How to Heal From Unhealthy Relationships
May is mental health month, so I thought it would be a good time to share this article that I wrote for the One Love Foundation, Survivors Share How They Are Healing From Their Unhealthy Relationships.
Forget your normal breakup protocol, healing from an unhealthy or abusive relationship can be a long process, especially when you had strong feelings for the person that treated you unfairly. There isn’t a manual to walk you through the recovery process and without the support of positive people that you trust, it can be daunting and you might slip back into old patterns.
There is no quick and easy formula to heal from the experience but, I thought, who better to ask for advice on this than someone who has actually been through it? This led me to reach out to several survivors who haven’t looked back since they bravely walked away from their unhealthy relationships. Here’s what they had to say:
Over and over I heard many of the survivors say how important it was to take time to acknowledge and process what they’d been through, no matter how painful it seemed. “The biggest thing has been working with a therapist who helped me identify the covert tactics of my ex as abusive and heal from my abusive relationship,” said E.S.
While K.B. explained that if you are healing from an unhealthy relationship, you should “Write down what happened, talk about it with friends, express it in some way to get it all out. As challenging and intimidating as this may be, you’ll feel much better afterward and be able to move on to bigger and better things.”
Learn the Signs of An Unhealthy Relationship
There are no classes (yet) to teach people how to coexist in a healthy relationship so when you’re exiting an unhealthy one, know that you’re not alone. In fact, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 3 men will be in an unhealthy relationship. Despite these daunting statistics we’ve found the best way to avoid unhealthy partners is to know the signs of a toxic relationship before it escalates. B. says, “For me, reading other people’s stories and just educating myself on what I was going through made me feel better.” And E.S. says, “Learning how complex abuse really is, how abusers operate, and how I could take steps to make sure I was never a victim again helped me take my power back.”
Process Your Feelings
For K.B, not taking the time to address what she had been through had real consequences. Here’s how K.B. explained what happened, “I woke up every day with a smile on my face, physically feeling lighter and knowing I didn’t have to answer to them anymore. I was so focused on the celebration and moving on that I never really processed what happened to me. A couple of months later, I was struggling with PTSD.” K.B. now advocates trying “anything that will help you talk and process everything you went through so that you can move on.”
Practice Self Forgiveness
While it’s essential to share and express what’s happened to you, it’s also important to take care of yourself while you’re moving forward. Many of the survivors stressed that self-compassion and forgiveness were just as important to healing as processing the breakup. Several were open to trying alternative healing modalities to deal with their emotional pain and mentioned the benefits of yoga, meditation, writing, and acupuncture.
Focus on the Positive
Letting go of someone you care about is hard, however, healing begins with bravely acknowledging what you’ve been through. Processing your unhealthy relationship will not always be graceful but you can train yourself to focus on the positive by finding creative ways to spend your time. R.T. says, “Volunteering and potentially being able to positively impact someone who may be struggling in an unhealthy relationship was very therapeutic for me.”
When the uncertain road to recovery feels overwhelming and “it feels almost impossible to keep going” as E.S. puts it, one should remind themselves that “ultimately, I have control over what I want my future to be and [that] inspires me to keep going, even when it feels impossible.”