Toxic Relationships, Opportunities for Growth

Toxic relationships are defined as relationships that leave you feeling used, taken advantage of and angry not only at the abuser but also at yourself for allowing the abuse to take place. At some point you begin recognizing the patterns of abuse and toxicity and you may choose to walk away from these unhealthy relationships. Now that you’ve made up your mind, you should feel wonderful, right? Not necessarily.

Even though you know that you are probably better off in the long run, at this moment you just feel deep sadness and loss. Your mind tells you that ending the relationship is better for you, but your heart says you still love this person. Life as you know it is not the same. There is an ache in your heart for the loss of someone you loved, a relationship you once cherished, laughter you once shared and you know that those moments can never be had again.

May be, your intimate partner was controlling and verbally abusive at times. He kept you away from your friends and family. May be your friend was always using you as a babysitter but never ever returned the favor. May be, she was manipulative and everything was always your fault. Regardless of all the negativity, you still shared some moments of love and friendship. You begin doubting yourself and your moments. Was any of it real?

The end of a relationship is never easy regardless of whether the relationship was healthy or not; whether it’s a relationship with a friend that has come to an end, the death of a loved one, or the ending of a romantic relationship. The experience may be overwhelming and wrought with confusion. You may be consumed with conflicting feelings of sadness, anger, and resentment. 

A tumultuous abusive relationship may have a more significant impact. May be, you just feel numb and disconnected from your experiences and a loss of pleasure in activities you once enjoyed. These are symptoms that are classically associated with depression. If you find yourself experiencing symptoms like these, seek the care of a mental health professional. An emotionally abusive relationship can cause you to question yourself and may result in you doubting your decisions about everything. It’s important to tap into your support systems in order to heal from the trauma of an abusive relationship.

Despite the toxicity of an abusive relationship, it’s ok to miss the person you loved. They were not good for you, but you still shared some special moments and its’ ok to want to hold on to those memories. No one can take them away from you. Don’t beat yourself up for loving someone who was toxic.

With each loss, with each major life experience, you change, you evolve into a wiser, more aware, version of yourself. With that wisdom comes a greater understanding of your interpersonal relationships, of people and the world around you. You are able to make better choices, set new goals and achieve new personal heights. The road may be bumpy, but growing wiser is sometimes painful.

Now what? What are the main take aways from a toxic relationship? Toxic relationships are a lesson in setting boundaries. As you walk into your next relationship you will do so aware of some potential pit falls. It’s not always necessary to ‘end’ a toxic relationship. Many times, you can redefine the relationship and take it in a healthy direction as long as there is no physical abuse involved. For example, in an intimate partner relationship you communicate that you are not ok with them telling you who to meet and whom not to. If your partner respects your boundary, then you know they are capable of working with you towards redefining the relationship and taking it in a healthy direction. If not, they may not be capable of doing so.

 A close friend who is constantly blaming you for everything that goes wrong needs to take responsibility for their actions at some point. If you attempt to communicate your feelings and your expectations in a respectful manner and they invalidate your feelings or refuse to accept your new boundaries, then this is your signal to redefine the relationship. It is not necessary to ‘end’ the relationship but it may be necessary to put some distance/space between you and this friend.

In some cases certain ‘friends’ are extremely toxic, but you share mutual friends. May be, you just ended an intimate partner relationship and you share mutual friends with your partner or even children. Does this mean you lose all your friends? Do your kids or your friends have to take sides? Ideally, the answer is no.

The first step is accepting the fact that this friend/ex-husband/ex-girlfriend is not going away and may always be present in your life. You are not able to eliminate them from your life. You have to learn to work with them. You may have to cope with them being a part of your life. Initially, this may be difficult. Don’t expect your friends or your children to take sides and don’t put them in a position where they feel that have to. Automatically burning bridges with mutual friends because you are afraid they won’t ‘choose’ you are actions rooted in fear. People worth maintaining as friends will not automatically eliminate you from their lives. Trust your relationships. Even though, you may be plagued with self doubt and anxiety, trust that whatever is happening is life’s way of eliminating negativity from your life and helping you grow as a person.

The end or redefinition of a relationships is often plagued with fear for everyone involved. As you navigate the new realities of these relationships it’s important not to isolate yourself or alienate others because of assumptions rooted in fear. The only person who will loose out will be you. Give yourself time to heal, you've been through a lot. Find a safe space to vent and share your experiences whether that’s a close friend, a trusted confidante or your therapist.