Note: Before you read this, it’s important to stress that if you are going through any kind of emotional, psychological, sexual, and/or physical abuse, PLEASE seek help immediately. This article does not account for or justify any such abuse and is just discussing toxic relationships (pertaining to both friendships and romantic relations) from a non-abusive perspective.
Have you ever tried breathing underwater?
Toxic relationships often feel like a continuous cycle of reaching the shore and getting met with ecstasy and then going back under and getting engulfed in misery, letting already broken promises wrap their arms around you, and tugging restlessly on the chains that hold you back from escaping the strong embrace.
Breathe, the waters around you whisper. Just breathe.
And when you finally manage to do so, you’re faced with an even greater battle: healing from the concealed bruises that are laced with hints of both trauma and regret. Every time you attempt to dive into the deep sea with someone else, you feel the ripples of the past catching up with you, propelling you into believing that you’re bound to drown, no matter the situation.
You only need a match to start a wildfire, but a whole lot of courage and determination to end one. Breaking up with someone doesn’t free you from the aftermath of the relationship; healing does. However, it’s easier said than done. With the fact that everyone heals differently in mind, this article will be written as vaguely and open for interpretation as possible.
“It’s hard to turn the page when you know someone won’t be in the next chapter, but the story must go on.” - Thomas Wilder
1. Accept the Broken
Real talk: your significant other is not an onion; they aren’t supposed to make you cry at least once a day. If they do, find the nearest exit.
Numerous psychological studies have proven that how people deal with breakups is similar to how they deal with death. First comes shock, immediately followed by denial. False perceptions are common in unhealthy relationships and are most significantly tied to having an idealized picture of the other party involved. For instance, say, your significant other disrespects you like it’s on their daily to-do list, but you excuse their actions and convince yourself that they’ll morph into your idealization one day.
Here’s the hard truth: they never will. You’ll keep overlooking their faults while they’ll keep trying to find yours; it’s a constant, toxic, and never-ending cycle that is only going to end with heartbreak. It’s important to accept that your relationship with the other party is broken, or at least cracking, and that the glue is slowly expiring. It takes two to make any sort of relationship work, and if one person isn’t doing their due diligence, then two people are bound to go their own ways.
You don't miss them: you miss who you thought they were.
One person will naturally be left to heal on their own, let's say that's you in this case, but that doesn’t mean that you're the one who lost. You may not see it right now, but you won. They lost someone who was willing to do anything for them. They lost someone who felt hurt when they were hurt. They lost someone who had a million reasons to leave but chose to stay and rarely ever complained.
What did you lose?
And they'll search for your sincerity in every new person they meet, but that's none of your concern. All that matters is that if you were genuine, you are NOT replaceable, despite whatever they may say. It's unfortunate that you ever got convinced you were. Learn how much your worth so you'll stop giving people discounts.
2. Don’t Expect Closure
Closure is recommended since it allows both parties involved to list down their reasons for terminating the relationship and to end it on good terms to avoid further disputes. However, many “dumpees” never receive closure or even get offered an explanation regarding the breakup. They’re just left there standing on their own, trying to pick up the broken pieces, and due to the uncertainty of why the relationship ended, they may put all the blame on themselves. Convincing yourself that you’re “unlovable”, “worthless”, "replaceable”, among other things, can be painful and degrading. If you’ve been through it, you know that you wouldn’t wish that feeling on your worst enemy.
It’s pertinent to recognize that if someone disrespected you to the extent that they just left you with no explanation and with so much trauma, it says everything about them and nothing about you. Especially if, after the breakup, they never even bothered to ask you how you were doing and instead talked badly about and demeaned you. Again, you should consider yourself lucky that you weren’t destined to be with a person who could stoop so low and instead, will definitely find someone who will celebrate both your highs and lows.
Regain control and give yourself the closure you deserve. Look at it this way: there are a million fish in the sea. However, the sea’s also (unfortunately) polluted and you may have fished yourself a piece of shiny trash. If people only fish with superficial needs in mind, they’re always going to find shiny pieces of trash. However, if people search deeper, and prioritize authenticity, then you’ll surely get a fish. If you were a fish, meaning you were real, then you deserve to find another fish. So, what were you doing with someone who is fake, or in this case, a piece of trash?
Don’t let others define you and tell you what you are or aren’t capable of doing. If they talk bad about you, while you defend their name even after they put you through so much pain, anyone can distinguish the problematic party.
3. Cut Contact
While you’re on your healing journey, don’t hang out with your ex. Don’t call them. Don’t text them. Don’t gossip about them. Don’t lurk on their social media pages. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t HAVE to stay friends with an ex - especially if the relationship was unhealthy and you wouldn’t want to face reminders of that just to have them be in your life.
