The 5 Steps of Healing After a Toxic Relationship

Healing after a toxic relationship takes time but with awareness of the steps of healing, you can ease the process. In this article, you will…

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Healing after a toxic relationship takes time but with awareness of the steps of healing, you can ease the process.

In this article, you will learn the 5 steps of healing after you’ve been in a toxic relationship.

Healing After a Toxic Relationship

The fact you are here just reading this article after leaving a toxic relationship is an incredible act of courage and healing.

Related: A Therapist’s Best Advice for Someone Going Through a Breakup

Before jumping into the 5 steps of healing, take a moment to really think about the truth of how much inner strength it took to leave. Honoring your courage and strength is an important part of healing. Trust that because you did this hard work of leaving you absolutely can heal as well!

healing after toxic relationship
From The Codependency Workbook: Simple Practices for Developing and Maintaining Your Independence 

The First Step of Healing After a Toxic Relationship: Be Honest with Yourself

Since you have left a toxic relationship, you are already in the process of being honest with yourself.

However, to truly heal after a toxic relationship, you must stay committed to this self-honesty. One of the key markers of a toxic relationship is an on-again off-again dynamic.

Related: 5 Ways to Stay No Contact With Your Ex

This on-again, off-again dynamic is fed by multiple factors – denial, bargaining with reality, minimizing, and gaslighting. The way to truly escape a toxic relationship is to be honest with yourself about what you really experienced in your toxic relationship and how your ex actually treated you.

Self-Doubt Keeps You Stuck

Denial, bargaining with reality, and minimizing all include versions of telling yourself that what you experienced with your ex “wasn’t that bad” or that maybe you’re being “too hard” on your ex. Fantasizing that if you get back together your ex will suddenly become what you need from a partner i.e., committed or respectful is also a form of bargaining with reality.

If your ex gaslighted you this can lead to a lot of self-doubt as well.

Related: What Does Gaslighting Do to a Person & How to Protect Yourself

Getting Clear on Why You Left

To get out of this trap, you must be very clear on why you left and how your partner really is rather then wishing they were different. Or believing that if only you were “enough” they’d change.

To start this process, get a journal or notebook. Dedicate this journal to staying away from your ex. This is an essential step to truly healing from a toxic relationship and requires a lot of inner strength.

healing after toxic relationship

Exercise to Be Honest with Yourself

Take time to write things down in this journal about what you actually experienced in this relationship. Start with a pros/cons list. Remind yourself exactly why you left. Typically, the cons in a toxic relationship will far outweigh the pros. After all, love isn’t enough for a relationship to be healthy for you.

Then whenever you feel self-doubt or want to return to your ex, pull out this journal. Review your list. Write down facts i.e.,

“My ex just texted me and I want to see them so bad. They told me they’re sorry and they’ll change. But this is an old pattern, I’ve left 3 times before and they said the same thing. And things only changed for a short time. There’s no logical reason to think this time is any different.”

Then tap into your your intuition as much as you can. Deep down, you probably still feel it’s not healthy to go back to your ex or this relationship can’t work out because it’s too toxic. Listen to yourself.

healing after toxic relationship
From Untamed by Glennon Doyle

The Second Step of Healing After a Toxic Relationship: Give Yourself Grace

The second step to healing after a toxic relationship is to be compassionate with yourself.

Related: 4 Practical Tips to Learn How to Be Nice to Yourself

Self-compassion is the practice of giving yourself grace. Fundamentally, you want to practice being kind and understanding with yourself. This involves being accepting of your emotions and honoring that you are human which means you will experience pain at times. Giving yourself grace also entails accepting that as a human being you are imperfect.

How to Be Kind to Yourself

Self-compassion means being understanding about your emotions rather than judging them. There are no bad emotions and nothing you “shouldn’t” feel right now – or ever.

This includes honoring that you may, understandably, still love your ex. There is no shame in this. You may feel you “should” be over it since it was toxic. Or that you “should” be able to stay friends on social media. But “shoulding” on yourself is the opposite of being kind to yourself. Work to simply validate “I feel this way [insert emotion] and that’s ok.”

Related: How Do You Love Yourself? 3 Tips to Start Today

When you’ve been in a toxic relationship there is so much suffering. There is, of course, the suffering caused by your ex and the relationship. And yet, there can also be a tremendous amount pain that comes from your own self-blame. Thoughts like, “I should’ve known better” or “How could I have been so weak?” are examples of this.

When these thoughts come up, work to remind yourself that you are human. This means you will make mistakes. This is a core part of our humanity. It took time to figure out how toxic your relationship was for you – that’s ok. But you did figure it out and left – that’s the most important thing!

The Third Step of Healing After a Toxic Relationship: Cope Well with Your Emotions

The next step is to care for your emotions. Accepting them first as you do when you give yourself grace is an essential part of coping well with your emotions.

