There are three primary stages of recovery from a toxic relationship, which is usually a long-term relationship with a partner who has a Cluster B personality disorder, including narcissism, antisocial and borderline personality disorders, or other forms of psychopathology.
Stage 1 - Survival
It is not easy to leave a toxic relationship. Most partners return several times based on the manipulations of the toxic partner and their own hopes that if they change just one more thing about themselves, life will get better and the relationship will be happy and loving again.
When someone does leave a relationship with a toxic partner where they have experienced verbal, emotional or other types of abuse, they expect to feel relieved. The excruciating pain commonly known as 'the aftermath' comes as a surprise and is usually overwhelming. It is not an understatement to say that survival is not assured.
There are four primary situations in which the partner does not survive:
1. They are killed by their former partner.
2. They kill themselves to escape the pain of the aftermath, having given up hope for a future they care to live.
3. They return to the abusive relationship to ease the emotional pain.
4. They are diagnosed with a life-threatening illness or disease, usually resulting from the long-term stress of the relationship and its aftermath.
So I do not use the term survival lightly. Once you are out of the relationship, your first essential task is to do whatever is necessary to survive the aftermath. Just get through it. It will get better, but you must hang tough for awhile when you feel like you want to die. Our programs have been created to support you in doing so. Please know we are here to assist you and please reach out when you feel at risk.
It is not necessary for your former partner to be diagnosed or for you to figure out exactly what s/he IS. Even if they are not extreme enough to be diagnosed with a personality disorder, if they have some of the traits, considerable damage can still be done to their partners in a long-term relationship.
Please feel free to contact mehere for any reason or look for emergency referral numbers on ourresources page.
Stage 2 - Cocooning and Transformation
Once you survive the initial aftermath, I recommend that you create a metaphorical cocoon for yourself. This is a place, both physically and emotionally, where you can begin to remember, reclaim and re-create the self you have lost.
Most former partners have been told who they are, had their partner's 'unacceptable' characteristics projected onto them and been manipulated into believing they are the problem. I know that when I left my relationship, I felt like an empty shell and I had no idea who I was or what I wanted.
We need a period of time--which will be a different duration for each of us--when we can block out most of the world, surround ourselves with only a few trustworthy friends or family and ask others not to tell us what they think of us, whether good or bad, so that we learn again what WE think.
We also need to eliminate stress, and as Sandra L. Brown, MA says, learn to lead a 'gentle life.' This is the time for sleeping in, not having a schedule, journaling, long walks, artistic activities and tea on the porch or by a warm fire.
Toward the end of this cocooning stage, you will feel your energy begin to return. The confusion and brain fog has slowly been slipping away. You are feeling moments of joy and periods of contentment. A sense of hope is returning. Your exploration of yourself may have sprouted some new interests and you may begin thinking of shifting into a new career.
You still have some work to do, but you can feel yourself transforming inside and you are getting ready to break out of that cocoon.
"You think that I am impoverishing myself withdrawing from men, but in my solitude I have woven for myself a silken web or chrysalis, and, nymph-like, shall ere long burst forth a more perfect creature, fitted for a higher society.” ~ Henry David Thoreau
Stage 3 - Soaring
You have begun to like and respect yourself again. You have made some decisions about a new direction for your life. You are feeling excited about the future. You don't know what it holds and you may still feel some fear, but you are ready to launch forward with positive expectancy. You will soon soar...higher than you can now imagine.
Your flight will still have some dips in it when the wind seems to disappear. This may scare you or discourage you, but only for a short time. Your resilience is still fragile and when you take a hit, you feel it and worry that your experience has permanently damaged you. It has certainly changed you, but over time you will realize that it has made you stronger, smarter and more compassionate.
You have some challenges to face in this stage, but you are ready to confront them.
1. Recovering your financial stability
2. Beginning to date again
3. Reaching readiness to forgive--yourself, God, perhaps even your former partner
4. Learning to trust again--one of the hardest and final things to recover
5. Finding meaning in this experience
You are beginning to understand that when others said you would look back on this experience as a gift, it wasn't just a platitude. You still wish you had never gone through it, but your heart is full as you look at the person you have become.
You have discovered that there really is a new dawn on your horizon and you are moving toward it. As you fly higher, you realize that soaring means you see a bigger landscape, you tip your wings to go where you choose, joy fills your heart and you finally know, in your bones, that only you know what is best for YOU.
It is your time to give back, to share what you can see from your higher vantage point with those who are just emerging from a toxic relationship feeling like a caterpillar hiding in fear. Your story, your understanding and your shared knowledge will help them survive and give them hope to endure until the dawn.