Becoming strangers again after working so hard to keep a relationship going can be a tough pill to swallow. However, it’s important to always remember the reason why you two became strangers again in the first place. Oil and water don’t mix. Your worlds shouldn’t have ever collided, but if they did, take the moral from the story and grow from it.
Having no contact can obviously be difficult if you have children, financial ties, work, whatnot with your ex. However, if you can avoid all unnecessary contact, it should suffice.
There’s this weird stigma around feeling emotions a while after a breakup. It’s OKAY to not have healed from a relationship even if it’s been years. It’s not pathetic; you spent time meeting this person, learning about them, opening up to them, allowing yourself to fall for them, and, ultimately, getting hurt by them. It’s not normal if you forget them in a day. If you had strong feelings towards this person, even if they damaged you to the core, chances are you’ll always care for them and probably will continue wishing them well because you don’t want to see them hurt. That’s something you’ll just have to accept and proves just how real you were. Being genuine shouldn't be embarrassing. It's sad how society glorifies being a "player" and vilifies being the one who got "played".
Many people fear feeling emotion to the extent that they get rebounds, drink their nights away, etc. Being open to feeling emotions is an important step in healing. Expressing pain is different for everyone. For some, art helps. For others, physical activity does. It’s all individualized. Everyone has a hobby/task that makes them feel better, whether it’s having a movie night with friends or going on a road trip alone. The point is just to let all the emotions out and to not be scared of vulnerability.
During this stage, it’s especially important not to be in contact with your ex. You’re in a vulnerable state and anyone can take advantage of that. Don’t fall back into the arms of toxicity.
5. Be Patient with Yourself
A while in and you may feel as if you’ve finally moved on. You may stop thinking about your past relationship as much and even find that you want to pursue another relationship (with someone else, of course). You may go on a few dates with another person and start liking them a lot. However, you may come to realize that you’re terrified by the idea of getting committed with this person because your past experience is catching up with you. You may feel as if this person will hurt you like your ex did. You may feel insecure and not good enough because your ex made you think that way. You may even start thinking that everyone you meet will damage you like your ex did.
Trauma is a common aftermath of toxic relationships. Be patient with yourself and don’t rush the healing process. It’s not easy to stand back up after someone pushed you to the ground so hard and didn’t even offer a hand to help you up. But it is possible.
Love yourself. It’s cliche, but in order to know what you deserve with confidence, you'll have to love yourself. Never put yourself on fire to warm someone else when they wouldn’t do the same for you. Unhealthy relationships are tricky because they usually start on a good note. This person may have promised to never hurt you, but in a few months, didn’t hesitate to do just that. Maybe they didn’t even do it once, but put you through it numerous times, but were too caught up in their own self-interest to notice that your colors were slowly fading away. Even their racing heart was a paid actor. Maybe you got normalized to the lies and now think that every relationship will flow that way. They won’t. You’ll find someone who adds color to your life, but don’t overlook yourself. You don’t need anyone to add color to your life if you already see it.
Although it sounds simple, falling in love with yourself is pretty difficult. It's so easy to point out everything that you hate about yourself. However, have you ever tried pointing out everything you love? Start by doing that. Changing your self-talk is crucial when you're on the self-love journey, directly followed by practising self-care and making time for yourself.
Make yourself a priority. It’s not selfish; it’s necessary. Don’t jump into any new relationships until you’ve fixed the one you have with yourself.
6. Do it for Yourself
Stop trying to prove other people wrong after they put you into a box. You’re the only person that can define you and, therefore, the only person that you have to prove wrong. Don’t invest your time and energy trying to live up to others' expectations, because frankly, there isn’t a very high-profit margin there.
Also, don’t let anyone, especially your toxic ex, take credit for YOUR hard work. If you flipped your life around, that was all YOU. If anything, your ex was a bump on the road. You had a life before your relationship and you will have one after. As long as you have yourself and your goals, you’re good to go. If your ex calls you names (because they love to do that, even if they were in the wrong), let them. Don’t stoop to their level and call them names back. At the end of the day, whoever tries to bring you down is already below you and their opinion doesn’t and shouldn’t matter.
5. Let Go
The biggest sign that you’ve healed is that you’ve let go. You've let go of any hard feelings and embraced forgiveness. You’ve found that you barely think about your ex and the relationship anymore. You were given the sunlight, but when the sun went down, heavy clouds followed. The rain poured and soon a storm broke out. However, through time, bits of sunlight started seeping through the dark clouds. Suddenly, it was scorching hot, but you healed from the burn of the sun and now are converging with a rainbow that restores all the colors you had gotten stripped of.
You’ve made it out and can finally breathe again. You’re powerful and you did it all by yourself.
It’s hard to forgive someone when they were never even sorry, but in order to move on, it’s pivotal to let go and set yourself free. Thank your ex for the tough but valuable adventure that you concluded by yourself. Close the book. Grab a new one, open it, and turn to the first page.
A greater adventure is awaiting you.