You expected to feel relieved, didn’t you? You finally had enough of the abuse and found a way to get out. Life was supposed to get better. Getting out, and especially staying out, of a toxic relationship is never as easy as anyone expects. In fact, it’s usually the most dangerous time of all.
If you’ve ever been in a controlling relationship, you’ve likely heard the question, “Why didn’t you just leave? This is a hard question to hear and an even harder one to answer, because often you don’t know yourself.
What you do know is that this is one of the most excruciatingly painful and crazy-making experiences of your life. So much so that it has been given a name: “The Aftermath.”
Here are some of the symptoms that you are likely to experience, courtesy of Sandra L. Brown, M.A. and author of Women Who Love Psychopaths, who says, “This is no normal breakup”:
- Anxiety, Panic, Fight/Flight/Freeze responses
- Obsessive rumination (Thinking over and over about ‘him/her,’ trying to make sense of the things s/he did.)
- Feeling like you are on an emotional roller coaster
- Decreased ability to focus and make decisions
- Craving for the relationship even though it was harmful to you
- Acute, chronic stress reactions, PTSD or Complex PTSD
- Grief and depression
- Intrusive thoughts/flashbacks (of good and bad memories of the relationship)
- Avoiding of people/places/things that remind you of the relationship
- Feeling deprived of your attachment to your former partner
- Stress-related physical illnesses
- Cognitive dissonance (Conflicting belief system that the partner is good or bad)
(From “The 12 Aftermath Symptom Questionnaire©,” Institute of Relational Harm Reduction and Public Pathology Education)
I Can’t Get Him/Her Out Of My Head!
One of the challenges of “The Aftermath” is staying away from the former toxic partner, what is called “no contact.” S/he may have dropped you completely in “Demean and Discard” fashion, as though you never mattered. In this case, you may find yourself feeling obsessed, wanting to learn about ‘the new victim,’ driven to get some closure or understanding of what happened and why.
However, even if your ex moved on to someone else immediately, s/he likely still feels a sense of ownership of you. She’ll get a high from seeing she can still impact your emotions. He may be angry if you’ve tried to go into “no contact,” and want to prove—by making contact—that you can’t control him and he is still in control of you.
Finally, you probably formed a trauma bond with your partner. This occurs when the person who abuses you also intermittently offers gestures of love or kindness. The person who causes you pain is also the one who provides you comfort. If they successfully isolated you, they may be the only ones giving you comfort.
Thus, when you are in pain in “The Aftermath,” you are pulled back to the former partner, even when you know they’re not good for you. You feel like you are fighting with yourself, fighting an obsession you can’t control. It can make you think you’re going crazy, especially if your ex has been calling you crazy. It’s important for you to know that you’re having a normal reaction to abnormal circumstances.
What Does This Have To Do With Money?
If you have been in a toxic relationship, you understand the connection. The manipulation. The pressure. The pleas for sympathy. The inability to hold a job. The deceit. The surprise bills. The guilt trips. The name-calling. The ease with which they walk out when you try to set a boundary or your money runs out.
You may have been targeted for the relationship precisely because you were Financially Fit—someone with assets or a stable job or even just good credit. It’s one of the reasons that Brown, who also wrote How To Spot a Dangerous Man Before You Get Involved, advises not to disclose too much information too quickly, either in public or the early stages of dating.
It’s important to stay aware. Don’t allow yourself to be manipulated or coerced into compromising your own Financial Freedom. It’s not unusual, even for highly accomplished and successful people, to become emotionally and financially devastated in the aftermath of a toxic relationship:
- The stress and confusion make concentration extremely difficult, which can impair your ability to do your job, especially in a highly responsible position like a professional or executive.
- The shock of discovery of who that person really is or what hidden financial tricks they pulled can create overwhelming emotional impact.
- It’s not a good time to make decisions, yet your former partner is likely still manipulating, intimidating and attempting to control. People have been known to sign over ownership of a business or house under threats, often about the children.
- The court process for divorce or child custody can be long and grueling. An ex-partner with a personality disorder nearly ensures a high conflict divorce. Their goal is not resolution; it’s staying in control and causing you pain. Needless to say, this is expensive—in both legal bills and therapy.
- Health care—the nature of the relationship and its aftermath often lead to serious long-term health issues that also present financial challenges.
What You Need Most And Often Don’t Receive
Friends and family may also start to pull back. They get tired of hearing about your ex and what s/he did. They don’t understand your depression and anxiety. They don’t know why you don’t feel better now that you’re out of the relationship…and you might wonder about that too! And they wish you would “just get over it.”
Maybe they even get irritated, lose their patience, try a little ‘tough love.’ But when you’ve heard for years there’s something wrong with you it’s really hard to hear that, now when you’re trying to feel better, even your supporters think there’s something wrong with you.
What you need now, more than anything, is for people to stop telling you what they think of you. Even if it’s good. You’ve lost yourself. You don’t recognize who you are anymore. You need to re-learn how to look to yourself to decide what you like and don’t like and who you want to be. This is a time for self-discovery.
Can You Be “The Ocean”?
“The Aftermath” is one of the most difficult things you will ever live through. Indeed, some people don’t survive it. We will look more deeply into that next month, but if your relationship ended recently, here is a metaphor that may help:
Imagine that the things happening in your life—the boundary violations, the recurring trauma of intrusive thoughts, the stress hormone rushes, the anxiety—are ocean waves. They may come crashing one after another, yet they always subside back into the ocean that is you. You encompass it all, can absorb whatever happens. All else passes, but you, in your wholeness, remain.
If you are recovering from a toxic relationship, or want to refer a friend, please visit SurviveTransformSoar.com where you can subscribe to a free, weekly inbox magazine or request the free report, “7 Secrets for Reclaiming Your Life, Yourself & Your Sanity.”
The views and opinions expressed are those of the guest author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of MindShift.money.
Dawn Aegle is the founder and publisher of Survive, Transform, Soar!, a leading magazine and website designed to support toxic relationship recovery through three stages of post-traumatic growth: Surviving the traumatic aftermath, cocooning with self-care to Transform and Soaring into a new life that is Better Than Before (BTB4™). Featured topics include personality disorders, emotional abuse, post-traumatic growth, personal transformation, somatic healing, regeneration after financial rape, art therapy and more.