As we move through the ending of a toxic partnership / relationship we may find ourselves sometimes wondering, “What now?”, and “Why do I feel so badly, when I know I made the right decision?”. It is important to remember several things as the healing and recovery process begins because often our very ability to think straight, the ability to moderate our emotions seems to have left us. Even well into healing now, three years post-abusive relationship, it helps me to remember these very important points. The end of the toxic relationship is complicated for us, creates a multitude of feelings and emotions, and can often come with so much self-doubt! Often the emotionally devastating pain we experience after an abusive relationship seems crushing; we may not even believe we will ever feel ‘normal’ again (much less feel ‘good’). We have spent ‘however long’ entrenched and affected by the abuse, and the healing and recovery journey is a long one. Along the way, there may be false starts and stops, confusion, depression, and so many deep feelings and thoughts, we may wonder how we are going to get through it all. But get through it we do, and keeping the below points in mind will certainly give you a foundation of what is normal, what feelings are to be expected, and give you hope that you are on the right track. Healing and recovery from abuse is a long, twisting, winding path however over time, you WILL feel better and you will recapture the strength (and even MORE strength) you lost during the relationship. * Disclaimer: The below list is NOT a substitution for counseling and/or therapy with a qualified, skilled practitioner, nor is it meant to replace or diagnose or treat any significant mental / emotional distress. This list is being provided as a general overview of things to keep in mind while you navigate your own healing and recovery, and I will always support and encourage any abuse survivor to seek support via therapy / counseling.
“It must be accepted that the recovery and healing process after narcissistic abuse is a long, long road; a marathon of sorts, NOT a sprint. It is important for survivors to understand there are no quick fixes, there are no magic pills nor strategies that will cure the pain immediately. Healing deserves the time required; survivors have been deeply affected on many levels and there is just no other way than to WORK THROUGH IT, to MOVE THROUGH IT.” L.A. Gilliam
Now, let’s break down things to remember, things to keep in mind, as you work through the beginning and middle of this healing process. This is a long road as I’ve said already, and this list is not meant to present everything you will experience, nor everything you will encounter. Having said that, there ARE things to accept in the here and now, that might put your mind and heart at ease, knowing these are to be expected.
- Expect to feel completely out of sorts. You may forget what day it is, where you need to be. You may feel lost. You may feel like your brain / mind is not functioning properly. You may feel ‘foggy’; thoughts may spin, concentration may be elusive. This can last for weeks or longer, and this is to be EXPECTED. Remember, you’ve suffered trauma. Emotional and mental TRAUMA. Our brains, minds, consciousness, and hearts are affected deeply during this abuse, and time is required to regain our equilibrium. Survivor strategy: ALLOW yourself time to feel this way. Do not pressure yourself into feeling any sort of way too quickly. Allow your mind, brain, heart, soul, and spirit to REST. Calm yourself. Create alone time where you can listen to soothing music, or just sit in silence. Practice DAILY quite time. Sit comfortably, wearing comfortable clothes, and allow the QUIET. Close your eyes. Your mind NEEDS to be calmed, and quiet alone time without distractions – just to BE – is so beneficial in creating the CALM.
- Expect to cry, scream, yell, and be overly emotional, even at small events. Often after abuse, we are WORN OUT. Exhausted. Our emotions are at an all time high; functioning on overdrive, our emotional temperament may seem altered. This is to be expected. ALLOW it. Do not try to limit yourself and your feelings here; HONOR what you need to feel during this time. Don’t worry or overly stress out about how much you are crying in the very beginning stages of healing and recovery; if in 2 – 3 weeks you are still crying uncontrollably (where it is affecting your daily life), please consult a doctor / therapist. I am NOT saying here that still crying and feeling emotionally reactive after two weeks is NOT normal – it is. However, if in 2 – 3 weeks’ time you are still so emotionally reactive that your daily life is affected, please consult a professional. We all heal at a different pace. We all emote our suffering differently. This is perfectly okay and normal. If in the span of 2 – 3 weeks you are not noticing an improvement in the DEPTH of your grief however, please do speak to a professional who may be able to help you through this very acute stage of healing. Survivor strategy: Give yourself PERMISSION to feel horribly AWFUL! You’ve been through trauma. You’ve been through devastating events that need to be HONORED, and allowing yourself these emotions, this very down-and-dirty UGLY display of emotions is HEALING. Can you imagine suffering through abuse and NOT allowing yourself the time, space, and energy to CRY? To scream if you need to? Don’t place unrealistic expectations on yourself. Honor your experiences by letting IT ALL OUT.
