This was the week of talking to people who have just gotten out of bad relationships. It is such an excruciating process, isn’t it? Particularly if it was not a “we just grew apart” break-up but more of an, “I completely lost myself in this relationship” kind of a thing. I’ve talked a lot with people on how to start to recover from this experience, how to move forward, and how to start to know yourself again and have compassion for yourself.
These same people have all had one thing in common-they’ve wanted to explain why they stayed for so long. The thing is- I don’t need the explanation. I get it. But I wonder if instead, they are still asking themselves why they did. So here’s the thing: Getting out of a relationship that is abusive in some way (emotional, verbal, physical, or sexual) or even just really toxic is way easier said than done.
We begin to believe that we cannot live or breathe without this person in our life. They may have told us this directly (“no one else would want you…”) or we may have given ourselves that message over time as our confidence gets broken down. When you’re in it, the thought of leaving is there, but so quickly dismissed as thoughts of being inadequate or lonely or whatever else take over.
Changing the way we think about ourselves and relationships can be quite the challenge. Our thoughts are often so engrained that we don’t even realize that we are thinking them. Thoughts of not being good enough, wishing we could go back in time and do things differently, or general self-criticism.
So how do we start to feel good again?
This is a loaded question of course. Everyone recovers at a different rate and needs different tools. Here are a few ideas to get you started, but this is by no means the answer as much as a few things to look further into.
- Give yourself time. It does not heal overnight and this is okay.
- See it as a learning experience and an experience to grow from. You can’t change the past and what has already happened. It’s no longer happening now. You have survived this relationship/break-up and you are strong.
- Write it out. Write down the whole story, start to finish. Keep it if you want to or don’t, whatever feels best.
- Talk about it. Not non-stop. Not to everyone. But to a few trusted people. You need support.
- Decide what’s next. Think about your next great endeavor, a new hobby to start, a new exercise routine, a new way of thinking and something to find joy in.
- Stop following them on social media. I know this is hard. I get it. But it’s counterproductive. If they’re doing great, that sucks. If they’re doing horrible, that sucks too. There’s no winning at this. And remember, everyone’s life is different on social media than in real life.
- Catch your thoughts that are a result of the relationship. Whether they are things your ex used to say to you, or things you believe as a result. Catch the thoughts that put you down and challenge them. Ask yourself, “Where did this thought come from?” then “What is a more productive/positive way of thinking?” For example, you spill something on your new shirt, you might have an automatic thought of, “Of course this would happen to me. I was a fool to think I could pull off wearing a white shirt. I’m such a slob.” Catch it. Remember that the ex always pointed out your faults or called you a “slob”. Then reframe it. “Ugh, that’s annoying. Oh well, let me see if I can get the stain out. If not, I can always run home/to the store on my lunch and get a different shirt. Not the end of the world.”
- Find a way to start really caring for yourself. Enjoy your new found freedom. Go out with friends, get the massage, eat good food, watch the shows you love, whatever taking care of yourself means to you-do that. Check out the Rockstar’s Guide to Self Care.
- Remember that this was not true love. Someone who really loves you will not make you feel bad about yourself, will not put you down, and will not leave you feeling anxious and tearful. You will not have to feel as though you need to convince them to love you or to stay. In a healthy relationship you will feel lifted up and as though they bring out the best in you. Keep this in mind moving forward.
- Stay single for a while. No need to rush into a new relationship. You don’t have to be completely healed to move on as I sometimes think a new relationship can be helpful in the end stages of healing. But by the same token, don’t jump right back into another relationship before you are ready. You need time and space for yourself first in order to re-center and regain confidence.
- When you do finally feel ready to start again remember that it is okay to set boundaries and to have expectations for the relationship and how you expect to be treated. If you start to see the red flags, it is okay to say, “I will not tolerate that.” Whether it is the way you are spoken to, someone showing up an hour late, etc. It is necessary to let someone know your expectations and to hold them to them. Along those same lines, boundaries are necessary. Whether it is something you are not yet ready to do or talk about or some part of your life you are not yet ready to share, this is all okay. Trust your gut. Take your time. This is not a race.
- In all of it, have compassion for yourself. Remember that you could not have known what you didn’t know before you knew it. Now use that knowledge and experience to invite positivity and self-love into your life. Let go of what was to make space for what is.
I hope you find these ideas helpful. As I said, this is not the full answer, and getting over a break up is not a simple task- professional support can be vital in helping you move forward with your life and your journey.