Therapists Suggest Taking These 7 Steps To Heal From a Toxic Relationship
Ending any relationship is tough. But moving on from a toxic relationship? That can have its own unique challenges.
You may find it difficult to trust someone again, set healthy boundaries, or even build up the self-confidence needed to get back out into the dating world.
Sure, it can take some time to heal from these experiences — but according to therapists, it’s well worth the time, energy, and effort. In doing so, you can learn more about yourself — and about what you will and won’t accept from a partner.
“Until and unless you process the experience and change as a result, you might take it personally and fail to learn the valuable lessons that relationship was designed to teach,” explains Dr. Debi Silber, a holistic psychologist and founder of the Post Betrayal Transformation Institute.
“For example,” she says, “maybe a certain level of disrespect is meant to teach you to value yourself more. Maybe signs your partner wasn’t trustworthy inspire you to trust your intuition. Maybe looking back, you realized you settled because of low-self esteem.”
You may not immediately realize how your last relationship has affected you, but understanding its impact will allow you to better tend to your own needs both in and outside of another relationship.
So, whether you’re eager to get back out there and meet someone new, or you can’t possibly imagine dating again, here are seven therapist-approved steps for healing from your toxic relationship.
1. Surround yourself with support
Being in a toxic relationship can have a negative impact on your relationships with friends and family members — particularly if your previous partner was isolating you from them, or they didn’t approve of your relationship.
So, now is the time to re-surround yourself with those loved ones you may have lost touch with.
“Even if you don’t think you feel ready to see people, make it a point to spend time with your friends and family,” says Tina B. Tessina, a licensed psychotherapist and author of Dr. Romance’s Guide to Finding Love Today. “They’ll help you heal, and remind you that you still have people who love you.”
Consider reaching out to people in your inner circle to let them know that you’re still recovering from the end of the relationship. The more you clue them in on where you’re at, the more supportive they can be in checking in on you regularly and scheduling quality time to hang.
2. Prioritize self-care
Studies have shown that being in problematic relationships can increase your risk of health issues. Stress can take a serious toll on your immune system, affecting your physical health, and constant conflict and emotional rollercoasters can also sabotage your mental well-being, leading to anxiety, depression, insomnia, and other issues.
Given how much a toxic relationship can wear on your body and mind, Silber says it’s crucial to make self-care a top priority as you start your journey toward healing. That starts with getting enough sleep.
“During deep, restful sleep, lots of healing happens,” says Silber.
Not only does it help with focus, clarity, energy, and emotional regulation, but sleep also plays a key role in your mood. In fact, not getting enough sleep can increase your risk of depression and anxiety — so, if you’re already predisposed to those conditions or are struggling with them post-breakup, you’ll want to be extra diligent about catching those quality Z’s.
Other critical aspects of self-care include maintaining a balanced, healthy diet, and getting regular exercise. You may also want to fill in any nutritional gaps in your diet with mood-boosting supplements. For example, studies have shown that probiotics, vitamin D, and vitamin K all play a role in reducing symptoms of depression.
“When you’re treated badly by another person, it’s easy to start to believe that you deserve to be treated poorly,” says Angela Amias, LCSW, a therapist and co-founder of Alchemy of Love. “Practicing self-care and showing yourself love is a way to remind yourself that you deserve to be treated well and you deserve love.”
3. Swear off guilt, shame, and blame
After getting out of a toxic relationship, it might be tempting to look back and think, “Why didn’t I leave sooner?” or “It’s all my fault, I should’ve done [XYZ.]”
“The most common question that clients ask me as they are healing after a toxic relationship is ‘Why didn’t I see what was happening?’ says Amias.
But spiraling into these kinds of thought patterns can be very destructive to your healing process, says Tessina. While guilt and shame are natural human emotions, they won’t serve you right now as you seek to build yourself up after a traumatic experience.
“Practice self-compassion,” says Paige Rechtman, a licensed psychotherapist. “I always find this quote helpful: ‘I did the best that I could knowing what I did at the time.’ Being kind to yourself as you heal from the experience and forgiving yourself for any mistakes you made during the relationship will help you to move forward.”
