How Toxic Relationships Affect You Even After You’re Out Of Them

You did it! You got out of the toxic relationships you were in, and now you’re ready to rebuild your life. Why, then, do you still feel weighed down by those unhealthy bonds? Even after leaving them, relationships can leave a mark. Here are the surprising ways the toxic relationships of your past affect you long after you leave them behind.

  1. You blame yourself. After dealing with a toxic relationship, it’s common to blame yourself for what happened. You may feel like you were the cause of the relationship problems, or at minimum, it’s your fault for falling for someone who was so wrong for you. Part of you might even believe that if only you made wiser decisions, the relationship would still exist today, and perhaps without all the toxic baggage. It’s important to remember that an unhealthy relationship requires two people to maintain it. While you’re responsible for some aspects of the relationship problems, you certainly aren’t solely to blame. Not only that, but you are never at fault for someone else’s abusive or manipulative behaviors.
  2. You feel numb. Toxic relationships can stir up a whirlwind of emotions, and when the relationship ends and everything settles, you might realize that it still affects you because you actually feel, well, nothing. You’re not happy or sad; you’re just numb. It’s normal to feel numb temporarily after leaving a bad relationship. As you start recovering and picking up the pieces of your life, slowly you should start to notice your feelings (both positive and uncomfortable ones) returning.
  3. You lost your sense of self. Our identities can get all wrapped up in toxic relationships, especially if you molded your personality and interests to be like your ex’s. Now, without that relationship, you’re lost and wondering who you really are. This is a scary, yet constructive, phase to be in. You probably weren’t your best self in that relationship, but now you have a chance to reclaim and reinvent who you really are.
  4. You’re scared of choosing the wrong person again. People don’t come with a warning label. If they did, dating would be so much easier. While toxic partners might wave some red flags early in the relationship, others are master manipulators, making it nearly impossible to see their true colors until later. Trust that you did the best you could, and you’re capable of making better relationship choices in the future.
  5. You gaslight yourself. After an abusive relationship, you might have trouble trusting your own judgment. If you were gaslighted by a toxic ex, it’s common to internalize their words and second-guess everything you think or feel. You might believe you’re too crazy to be trusted, or that you’re just too sensitive and overthinking everything. Then, when you start dating again, you may shut down the signals your gut is trying to tell you, choosing to put blind faith in a new person instead of having faith in yourself.
  6. You crave and fear intimacy simultaneously. After being seriously burned by a past partner, vulnerability might start to look like the enemy. What if you open up and get close, only to be hurt again? This doesn’t mean you avoid relationships entirely, though. But when you start a new relationship, you might feel yourself switching between hot and cold, craving closeness yet pushing it away soon after.
  7. You prefer chaos over calm. You might subconsciously gravitate towards toxic relationships after being in one before because it feels familiar. The constant ups and downs, the chase, the feeling of reward when the other person finally gives you a little attention—you deserve so much better than this, yet a healthy and calm relationship might actually freak you out. This is a normal response after a traumatic relationship, but it’s a response worth working to change.
  8. You feel disconnected and alone. Toxic relationships often involve enmeshment, where there are no clear boundaries or separation between two people. While in your toxic relationship, you may have neglected friendships, and likewise, some friends may have distanced themselves if they didn’t agree with your relationship. Even if this isn’t the case, it’s typical to feel disconnected or alone after leaving toxic relationships. You may think that people can’t understand what you’re going through, or that they’ll judge or take advantage of you like your toxic partner did.
  9. You settle for superficial relationships. It’s common to turn to quick flings after a bad breakup. But this is especially true if you were in a toxic relationship, and settling for shallow connections may even become a long-term habit. One common quality of toxic relationships is that there’s a major power imbalance. Because of this, you might be desperate to regain power (and even overpower others) after leaving that relationship. To cope, you become a bona fide female player. Playing the field isn’t always a bad thing, but when it comes to healing after a toxic relationship, it can only distract you for so long.
  10. You learn to recover and move on. Toxic relationships can linger long after they’re gone. But eventually, you’ll start to notice you feel free and empowered to explore other options, whether that be enjoying the single life or dating better people. The truth is your toxic relationships will continue to affect you. You have a bundle of memories and experiences wrapped up in those relationships that you can’t just leave in the past. But you can use that to your advantage. Sometimes, it takes being in a bad relationship (or several) to finally learn that you deserve better. And sometimes, finding the right person means learning to avoid the wrong ones. No matter what stage you’re currently at after leaving a toxic relationship, trust that there’s a brighter, non-toxic future ahead.
Relationship educator, writer, host of the Relationship Reminders podcast, and mental health advocate hailing from the US and currently based in Tokyo