When I left a decade long toxic relationship six years ago, it was a massive step towards regaining control of myself by walking away, but I still wasn’t anywhere close to being fully ‘me’ again.

I’d thought regaining control was just about leaving and in many ways it was. But it was also about processing the trauma, healing, learning to forgive myself and finding self-love again. If you’re on that journey, good for you! Here’s a few things I’ve learned about redirecting that self-shame and taking steps forward to rebuild the relationship with myself again.

“If you walked away from a toxic, negative, abusive, one-sided, dead-end, low vibrational relationship or friendship – you won.”

Lalah Delia , Writer

My Toxic Relationship – How it all began

Toxic relationships don’t always begin that way. In a report funded by the Oak Foundation to undertake research of psychological violence, they ascertained that ‘at the beginning of their relationships, 96% of survivors said their partner was charming and affectionate’ and ‘93% said they expressed love for them very quickly’. Additionally abusive behaviour is interspersed with warmth and kindness, slowly desensitising the victim to the behaviour.

I’ve been here. I was happy. They showered me with affection. I fell in love. And then I jumped in head first because I believed I knew that person and had faith the relationship was one worth investing in. So when the relationship progressed to emotionally abusive, I was unprepared. The changes were so far removed from what I had experienced at the beginning of the relationship. I kept hoping for things to go back to what they’d once been. Over-egging the good times as they gave me glimmers of hope for that return to the normality I had entered into, and ignoring the bad, which had become my norm. It was hard to understand and accept that the person I had fallen in love with didn’t exist anymore.

No-one enters a relationship thinking it will be anything other than blissful happiness

Relationships can bring so much joy but unfortunately I learnt that they can just as easily bring you pain. A toxic relationship affects all aspects of life. Experiencing psychological abuse can stunt personal growth and change you. Who I was prior to and who I became throughout the relationship were so desperately at odds with one another. And the trouble is, psychological abuse can be one of the hardest forms of abuse to determine when experiencing it.

I spent a lot of time feeling shame about how long I spent in that situation. If you’re reflecting back and experiencing the same, go easy on yourself. Because no-one enters a relationship thinking it will be anything other than blissful happiness, which is why it is so hard to accept when it brings us the exact opposite.

“There are people who bring you down by just being them. They need not do anything.”

Malebo Sephodi , Author

My self-directed blame didn’t do anything other than keep me in the past

I couldn’t change what had happened, but I also didn’t want to let it define me or my future. Although it’s hard to forgive myself that I didn’t see what the relationship would become, and that I stayed because I hoped for it to be better. But I could learn from it and make sure that my future came with better wisdom on how to avoid a toxic relationship. Nothing positive would come from punishing myself for a bad decision. I’d walked away, and there wasn’t any point doing that if I was going to keep living in the past. I realised that it was healthier to learn from those decisions, recognise how and why that relationship was toxic, and try not to make those same choices again.

“May you reach that level within, where you no longer allow your past or people with toxic intentions to negatively affect or condition you.”

— Lalah Delia, Writer

Rebuilding My Relationship With Me – A little self care

I’d spent a period of my life concentrating on someone else and often being consumed by how to keep them happy, and never achieving that. But now, this time was all about me. So self-care was a key aspect of regaining control. And not just the emotional kind in replacing self-blame with a little self-love. But the physical kind too; healthy actions towards rebuilding and protecting that newfound sense of self. Being a little selfish, concentrating on my own wants and needs, making sure I had good people in my social circle. Everything I did had myself as the priority.

Toxic relationships are traumatic to say the least. In fact, that’s a massive fucking understatement. So that trauma required a shit load of productive steps forward. I went about reigniting my passions. Exploring my freedom. I found it truly cathartic to do things that I’d wanted to do for years but hadn’t been able too because of the toxic relationship I’d been in. And self-care for me was also found in reflection. I wanted to really understand who I was and what I wanted from life. It was time to invest in a healthy relationship and this one was with myself

True self-care is not bath salts and chocolate cake, it’s making the choice to build a life you don’t need to escape from.”

— Brianna West, Writer

Sharing with those who will support

One of the key signs of a toxic relationship is when a partner creates a barrier between a person and their loved ones. It’s all about isolation, so they are more dependent on them. I don’t know about anyone else who’s been through this, but for me, it lead to pretending that my relationship was okay from the outside, leading to me also doing this from the inside too. I minimised the issues and worked hard to convince myself that everything was okay. That the relationship was normal. Nothing to see here folks.

It also made it so goddamn hard to finally tell the truth of what my relationship had been. Talking about what I’d been through with friends and family felt so unnatural after so long hiding everything. But seriously, sharing with those who I trusted would listen and support me, that was just another step in the rebuild journey.

Because whilst it was difficult to over-ride the feeling that I shouldn’t or couldn’t speak about the psychological abuse I’d experienced, it actually became this huge step in overcoming and helping me get rid of that feeling of isolation. I reclaimed a part of me I’d lost in doing it – that ability to just be myself, and share whatever I wanted to share, with no sense of fear holding me back. It was freeing to be totally honest about what I’d gone through.

Embracing the new me

It wasn’t entirely a new me, because a lot of the aftermath was just about remembering the old me. But there was also this celebration of who I was in the present moment, and I hadn’t liked present day Amy very much for a really long time. And then there was all this excitement for the future, another thing I’d lost momentum for. Every day was a step forwards and I remember thinking that at the time. Because I was no longer stuck, struggling, or avoiding. Nor making myself small and in a lot of ways, a little invisible.

Slowly, I’d gone from getting into the car, starting the ignition, meandering down some residential streets, getting a bit lost here and there, and then I was off. Full speed open topping it down a highway with the wind in my hair.

“Let go out of the harsh self-judgement, and start replacing those with loving thoughts about yourself. Learn to be kind to yourself, and your outside world will change as well.”

— Efrat Cybulkiewicz, Painter & Photographer

Nothing about this self-rebuild journey has been easy or straightforward

I still occasionally feel a flash of anger at time lost and spent in that toxic relationship, but I think that’s just natural after becoming whole again and I know deep down that self-directional anger serves no purpose. Healing has been a lot about learning to be kind and gentle to myself – not an unchallenging task when you’ve has someone else chastising you for so long. But I realised that I wasn’t required to do it to myself now.

My revenge was taking back control of me

Forgiving myself for having literally no way of knowing that the person I fell in love with would turn into somebody else. Releasing that shame that I’d loved another enough to stay in the hope that they would change. All of it I learned from. None of it I will repeat. I’m wiser, have greater knowledge to avoid similar relationships in the future and there is so much power in that. So I’ve forgiven myself, I just won’t forget the lessons learned.

If you’re resonating with my journey in some way, keep that convertible top down, wind in your hair, and enjoy the sunshine on your face whilst speeding down that highway. We may have taken a wrong turn on route but that road sign was bloody misleading. We’re on the right track now and heading in the right direction. There’s a full tank of gas in the tank. The possibilities are limitless. Enjoy reclaiming control of you, because you deserve so much peace, love and happiness.

“You take your power back by letting people go.”

— Emma Xu

Have you been in a toxic relationship? How did you regain control of you? Please share your comments below.

By Amy Roullier
By Amy Roullier

Amy is the Founder and Editor of The Authentic Optimist. She talks all things life. From the highs to the lows, to all those messy bits in-between. She is a writer, rambler, lover of carbs (her true soulmate) and she is especially passionate about dispelling myths about women in their 30s. Amy lives in Lincolnshire with her two greyhounds.

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