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Overcoming the Aftermath of Leaving a Toxic Relationship

Toxic relationships are directly related to mental health.

Pixabay, used with permission
Source: Pixabay, used with permission

Recently I published a couple of articles on toxic relationships that focused on how to recognize toxic individuals and toxic relationships and how to leave a toxic relationship and still love yourself. Relationships do not directly result in mental health disorders and eating disorders but trauma secondary to toxic relationships is a definite trigger. May is Mental Health Awareness Month and we often stray away from talking about the aftermaths of toxic relationships due to the stigma that is associated with toxicity and mental health. However, we must talk about it because it is something that affects many individuals on a daily basis.

“Most of us have been involved in a toxic relationship at one time or another in our lifetimes. We all have been in the company of others who did not act for the greater good of anyone besides themselves. Toxicity comes in all forms: name-calling, physical abuse, lying, gossip and all the internal turmoil that results from being in an unhealthy relationship. Whether it is a personal relationship involving a family member, lover or a friend, or a professional relationship involving a co-worker or a boss, toxic relationships can damage and leave long-lasting effects on the person involved in one”.

The effects of a toxic relationship

Toxic relationships are harmful to all parties involved and can cause lasting damaging effects even after you leave the relationship behind. The media often portrays individuals committing suicide or harming their spouse and child and we often do not realize the brutal pretenses leading up to these heartbreaking events. Trauma secondary to toxic relationships can cause people to act in ways that are unimaginable, brutal and devastating. Once a loved one leaves a toxic relationship we often exhale a huge sigh of relief and continue our daily activities without thinking if our loved one is enduring emotional and mental pain and/or trauma that has incurred from this toxic relationship. This trauma can often lead to feelings of depression, anxiety, disordered eating, low self-esteem and self-harm such as cutting. Mental health and traumatic triggers are directly linked to toxic relationships and vice versa. The chronic emotional and mental stress of being surrounded by a toxic individual can take a toll on your mental health. You can find yourself feeling isolated, sad, stressed, not good enough, worthless and these thoughts and emotions can lead to eating disorders and mental health disorders. The aftermaths of leaving a toxic relationship can also lead individuals to develop toxic characteristics of their own which can potentially harm their future relationships and friendships.

Recognizing that you are in a toxic relationship is the first step to improving your mental health and the second step is leaving that toxic relationship but the final step to bettering yourself is making sure you are dealing with your internal mental and emotional trauma in a positive manner. Recognizing and acknowledging these feelings and behaviors that can soon develop after exiting a toxic relationship is an extremely important step in your journey to becoming mentally and emotionally healthy. If you feel like you cannot handle these feelings on your own, it is perfectly acceptable to seek help from a mental health professional.

How to take care of yourself after exiting a toxic relationship

Pixabay, used with permission
Source: Pixabay, used with permission
  • Surround yourself with positive people
  • Maintain a good and constant support group
  • Practice self-care whether this is exercise, reading a good book, or buying yourself a gift
  • Do not allow feelings of regret or self-doubt to manifest on a regular basis
  • Take time for yourself before you dive back into another relationship
  • Talk about your feelings
  • Seek professional help if necessary
  • Do not be afraid of sharing your story or feeling shame for what you experienced
  • Make new friends
  • Do not victimize yourself but instead view yourself as a strong individual

Self-blame and the aftermath

After exiting a toxic relationship it is normal for individuals to become tangled in self-blame and remember the good times but forget the name-calling, the manipulation, the control and the isolation. It is important to keep in mind that you left the relationship for a reason because you were being treated poorly and regardless of the kind words, romantic gestures, or strong chemistry your partner provided, your partner also left you broken and emotionally traumatized. Self-blame is a defense mechanism we often use to cover up our internal battle wounds but we must recognize that self-blame is a form of toxicity in itself.

Pixabay, used with permission.
Source: Pixabay, used with permission.

Don’t allow that person to keep a piece of your heart forever

I believe that after every heartbreak, you leave a piece of you with that other person, and you may not ever get that piece back. Over time that emptiness will heal and can fill with joy, even though experiences, memories, thoughts, emotions, tears, and laughter may always be left with past individuals with whom you have shared your life. This is the human experience and the journey to find true love. Loving yourself is the most important step in a relationship and the most important step after leaving a relationship. Remember to stay true to yourself and always “check in” to make sure you are emotionally and mentally healing from your past trauma.

More from Kristen Fuller, M.D.
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