Again, any feelings you may have are ok. You are naturally going to miss your ex at times. Other times, you may want revenge. Or other times you may feel hopeful getting caught up in the fantasy that they’ll change.

These feelings are completely natural.

You don’t need to judge these emotions – or react to them. You don’t need to reach out to your ex just because you miss them. You don’t need to act of anger even as you’re justified in feeling it.

Here the work is to cope well with your emotions. When you suppress your emotions, they only come back stronger than ever – and at seemingly random times. And it’s unhelpful to intensify your feelings such as by listening to the most depressing music you can find. Instead, you cope well by letting yourself feel and acting in a way that helps – not hurts.

Articles to help with this include:

The Fourth Step of Healing After a Toxic Relationship: Care for Yourself

In a toxic relationship, it’s easy to get stuck in a pattern of putting yourself last. Perhaps your ex even took advantage of this tendency of yours.

And when you’re healing after a toxic relationship, it’s natural to sometimes feel such intense feelings of anger or grief, that you again forget about your needs.

Related: Is Self Care Important? 4 Reasons It Is

However, you can break this cycle and learn to care for yourself. This is an essential step to healing after a toxic relationship both to feel more grounded and reclaim your sense of self. Learning to self-care consistently is also essential to learning how to have a healthy relationship in the future. After all, healthy relationships are interdependent which means each partner is balanced in how they give care to the other person and to themselves.

Sustainable Self-Care

Healing from a toxic relationship (and wellness in general) requires you commit to a sustainable self-care practice. This could be start with something incredibly simple – like drinking a glass of water each morning when you wake up. Or stretching before bed.

Here you want to start with your basic needs which are to get sleep, eating nourishing food, getting movement, and staying hydrated.

Related: Self Care Guidelines: 4 Simple Ways to Commit to Self-Care

Also seeking support as you need is a form of self-care. At this time, you may need to reach out to friends or family for comfort sometimes. Or you may choose to work with a therapist to give you the guidance and support you deserve while you heal.

Related: What to Look for in a Therapist: 3 Tips by a Licensed Therapist

Step 5 of Healing After a Toxic Relationship: Letting Go of the Past to Have Your Happiest Future

The last stage of healing includes truly letting go and accepting that your future doesn’t include them. Acceptance is also the last stage of grief.

Here you want to make peace with the past by Radically Accepting it happened. This means accepting that your toxic relationship and ex were a part of life and that it doesn’t make sense to bring them into your future.

It’s natural again to feel many complicated emotions here. You will naturally feel sadness and perhaps longing for your ex. You may also feel grateful that you knew them. Finally, you may feel hopeful for your future. Whatever you feel, please honor it – any emotion is understandable here.

When you accept that your relationship is a part of your past, you can now say goodbye to your ex and what they represent. You can say goodbye to toxic patterns you felt stuck in. You now never again need to experience a toxic relationship again. You’ve learned the lessons now.

To help yourself here, work on writing a goodbye letter to your ex in your journal. This isn’t for you to give to them but rather to make peace with the past. Write anything and everything you’d want to say to them at this time to help yourself process what’s remaining.

From You Can Heal Your Life

Moving Forward After a Toxic Relationship

It is completely possible to heal after a toxic relationship. These steps help provide a roadmap for your healing process but please know, healing isn’t linear. This means that these stages overlap for example you will both be working on accepting your emotions, coping well with them and self-caring. It also means that some days you may feel light or free while others may feel as bad as the first day you left.

This is all a part of the process. The most important thing is you stick with the healing journey rather than doubting yourself – or re-entering this toxic relationship (or another). You can heal and your future relationship will be better than anything you’ve ever experienced before. It’s worth the work now!

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About The Author

Krystal Mazzola Wood, LMFT is a practicing relationship therapist and author with over a decade of experience. Currently, Krystal sees clients at her private practice, The Healthy Relationship Foundation. She has dedicated her entire career to empowering people to find their voice, deepen their ability to self-love, and improve their relationships.

Her newest book, Setting Boundaries: 100 Ways to Protect Yourself, Strengthen Your Relationships and Build the Life You Want…Starting Now! (Therapy Within Reach), gives you the tools necessary to identify, set, and stay firm with your boundaries.

Her other books, The Codependency Recovery Plan: A 5-Step Guide to Understand, Accept, and Break Free from the Codependent Cycle and The Codependency Workbook: Simple Practices for Developing and Maintaining Your Independence have helped many overcome people pleasing, self-neglect, and resentment to have a healthier relationship with themselves and others.

If you have any personal dating or relationship questions, Krystal is happy to provide advice using her expertise and compassion. If you feel comfortable, feel free to leave any questions in the comments of this post. Otherwise, you may send an email to krystal@confidentlyauthentic.com or DM her on Instagram. We will always keep your name and other identifying information confidential.

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