If you are in a toxic relationship and find yourself longing to be free from the negativity it causes in your life, yet you stand at the precipice, waiting, too afraid to take the leap off the metaphorical cliff, then read on, there is hope.
While letting go of anything can be very difficult, letting go of a toxic relationship can be extremely so; it is akin to letting go of a drug. An addiction to a person can be stronger than a heroin addiction. It requires facing your anxieties, grieving your losses, and coping with the emotions involved with fear, emptiness, rage, loneliness, betrayal, and many others.
One reason you may find your relationship addiction so difficult to break is because it meets your felt needs. It probably meets your somatic needs for human connection in tangible ways – physical, emotional, and social.
Another reason toxic relationships are so difficult to leave is because they hook you in by offering a “promise” to heal and resolve a core wound in your psyche. Perhaps you were ignored as a child or abandoned or were raised by a narcissistic parent. Some hurt that occurred in your early life left an open wound that you managed to cover up through the years by developing coping mechanisms and survival strategies. Core wounds get triggered when in toxic relationships because they offer you the hope to “FINALLY” get that unmet need met.
The reason you stay beyond what is reasonable is because you are holding on to false hope. The hope may even be unconscious, or barely perceivable to your conscious mind. You are hoping that that longing in your heart will be fulfilled when your toxic loved one finally “sees the light” and comes to his/her senses, meeting your need to be validated.
If you are at the place in your life where you are standing on the edge of the recovery cliff, looking out at the unknown, afraid to jump, then you are at what those in the addiction recovery field call the “preparation” phase of change making:
“At this stage people begin to see that they are responsible for their choices and have the power to make life-changing decisions. They need to do it for themselves, but need not do it by themselves. They set an intention to gather resources, whether it is in the form of therapeutic intervention, 12 step meetings or other sober supports. They set a timeline and may make a verbal or written commitment.” (Weinstein, 2015).
Once you realize a need to change, the next step is to Take Action:
“In this phase, people take the actual steps to engage in positive mental, emotional and physical change by immersing themselves in recovery. This is a “life makeover” that could include developing a fitness plan, dietary adaptation, as well as time with positive people and activities that are heart- and soul-nourishing. This is the time to “re-write” their life story, reminding them that their history is not their destiny.” (Weinstein, 2015).
Taking action involves five steps:
(1) Decide to be loyal to yourself rather than the other person.
(2) Be committed to reality and recovery.
(3) Challenge your current belief system.
(4) Determine what is healthy for you to do.
(5) Physically take action that involves taking care of yourself.
Moving on requires you to look forward rather than to the past for guidance. Ask yourself, “What can I do today that is healthiest for my future self?” When you find yourself tempted to look in the rear view mirror at your life, pondering how you could have done things better to make the relationship work, stop and remind yourself that you alone are not responsible for the success of any relationship.
Also, it is important to be mindful that toxic people are incapable of having healthy relationships with any other person, not just you. You can turn yourself into a pretzel (and I’m sure you’ve already tried that,) but nothing works. Stop the torture and just face the truth – your loved one is limited and incapable of doing better.
Also, encourage yourself with these realities:
- It’s not your fault.
- You did’t cause it and you can’t cure it.
- You can choose to believe in a better tomorrow.
- You can stop idealizing the relationship.
- You don’t need to hold on to regret. You can choose to let go of it.
One thing that will really help you to move on is to picture in your mind’s eye you literally turning the page in a book to a new chapter. Look at “Moving On” or “Next” as the title of this chapter if you like. If you find yourself reminiscing over what used to be or what could have been, stop yourself and picture yourself turning the page to the next chapter of your life.
This next chapter is a blank canvas waiting for you to paint on it. Draw your future. Take care of yourself at all times. Do not overly dramatize your past relationship. Grieve its ending, wipe your tears, determine to be strong, and look to a happier future.
Weinstein, E. (2015). The Six Stages of Change in Addiction Recovery. Living Sober, Taking Care of Yourself, published January 26, 2015.