are even worse. However, while there is no magic formula to heal, there are some steps we can all take to make it through. Lastly, whatever we decide, the most important thing to remember is that we don’t have to do this alone if we don’t want to. There is help out there not just in the form of trained professionals but also in the form of family and friends. While they may not be pros, they can offer a helpful shoulder to lean on or even cry on.
Don’t be afraid of the latter and if someone offers help, take it.
Author: Kimberly Lo
Editor: Renée Picard
Image: skedonk at Flickr