I’ve got some great tips to share on healing the painful wound of a traumatic, romantic relationship.
I want everyone to know that these are my opinions alone, and I totally understand and respect everyone’s personal journey of healing.
First of all, I want to say that our pain is real—I do not believe in denying facts or reality. I also believe that we control our emotions, and we can learn from our experiences. Everyone lives with pain, but we can heal ourselves with awareness, honesty, and doing what makes us happy.
Now with all of that in mind, I am going to give a little insight into my story and explain the five steps to healing from a traumatizing relationship.
Even when we were together, our relationship was toxic. I acted in ways that just were not like me or how I had been in any other relationships. Not only that, but because we stayed together for so long, I forgot what any other relationship had been like.
I also never loved anyone that much. When we met, it was love at first sight. I decided that we were meant to be together and reminded myself of that as often as I could—which made me feel like the pain was worth it.
There were constant situations with friends and family when I was unable to stay present. We were so reactive to each other at times that the littlest things would bring up our most painful childhood wounds.
There were many instances of feeling like I could not be myself with him. I felt like he didn’t live up to my expectations, and I didn’t live up to his, but we didn’t understand why.
However, I loved him more than I loved myself, and I really believed that one day, we would be happy and at peace. It wasn’t all bad, not even close—there were so many great things about our relationship, and there was so much love there.
In fact, one of the things that made it hard for me to forgive and move on with my life was that I still looked back with love and admiration, despite the major obstacles and betrayal.
Here’s how I healed:
Step one: Speak honestly with close friends and family who you trust. If you are anything like me, you probably kept a lot of secrets about your problematic relationship. Your friends and family may still think that he is great because of everything you have always said. They may be still wondering how it could end when you were just recently talking about taking things to the next level in whatever way.
By being honest with our close circle, we begin to be honest with ourselves. We could also benefit from writing our whirring thoughts out to get to the root(s) of the problem. Depending on how long we have been holding in these idealistic lies, it may be easier (or harder) for us to be honest with ourselves.
Start being curious about your needs. What do you need now? Do you need to spend some time staying with your parents or your best friend so that you don’t feel alone? This may be the case if you falsely told yourself that your ex was the only person who mattered in your life. Bring back your team.
Despite the fact that we think our problems have been secret, they probably had an inkling. I think our team will be happy to have us back even if we feel like half a person. That is how I felt—like half a person who needed to rebuild the rest of themselves. Friends and family can help with this because they love us.
Step two: Separate the feelings. I was stuck for so long in “happy memories.” There were so many great qualities about him—when I came home after a long day of work, he would ask if he could make me something to eat, or he would do the planning when we went on trips. Also, when he did the laundry, he did both of our laundries.
What my brain forgot was that those moments weren’t just happy. What I wasn’t remembering was that before, after, or during every happy moment there was something toxic. For example, he would randomly say that he “needed space,” and he would ignore me for a couple days.
All my feelings were rolled up into one giant ball that was too big to deal with—it was a ball of idealistic feelings and love, as well as anger, pain, confusion, and sadness.
This step is incredibly important—I needed to separate my feelings. This is a tactic I learned from Teal Swan, a psychologist, while searching online during my journey of healing this wound.
It made me happy to think about the good moments with my ex. If everything was fine, then I wouldn’t be sad or upset, but it turns bad because there was a dissonance there. If we had been so happy, then why aren’t we together anymore?
Teal suggests to make two lists: the first one about his best qualities and our best moments—be honest. Maybe it will be a long list because he was so lovable. The second list though is about the bad things that happened, the bad feelings, or awful moments—lying, not feeling trusted, cheating, and so on.
Teal suggests to save the second list, so I did. I saved that second list on my phone in case I should ever idealize him, I would go back and look at the reality of what happened. I recommend doing this to avoid reaching out to them. Look at the list—it will help you see things clearly.
It takes time, but after a while, the power of feelings start to fade. I will be honest and admit that I never thought that would be possible. I remember one time when we were breaking up (which happened a few times during the years), I told him that I would never love anyone as much as I loved him, and that would never change.
Yes, that is incredibly embarrassing to admit. I was more than in love with him—it was practically an obsession with him and in making the relationship work. Make the list, separate the feelings, and look back at the second one when you start to idealize.
Step three: Bring back the things into your life that you didn’t have time for or you thought you couldn’t do without them or their support. It’s time to get our power back. We never actually needed the person, and more likely, we were drawn to the parts of them that are in ourselves, but we just couldn’t see it at the time.
