Are you recovering from a toxic relationship? Maybe you feel betrayed, or rejected or used. Maybe you know you need a fresh start, but just need some help getting there. When your trust is broken in a relationship, your fundamental needs of safety and security are shaken. You may feel on edge, tense, anxious or scared. You may feel depressed, lonely or even hopeless, unable to plan your next steps. The aftermath of emotional or physical trauma can powerfully impact mood, sleep, weight, job performance and overall health.
Here are 5 of my most Powerful Interventions for Toxic Relationship Trauma Survivors
1. Restore Order Through Boundaries
Asserting boundaries can be difficult and intimidating, but necessary. I’ve listed Boundaries as the first and most important practice because getting physically, financially and emotionally safe, is the most basic and necessary step for healing.
What are boundaries?
- Boundaries are invisible lines between you and someone else. Boundaries help you know where you end and where someone else begins. Boundaries allow you to protect what is valuable to you, allow you to be responsible for yourself, and for others to do the same. However, you will never heal and things will never get better if you don’t say “No” to the things that are hurting you, and “Yes” to the things you need. It may be scary to say, “I want you to leave,” or “Don’t talk to me like that,” or “Don’t call again.” But your heart needs safety, security and peace. It’s ok to follow through with your needs and boundaries until you feel the peace and safety you need.
- Boundaries are Necessary for Healing. Often times, survivors of trauma feel as though their power and control was taken from them. It is important to restore that sense of empowerment through asserting yourself, meeting your own needs and setting limits through appropriate boundaries. Saying “No” to things that you don’t need, and “Yes” to things you do need will help you feel more in control.
Women often feel pressure to keep their relationship stress private to protect their partner’s reputation or to avoid judgment from others. Many women don’t feel like there is a safe way to share relationship problems with friends or family, so they keep their stress to themselves. Sometimes the truth of the relationship feels too ugly, too unbelievable, or too dark to share.
But, telling trustworthy people what you are going through is important when you want to heal trauma. Loving people lift us up, speak honestly to us, encourage bravery, cry with us, honor us, and remind us that it’s going to be ok even in the worst of circumstances. Loving relationships help heal the trauma, and give new direction. It’s tempting to keep the painful truth a secret, but opening up and sharing your experiences releases the pent up stress and helps with thinking more clearly, creatively and constructively.
3. Self Care
You may feel like you had to let your own needs go in order to take care of your partner’s needs. Hopefully, now you feel like you can take necessary strides toward taking care of your own needs.
- Rest: Make rest and recuperation one of your highest priorities. Trauma can keep us keyed up, locked down, and frozen in fear. Now that you are aware of what you need and you are getting yourself free from harm, take plenty of time to rest. Recover. Heal slowly. Watch the seasons turn. Take long slow walks. Waste time. Sleep. Cozy up. Be gentle and nurture yourself.
- Eat: During your time just trying to survive, you may have been too anxious to eat, restricted food or used food to feel better. It’s time to give yourself good nutrition.
- Move: Your body will feel better when you start exercising, strengthening and stretching. Your body wants to feel strong again. Sometimes feeling strong on the inside comes easier when we practice becoming strong on the outside.
- Play: if you’ve ever watched a child swing or swim or play with a puppy, you know that time seems to stop for that child and they are just enjoying the moment. Take time to be playful. Laugh at silly things. Blow bubbles. Paint your toes different colors. Be you, and give yourself permission to laugh.
4. Invest in Therapy
Recovery from relationship abuse, betrayal or divorce is not complete until you feel hopeful and ready for your future. Therapy is a way for you to explore unhealthy patterns, and how to change them so you can attract authentic love in your future. It’s not uncommon to work with a few therapists until you find one that understands your unique situation. When you find a therapist that is a good match, you can address:
- past or recent trauma
- the importance of following through on boundaries
- improved ability toward assertiveness
- ways to manage depressive or anxiety symptoms
- effective communication
- how to avoid attracting toxic personalities
- setting new life goals
5. Feed Your Soul
When our situation becomes out of control, and the old way of doing things isn’t working, we need God to help us. Relationship trauma can cause isolation, depression and feelings of loneliness. Some of us get so exhausted by our busy, chaotic lives, we are too tired or guilt-ridden to listen to our spiritual needs. One thing I know, is that there is never a bad time to seek spiritual help from God. In bed, in the bar, on the street, in the hospital, or in the car, seeking comfort and guidance outside of yourself is a good thing. Admitting that we need God’s help is a first step in healing and recovery, and often results in a feeling of hope and peace. Here are some practical ways to feed the soul.
- Journal: Journaling slows your thoughts down to the speed you can write. This is helpful when you feel emotionally flooded or triggered. Journaling helps you see your thoughts and feelings as valuable, and worthy of being expressed. Journaling is especially helpful when you are angry or stressed and can’t focus on anything else but what’s troubling you. Once you get it on paper, you can leave it there, validate it as important, and move on to your next healthy step.
- Dependence Prayers: When worry and guilt creep into your daily life, it is important to give yourself permission to hand that worry and guilt over to God. There are many matters that are out of your control and worrying over them just makes you feel worse. Depending Prayers sound like, “I don’t know what to do, but I know You do, and You will help me.”
- Creation: being creative and enjoying creation is healing to mind, body and soul. Experiencing God through creation, gives new energy and perspective. Gardening, hiking, crocheting, writing, painting, sculpting, and making music are ways to communicate with God, soul to soul, as deep calls to deep. Creating and recreating takes methodical, patient steps. The heart rate slows to steady, the breath deepens, and the mind clears. Our hope returns and our problems don’t seem so overwhelming.
“Come to me… I will give you rest.” – Jesus to the hurting.
Surviving relational trauma is not easy, but it is important work. These five steps can help you not only survive a toxic relationship, but get free and happy again. I know that saying goodbye to a relationship, even if it’s toxic, can be a painful and scary road. Healing from that pain takes time and effort. Sometimes, when I know I’m at the beginning of a long journey, I like to envision what it will be like when I’m already there. Imagine yourself healed, free and happy. It will happen, and these practices will help you get there.