If you are a lover or a person with a soft heart, a giving heart, or a kind heart…
…chances are, you may have come to realize there are people who want to use that against you.
I’m sorry if this article relates to your life, but I am glad you are reading it. I’m sure many of us have unfortunately been in some form of toxic or even abusive relationship, but this time I’m strictly talking about lovers here—if that’s what you want to call them. I know I did for too long.
To me, a toxic or abusive person is someone who tells you you can’t do things, with anyone or anything, unless they allow it. They most likely put you down or bash your hopes and dreams, all the while hiding their behaviour behind “care” and “worry” of you being disappointed. Someone who blames you for everything, especially the downfalls and shortcomings in their own life. Someone who doesn’t consider your feelings, puts you last even as they know you’ll feel like you have to put them first. Someone who is a master manipulator, guilting you into staying, at putting you down just enough that you are afraid to leave. Someone who saw the kindness in you and wanted to use it for their own selfish desires.
While many of us have experienced these traits and more, the truth is, leaving is not that easy. Many of us still love the person who has hurt us. When we leave, we know it’s because we have to for our own sake, but our hearts still pine for the person we thought they were.
If you haven’t left yet, please know that I understand, and I send you my love and strength. And if you have, but you are still finding it hard to keep your word to yourself on staying gone, know that I understand this as well. I know it’s hard.
Here are some tips to help you stay gone—for good.
(Please note that these tips are for people in not life-threatening situations. If someone is threatening you, please seek immediate help.)
1. Call someone.
Every time I felt the urge to call him—or I actually picked up the phone to do so—I made myself call someone else instead. I called anyone else. My sister was my savior many times in this way, largely because most of the time I was honest about why I was calling. My honesty helped boost the support I received, no matter how busy she was.
Tell the person on the other end of the line your dreams, your plans for the future, or, if you don’t have any yet, just talk about something that makes you happy, talk about what you wanted to be when you were a kid, remember who you were before the pain.
If you don’t have someone to call, call a free support hotline—because anything is better than calling the one you left. Trust me.
2. Help someone.
The thing about toxic and abusive people is that they take advantage of people’s kindness. For as long as you allowed it, they had a way to guilt you into always worrying about them and making you feel as if they absolutely needed you. This is one of the most powerful reasons that people don’t leave.
Now that you’ve chosen to leave, every time you worry about them, go do something good and kind for someone else instead. Give a homeless person a hot meal, pay for the order of person behind you in line, send your friend flowers, give of your heart, and remember what it’s like to be thanked and appreciated. Most importantly, don’t forget to make that person yourself sometimes too—after all, you deserve it.
We all do.
3. Do something you love.
The thing with most toxic or abusive people is they want to take away anything that threatens them being most important to you. As a result, most of the time, we slowly lose all the things we love: friends, passions, self-care practices, and the like.
Every time you think of them, or get sad, or start feeling like you made a bad decision in leaving, do something you weren’t allowed to do with that person. Wear that sexy outfit, play loud girly music and sing your heart out, go out with the girls (or guys), and flirt with the bartender. Have a shot of tequila or two. Start painting again, or writing, or whatever puts a smile on your face.
Remember what it is like to be you again.
4. Send people love.
Some days, you might receive tons of angry phone calls or hateful text messages, especially when the abusive person realizes their old ways of manipulating you aren’t working. When you encounter hateful words thrown at you, the best way I realized to not let them affect me was to send kind, loving ones to other people.
I sent messages to old high school friends reminiscing on good memories and wishing them well. I would call and leave a message on my mother’s phone telling her I loved her and that she was amazing. I complimented random people on the street and smiled as I walked by. Most of all though, I spent a lot of time in the mirror talking kindly to myself. I don’t think anyone does that enough, but it is truly a powerful practice.
5. Treat yourself.
Those abusive and toxic people may have put you down for a long time. They may have told you you weren’t pretty enough, or skinny enough, or that you aren’t funny or smart or cool. It was all a lie to keep the amazingness you are all to themselves.
I worked out more than I wanted to; I didn’t eat a lot of things I wanted to or as much as I wanted to. I pretended not to like certain music or styles of clothing because I was afraid of the fear and ridicule I would face from this person.
When I finally left, I treated myself. The funny thing is, I lost weight and never looked or felt better—and I was eating what I wanted, when I wanted, and as much as I wanted! I didn’t work out every day, and I listened to the music I enjoyed. I sat for hours in the bath and put on red lipstick just because. I drank wine and took myself out on dates.
I fell in love with myself.
6. Speak your truth.
This is the thing I’ve struggled with the most. Many people who have experienced toxic or abusive relationships feel alone, responsible for the situation, or even like they created the toxic or abusive person. There is a deep, hidden shame and guilt we carry for a long time afterward.
The truth is, toxic and abusive people need everyone else to be the bad guy—and because you never compete with them for the victim award, you end up never telling your side. You just want to escape the one hurting you, but that’s how the toxic person tries to keep a grip on you.
When we leave, they begin trying to use other people in your shared social circle to infuse the same feelings of unworthiness into you as they once did. And as someone who just wants to forget and move forward, we convince ourselves the truth will eventually reveal itself, and it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks.
I’m going to tell you right now you are right: it doesn’t matter what other people think of your dress, or how you wear your hair, or what you ate yesterday, or anything else that’s shallow and meaningless. But knowing that at a cognitive level doesn’t always guarantee peace of mind.
I couldn’t go out and enjoy a normal life because this person had smeared my name with his victimhood across the entire city. I felt guilty every time I saw anyone who knew him. I felt guilty for absolutely no reason.
To try to remedy this, I began to speak my truth when given the chance, and sometimes just when I felt like I needed to. People can take it or leave it, but if you speak it, you know you have been heard on some level, and it’s a lot easier to move forward. Don’t let your story eat you alive—and remember that in sharing your stories and experiences, you may inspire someone to do the same, which can help and even save them.
Speak honestly, without hate and blame. You are not a bad person for sharing your story.
At the end of the day, what matters is you were strong enough to leave, and although you might not feel strong enough to stay gone, you are. And don’t be afraid to ask for help along the way. We cannot do it all on our own. Let someone help you carry what you have been holding for too long. Always trust that you deserve patient, kind, and gentle love.
Bonus: The One Buddhist Red Flag to Look out For.
Author: Amy Makortoff
Image: Author’s own
Editor: Callie Rushton
Copy Editor: Yoli Ramazzina