Making ourselves happy is our responsibility. Did we forget that our life wasn’t always sulking and just trying to get by? Or this has been our life for so long that we forgot it? Either way.
Today is the day to create happiness. Make another list, but this time of everything that makes you smile. You need to make it a priority to surround yourself with the people, places, things, and activities that give you joy.
Step four: Look at that side of you that got obsessed. Where was that coming from? What fears can you let go of so that you can move forward and forgive yourself? You are ready to explore your part in the dynamic of what happened.
When I am honest with myself, I can really see my lack of confidence when I was with him. I should not have stayed in a situation that made me physically sick at times. When he lied to my face, and I knew it, it was the worst feeling in the world.
Clearly my self-esteem was very low. Why did I stay in that energy? But sometimes, he gave me confidence and a sense of purpose. I was happy with my title to be “his girlfriend,” for example. I thrived on any and all attention he gave me. But why? What was so wrong with me, as myself, for as an identity? I had a lot to unpack here.
My dad had this metaphor, which I believe he got from Buddhism. It says that we do not have to figure out from where the arrow that hit us came before we pull it out. I wish I understood this at the time, but again, I needed to forgive myself.
I knew the relationship was hurting me, but it was just a feeling. I wasn’t going to walk away without proof. I had gotten used to ignoring my feelings.
I waited so long, and yes, I eventually got the proof I was looking for, but that didn’t feel good. Instead of waiting for everything to unravel, I could have just felt unhappy and left.
I am sure I would feel much less bitter had I done that. When we broke up the final time, I told him that he took the best years of my life, but that wasn’t true.
Did I have a part in this toxic relationship? Of course, I did. But most of the reasons were unconscious at the time. For example, I have abandonment issues—I feel I was abandoned by my parents, and that part is conscious. But with my ex, he brought up those feelings. All I wanted was for this to be different. I wanted things to go better “this time.”
I also felt the pressure that as an adult, I needed to stick around. Mainly, because I wanted to prove I could stay in a long-term relationship, and second, because of my age and relationship/family goals associated with that. I mean, I was about to turn 30. This led me down a road of many instances of unhealthy loyalty.
I have been through painful things, yes. But, there was a turning point here: I hadn’t yet realized what I wanted, what I needed, and what I desired. I needed to realize that I was able to choose these things for myself. I needed to have standards and nurture the little girl inside me who no longer needed to merely survive.
Yes, my methods of survival got me this far, but it was no longer working. When I was a kid, I needed to love whoever was there, to be a peacekeeper, and put on a happy face. None of these things are the case—I am finally in a stage of accepting freedom.
Step five: Forgive your ex. Yes, they f*cked you over. Yes, they hurt you. Yes, they did unforgivable things. Forgive them, anyway because they have pain, too.
Everyone disappoints, but this person was never for you. You needed it—you learned something that was likely difficult to learn and a test that was given more than once. You needed to accept the things that were always there, and your ex finally made you see them.
Here’s some great news: they are not our responsibility. We do not need to lead them to freedom, and they weren’t ready to change.
Everyone is on their own path, and we can’t control what side streets they go down or turns they decide on—they do not need us. Maybe they will change or maybe they won’t, but they don’t need our judgement because we aren’t their parent.
They will be okay.
It does not hurt us at all to forgive them and wish them the best. In fact, it’s the best thing we can do for ourselves, and we are the person we need to look after. Most likely, they are living unconsciously and repeating the same patterns that helped them survive when they were children. Most people aren’t trying to ruin anyone’s lives—they are just living and doing what they do.
Again, it is no longer our problem. They were a meaningful part of our journey, but they are no longer needed.
You are powerful.
You are strong.
You can get through this.
Life isn’t over until you die, so stop acting like it is. If you start having a difficult time and this stuff is surfacing again, just start back at step one and go back through the steps.
Your old skin is being shed, and you are growing into an even wiser, more conscious, and loveable person.
Oh, and last thing, be in touch with your body. Start listening from now on because it will tell you when it is uncomfortable. On the contrary, our mind can validate anything.
Good luck with your new life, and don’t worry—there are a lot of good things in store. You will realize you are a great person with a lot to offer, and spending more time in your grounded and loving relationships will offer you strength.
It’s time to find things in the future to be excited for again.
Life is an experiment, so see what you can do.