6 Things To Do When Leaving a Toxic Relationship

  • Strategies on recovery and healing after ending a toxic relationship

We’ve all had toxic relationships of one form or another—whether it be a friend, a family member or an intimate relationship. Some relationships such as with family members may be hard to break but others such as intimate relationships often need to be ended.

If you are in a toxic relationship and have decided to end it, be prepared to face more challenges than you thought. Although you will have great relief at first, you will more than likely fall back in to old thinking patterns and you will have the urge to contact the individual who is not healthy for you or to use other unhealthy coping mechanisms. But there are certain things you can do to get through the breakup period successfully in order for you to find yourself again, love yourself again and to start your new life.

1. Have Absolutely No Contact With the Individual  

Having no contact with your ex will be extremely difficult. At first, you will feel a great deal of relief and freedom. You have just gotten out of a very stressful and controlling situation and will feel like the hard part is over. In fact, the hardest part is just beginning. The relief and stress you feel will dissipate over time. What you will be left with is the mourning of the good times and the loss of love. Your strength and anger will fade leaving you vulnerable. Often times in a toxic relationship, the dynamics and just what really happened leave you in a state of confusion. You feel a lack of closure.

After all, your ex more than likely put the fair share of the failed relationship on you and you feel guilty and internalize their narrative. But that is precisely why you should avoid all contact with your ex. They will not give you the closure you need. Only you can do that. What they can do is confuse you more either through manipulation or denial of their responsibility. In healthy relationships, one walks away hurt and disappointed, but not devastated and destroyed. You have been devastated and destroyed for a reason, and those reasons aren’t healthy nor functional. So it is best that you start healing, recovering and building without the interference from your ex. Maintaining contact with him or her will only keep you in their reality and away from yours. You have been systematically disassembled and you need to rebuild yourself based on your interest, values and view of the world.

2. Journal

Keep a journal of your thought process and memories. Write down every example of toxicity that you can remember. Write down your feelings on why you were unhappy and why the relationship ended. Use this journal as your manifesto. Write this as you would be writing to your future self. It is not the writing that is so therapeutic, although it is, but it is the reading your thoughts later that has the most benefits. You will feel weak several times a day for a long time to come. When you are weak, pick up your journal and randomly read your entries. You will find you gain strength from remembering how things really were and just how stressful the situation was. What you are reading is the reality of the situation and the not the idealized memories you are recalling when you are weak. Reading your journal will help give you strength and pull you to a place where you can focus on going forward. 

3. Rely on Friends and Family

You are not going to be able to get through the breakup alone. Use your friends and family as a support system to get you through this time. Often in dysfunctional relationships, it is the victim vs. the perpetrator behind closed doors in battle. More times than not, you will leave arguments or discussions in a state of confusion and self doubt. When the relationship is over, you will replay these discussions over and over again in your mind trying to make some sense of things. Talking with friends and family can give you a third party to analyze the dynamics of your relationship and help lift the fog from your mind. They can objectively shed new light on your experiences and provide a sense of clarity. Be prepared to be honest and vulnerable in these conversations. Also be open to feedback in adjustments you can make going forward—not necessarily to save the failed relationship, but to come to your new relationships with more awareness and a new set of skills.

4. Fill the Void

Part of the trouble in leaving a toxic relationship is that there is a huge void to fill. You have been accustomed to having your ex usurping most of your energy. They have undoubtedly controlled you to various degrees, tapped your emotional energy and filled the majority of your time with their drama and demands. After your relationship, you will have more freedom than you thought and you will feel a void.

You may have the urge to fill that void with other toxicity, as you have been conditioned to have a certain level of toxicity in your life. So be leery of filling the void with alcohol, drugs, sex, jumping into another relationship or other addictive behaviors. You may also have the desire to fill the void with your ex again. He or she has created situations in the past where they have hurt you or caused you so much confusion, yet they have “rescued” you time and time again. They have stepped in and made the pain stop. You are so grateful to be saved, you forget all about what caused the pain in the first place. All you remember is the beauty of being saved. Thus, you embark on a new high. This, in and of itself, is an addictive pattern. There will be an overwhelming urge to allow your ex to come in yet again and wipe the pain away, just like a drug addict when he or she gets that next relief. They cannot save you. Their salvation is false, temporary and will only lead to another cycle of pain. You have to save yourself. Seek positive interests and hobbies and surround yourself with good, caring people.

5. Give Yourself Time 

Be prepared for your recovery to last longer than you hope for or even expect. Healing from a toxic relationship is one of the most brutal things an individual can go through. There will be times when you are frustrated. You want to move on but you just can’t. Accept this as part of the process and even embrace it. You have a lot of healing and hard work to do and it doesn’t happen overnight. Indeed, some friends and family may get frustrated with you because they just want you to be happy again. Some days, consider it a victory just to make it through the day. There is no timetable for healing. This is another reason you may be tempted to engage in toxic behaviors—you just want to feel good again, or at least escape the pain for a while. But giving yourself time, keeping expectations low, and embracing the pain and process will allow for no shortcuts. When you have healed, you will have healed totally and completely.

6. Seek Professional Help

Talking with a trained professional will help you put things in to perspective and will help you develop the tools necessary to guide your thought process in the most productive manner. They can help put you on the right track and keep you there.  It is not a sign of weakness to seek professional help. It is a sign of strength. A professional can also be on the lookout for signs of depression, anxiety and post traumatic stress which may need to be addressed from a medical standpoint.

The overall theme when leaving a toxic relationship is to be kind to yourself. You have been through a war and you have gotten through the relationship itself. But that is only part of the battle. Recovery is a battle unto itself. The difference is that you are in charge of this battle, not someone else. You may have forgotten how to take care of yourself and to put yourself first. It is time to focus that energy you have been throwing down a black hole and to place it on yourself. Love and be kind to yourself just like you would to your loved ones.

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Greg Hood

Greg Hood is a freelance writer, a social work professional and a proud father currently residing in Charlotte, NC.

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