While my ex-husband might have been the right person for me when I was young, we grew up and the relationship became toxic. I jumped from a 12-year relationship gone bad directly into the most toxic relationship I’ve ever known. When it ended only a few months later, I was too depressed, lonely, and self-blaming to see the red flags in my next relationship. It’s a fact that a toxic relationship can leave you emotionally damaged, but it is possible to bounce back and create healthy boundaries for yourself in the future. Here are some things you might be feeling after your toxic relationship has ended, and how to move past them.
- Your self-esteem takes a huge hit. According to Dr. Jason Whitin Ph.D., LMFT, “Toxic relationships wear people down and have serious effects on one’s self-worth and feelings of dignity. They can be traumatic and leave permanent emotional damage…” Spending some time focusing on self-love and self-care is vital for recovery.
- You become pessimistic. A toxic relationship can leave you feeling really negative about putting yourself out there in the future because you’re so emotionally damaged. It is possible to look at dating in a positive way again- just remember all the new knowledge you have gained and are able to apply going forward.
- You’re too afraid to let your guard down. You’re emotionally damaged. I get it. Hurt me once, shame on me. Hurt me 1,432,526 times…still, shame on you, but now I’m all messed up. Having been manipulated or abused triggers your “fight or flight” response, and can leave you feeling totally resistant to letting yourself be vulnerable with someone new. It is possible to let those walls down, but it will take considerable acceptance and lots of patience from a new partner to get there.
- You’ve lost friendships. Whether your friends don’t like your partner, or they don’t agree with changes in you, it’s not unusual to have some people abandon you along the way during a toxic relationship. Try to remember that those people had their reasons, and focus on strengthening the relationships with those that stuck by you.
- Your communication skills are lacking. Between gaslighting and other manipulation tactics found in toxic relationships, it’s hard to know what to believe as you venture back into dating- and this can affect the way you communicate with others. There are many things you can do to improve communication in your relationship, including checking in with your partner often and being clear and honest about your needs. When you’re emotionally damaged, it can be extra challenging, but it’s worth working on.
More ways you end up damaged emotionally after a toxic relationship
- You’ve developed trust issues. There are many things a toxic relationship can teach you, but more likely than not you’ve learned a lot of things that encourage you not to want to trust a significant other ever again. Focus on the way you feel when you’re around your partner, remember that each relationship is different, and do your best not to carry that baggage with you into the new one.
- You’ve been damaged physically as well as emotionally. Toxic relationships can lead to all sorts of physical health issues such as high blood pressure, inflammation, and even chronic stress responses like feeling in a constant state of “flight or fight.” Leaving a toxic relationship can literally save your life.
- Your mental health is suffering. According to this study on social relationships and depression, it was found that “across all types of social relationships, poor quality in core relationships was associated with a significantly higher risk of depression.” Be sure to put your mental well-being at the forefront while healing from a toxic relationship- whether that includes therapy, talking to a trusted friend, etc.
- You lose yourself. In any relationship, even a healthy one, you might feel like you’re losing yourself, but it’s a whole different level when you’re in a toxic relationship. It leaves you damaged emotionally to ane extreme degree. Learning why it is that you have this change in identity while coupled up is the key to recognizing the signs and preventing it from happening in the future.
- You become toxic too. According to Steven Stosny, Ph.D., “Abuse victims, like anyone in relationships with high emotional reactivity, build automatic defense systems, which include preemptive strikes – if you expect to be criticized, stonewalled, or demeaned, you may well do it first.” It is important to reflect and recognize these behaviors in yourself so you can let go of them before moving into a new relationship. You don’t have to be emotionally damaged forever, but it will take time and work to work through that feeling before you’re ready for something new.
- You are even more confused about what a healthy relationship should look like. Sometimes you think you are leaving a toxic relationship armed with the knowledge of what not to do next time, only to find yourself in an even more toxic relationship after that. This is what happens when you’re emotionally damaged. Remember that it’s always OK (and beneficial!) to take some extra time to heal, date yourself, and reflect on what you need to build a healthy relationship in the future.