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By Katie Bailey, MA, LPC

Admitting a relationship in your life isn’t working can be difficult. Often, we like to pretend things are fine or tell ourselves “it’s really not that bad”, or even blame ourselves for the problems. We often talk about this in marriage, which of course can happen, but toxic relationships can also be with parents, siblings, friends, or co-workers. Whoever you have a destructive relationship with, you will still need to make life changes to heal and move forward with healthy patterns.

First let’s make a distinction between a disappointing relationship and a truly toxic, abusive one. Relationships aren’t easy, and the closer the relationship, such as a spouse, the harder it gets. It’s normal for us to have some conflict with the people in our lives sometimes. Healthy relationships are balanced, reciprocal, and both people understand the other person has value, and no one tries to control or hold power over the other. Even in these relationships, we don’t always agree, or see things the same way, and we must work things out together. Occasionally we get stuck and need help to learn why we are stuck and how to make changes to understand each other better.

Toxic relationships are not like this. The abusive person attempts to control the other, and thinks they are more important. Read some of my other blog posts on the signs of abusive relationships like “Am I In an Emotionally Abusive Relationship?”, “3 Lies About Emotional Abuse That Make You Feel Crazy”, and “How to Recognize the Narcissist in Your Life”.

How To Break Free From A Toxic Relationship

Healing from an abusive relationship is a long, hard process, and most people need the help of a professional counselor. Part of the nature of a toxic relationship is living in a sort of “alternate reality” and you need an objective expert to help you navigate through what thoughts and beliefs you have that are truth or lies. Follow these tips to heal, grow and live in freedom again:

1. Acknowledge & accept your reality. Absolutely the first step is to admit you are in an abusive relationship. This is difficult for many people. It’s hard to acknowledge you were treated that way, it’s also sometimes challenging to admit your loved one is abusive. It’s confusing to think your partner, your parent, anyone who is supposed to be close to you can be hurting you; however, you can’t start healing and getting healthy until you can accept your reality for what it truly is.

2. Feel your emotions. Many people in abusive relationships hide their own emotions because showing your feelings can bring more toxic behavior from abuser. Also, often those feelings are just too overwhelming. There is no way to avoid the pain, hurt, grief, anger and whatever else comes with toxic relationships. You need a safe place and person to work through those emotions. Finding a qualified counselor with expertise in abusive relationships is essential for your healing.

3. Take care of yourself. Making sure your own needs are met is not selfish, it’s smart. You need to be eating well, sleeping 8 hours a night, exercising, and managing your stress. If you aren’t taking care of yourself, you will only feel worse, and you will struggle to function daily, like going to work or taking care of your kids. Prioritize your own health and well-being.

4. Focus on one day at a time. The road out of a toxic relationship often feels very, very long, and at times, impossible. Focus on one day at a time – what is the next thing to do today? You don’t have to know what life will look like a year from now, 10 years from now – or even next month. What do you need to do today to work towards healing and health? One step at a time.

5. Grieve your loss. Admitting you are in an abusive relationship requires grieving. Grief is not just for when someone dies, it for any kind of loss. You need to grieve that this relationship is not what you wanted it to be. Whether it’s your marriage or your parent – grief is necessary to move forward. This involves experiencing the sadness and identifying what you’ve lost.

6. Your loss might be imaginary. It’s possible you’ll be grieving the hope of what you never had. If you’ve been abused by a parent, you need to grieve the idea of a good mom or dad, the quality relationship with them you will not have. Similarly, if it’s your spouse, you will need to grieve not having the kind of marriage you hoped for. It may seem weird to grieve something you never had, but this is important work in the healing process.

7. Build your own life, apart from your abuser. What kinds of things are you interested in? Where do you want to spend your time? To truly break free from a toxic relationship, you need to build your own life – with a job, church community, other circles of friends – that have nothing to do with your abuser. This can be especially hard if your toxic relationship was with a spouse, but then it’s even more important. You need space in your life to just be you, separate from the one who hurt you.

8. Look for emotionally healthy friendships. The greatest benefit of healing from a toxic relationship is you will be more aware of what makes healthy friendships. Make efforts to connect with emotionally healthy people in your life – people who listen to you, and also you let you listen to them – people who help you out, and also let you help them – there is a reciprocity in healthy relationships. Look for people who can admit when they are wrong and apologize, people who are okay with you having other friends in your life, and people who celebrate good news with you, and are sad with you when hard times come. Quality friendships take work – so don’t give up and keep trying even if it doesn’t work the first time. Also, online relationships don’t count – please put effort into real, live people in your life!

Start Healing from Abuse in Montgomery County, PA

At Lime Tree Counseling, our therapists are experts in trauma recovery. Whether you’ve experienced emotional abuse, narcissistic abuse, physical abuse or sexual abuse, we want to help you break free and find healing. You don’t have to live feeling alone or trapped by the lies on replay in your head. Contact us today and set up a free phone consultation or schedule your initial appointment. We are here to be the safe place for you to learn to live life as you were made to live!

Trauma Therapy Online for Pennsylvania Residents

If you live in PA, but are far from our office, we can still be available to you via our online counseling platform. Please contact us and let’s get started helping you recover from your toxic relationship. There is hope!