- Expect changes in your sleeping patterns, dreams, eating patterns, and daily routines. These things are normal, and may seem overwhelming, as we so desperately want to feel balanced again. You may sleep more, you may sleep less. You may eat more, you may eat less. You may ‘want’ to participate normally, yet find yourself out of energy. You may think about fixing yourself a meal, but not have the energy to make it to the kitchen. This is ALL OKAY, and to be expected in the short-term aftermath of abuse. Expect changes in your body, your thoughts, your dreams (which may turn to nightmares), your daily patterns. Remember, your life has taken a bit hit; everything we’ve known, believed, and hoped for has CHANGED. This takes yes – time – to work through and process. Allow yourself this time. Survivor strategy: Keep up your structured daily routines as much as possible. Are you used to showering at a specific time? Stick with it. Are you used to daily care routines in a particular order? Stick with those. Stick with EVERYTHING in your normal, every day life as much as possible. This will allow a bit of ‘normalcy’ to stay intact, and even if it is just something small, routine can be comforting.
- Expect to WANT to withdraw from friends, family, work, and life. After abuse, you may feel like you do not want to talk to one single person, you do not want to go to work, you do not want to go outside, see anyone, talk to even the cashier at the grocery store, or to talk at all! This is NORMAL! We’ve been hurt! We’ve been subjected to emotional and mental abuse. Withdrawing temporarily is how we build a ‘wall’ around us for SAFETY, and this is okay, as long as it doesn’t last forever. This stage will be different for everyone, to varying degrees, and may last a short or long time. Personally, even after three years, I just don’t engage in superficial small talk with new people. I ‘can’t be bothered’, as silly as that sounds. I am open to meeting new people, but have no need for them in my life if they do not offer something positive of SUBSTANCE. I still have my tried and true inner core of close friends, and they have been my safe zone. Withdrawing temporarily allows us the SAFETY we so need during this time. We must create a safe zone around ourselves, and often in order to do this we need to cut back on life a bit, cut out contact with others for a time. As we build our feelings of safety again, we can get back to our normal interactions in life. This takes time, of course. Survivor strategy: ALLOW yourself this time of introversion, introspection, and QUIET. Let people in your life know that you need some time, and that if you seem distant, it is not a reflect of them, but how you need to care for yourself at this time. People who love you will try to understand. Allow yourself the quiet, the removal of daily stress, the creation of a safe-zone for yourself. This is okay. As safety returns, you will naturally and organically ‘re-enter’ your social circles, your outside life hobbies and work-related social events (if there are any). You will know how much, and when, to return to these things. The re-emergence will either uplift you, or deplete you. LISTEN TO YOUR BODY’S RESPONSE, your mind and heart’s response as you re-enter your ‘life’. You will know if it is right on time, or too soon.
- Expect that nothing really feels the same afterward. This is tricky, because more than anything – at first – we WANT everything to just go back to the way it was prior to the abuse! We want our LIVES back! We want our WORLDS back! Nothing will feel quite the same. We see things differently. We see people differently. We question things we’ve never questioned before. We are cynical, and skeptical. We don’t trust people – even though they’ve been in our lives for years. We LOSE SO, SO MUCH. Things look different, they seem different, they FEEL different. This is one of the TOUGHEST parts of the early days/weeks/months of healing; everything is JUST different. Survivor strategy: Yes, things are different. WE are different. Know in your heart, that as you recover and start to heal, you CAN create an even better and stronger life and reality for yourself. YOU CAN! This will take hard work in the future post-abuse, but it can be done. Things will return a bit to the way they were, but not completely. This is okay; allow yourself the CHANGE, and then, MAKE IT WORK FOR YOU. Be smarted with your decisions in the future as you get to know new people. Adjust how you perceive the world, now that you know that all smiling people are not healthy, and may in fact, be dangerous. USE what you have learned to make better decisions, to ensure abusive people never have the chance to enter your life again. These are BIG changes, but over time, they can WORK FOR YOU, not against you. This will take conscious effort, and going ‘with’ these changes, instead of fighting them. Go with them, and CREATE a new and BETTER, stronger reality for yourself.
- YOU WILL GET THROUGH THIS.
- YOU WILL GET THROUGH THIS!
- YOU WILL, YOU WILL, YOU WILL GET THROUGH THIS!!! (Tell yourself this statement over and over and over)
So friends, here we are. The above points are by no means all-inclusive, but rather a snapshot of some of the very early ‘stages’ and changes you may experience at the end of your toxic relationship. Recovery and healing from abuse is a MARATHON, not a SPRINT. Allow yourself the time and the space to move through these stages, as your body, mind, soul, and spirit work TO HEAL. Do not rush this process, but pay attention to how you PROGRESS through these stages. If in three weeks you have still not been able to get to work, talk with a friend, go outside, and find that your self care (showering, brushing your teeth, etc.) is too much for you, please please, talk to a doctor and/or therapist. THREE WEEKS is just a nominal guide; be smart and use wise discernment if you feel you are NOT progressing through the initial recovery. It can take SO MUCH LONGER than three weeks of course, yet – we still have to LIVE – and talking with a counselor or doctor may provide additional resources to help this process along. I am three YEARS in the process, and still have much work to do. I ALLOW myself to know I am different, but also allow myself the acceptance (and pride) to know I am STRONGER and will never again allow abuse in my life, in ANY form. YOU can get here too. Best, L.A.