According to Tessina, blame can be a slippery slope, too. While your ex may have done and said things you didn’t like, fixating on them may only stoke your anger and resentment, and leave you feeling worse. That’s why Tessina recommends shifting your mindset toward more neutral thoughts, like "We saw things very differently" or "We had some good years, then things changed."
“Blaming will just keep you stuck,” she says. “Focus on figuring out how not to repeat mistakes, and how to recognize toxic people when you meet them.”
If your ex was abusive, resist taking any responsibility for their behavior. Remember: someone else’s hurtful behavior is never your fault.
4. Write down some lists for intentional dating
After getting out of a toxic relationship, Silber advises evaluating two things:
- What kind of partner you were before, and what kind of partner you’d like to be in the future
- What kind of partner you had before, and what kind of partner you want in the future
“The ending of a relationship provides a great opportunity to reevaluate what we were tolerating and so much more,” she says.
Rechtman suggests making a list of all the traits your previous partner had that you appreciated, and another list of the ones you didn’t. For instance, you may have loved their spontaneity and affection, but disliked their fiery temper and unpredictability. On the side of the list with all their desirable qualities, start adding in more that you’d like to see in your next partner — say, a calmer demeanor, or emotional maturity.
Next, make two more lists: one of all the things you felt good about in that last relationship, and another of all the things that weren’t serving you. For instance, maybe you felt like you were very generous with your time and love, but you regret not standing up for yourself more. On the side of the list with all your strengths, start adding in things you’d like to improve on.
This process will not only help you to reflect on where there’s room for personal growth, but also on what you’re looking for in a healthier relationship down the line — so that when you find it, you’ll be able to more easily recognize it.
5. Start journaling
“After a toxic relationship ends, your head can be a wild mix of emotions,” says Amias. “It helps to get all this on the page, where you can start to see things more clearly, especially with time. That’s why I recommend clients start a daily journaling practice.”
There are no hard or fast rules for journaling, either. You can use this safe space to recall specific memories, process your feelings, or whatever feels helpful to you in the moment.
Note: According to Amias, journaling can be especially helpful if your partner gaslighted you in any way.
“Having a written record of your memories of what happened can help ground you in reality when you start to doubt your perception,” she adds.
6. Practice boundary-setting
Knowing how to say no is a key component of any healthy relationship. But sometimes, that can fall by the wayside in toxic relationships. Maybe you were so consumed with pleasing your partner that you lost sight of your own needs and wants, or maybe you just lost your voice out of fear of how they’d react if you didn’t do something.
“Your sense of what’s normal is likely skewed from the boundary violations that are often part of toxic relationships,” Amias says. “Expressing how you feel without worrying about how the other person responds is difficult, especially at first. But learning how to say no and have firm boundaries is actually a way of showing yourself and the other person respect.”
It’s a good idea to start practice boundary-setting now — so you’re a pro by the time you get into another relationship. Here are some simple tips to get started:
- Make a list of any behaviors you won’t accept from loved ones, and what the consequences are for those behaviors. For example, maybe one is yelling or name-calling, and the consequence is hanging up the phone or leaving the room or house.
- Next time your buddy, coworker, mom, or neighbor asks you to do something, take a pause and a deep breath before responding. If you don’t immediately feel like saying “yes,” ask them for some time to think about it before you get back to them. This way, you have some space to respond with a more authentic answer.
7. Reach out to a therapist
If after ending your toxic relationship you’re having any trouble getting work done, maintaining relationships with loved ones, taking care of yourself, or fulfilling other responsibilities, Rechtman says it might be time to seek out some extra support from a mental health professional.
“Don’t hesitate to get therapy to help you through this transition, so you can grieve what’s lost and shift your focus onto building a happy, healthy life,” says Tessina.
There are many benefits to working with a therapist — like unpacking and working through a fear of dating or trust issues that resulted from your previous toxic relationship.
“Being in a toxic relationship is like living inside a snow globe,” adds Amias. “It’s hard to get a clear sense of what’s happening. A therapist will help you step outside the snow globe so you can see the relationship from a more objective, distant perspective.”
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