There are three primary stages of recovery from a toxic relationship, which usually means you had a long-term partner, typically from a year to decades, who has a Cluster B personality disorder, including narcissism, antisocial and borderline personality disorders, or other forms of psychopathology. This is the fifth article in this six-part series.
This month you’ll learn what the results can be from your hard work in the Stage 2 cocoon. And you’ll see what it means to soar from a toxic relationship to the dawn of a new life.
Can you imagine what it’s like to be in a caterpillar’s cocoon? Soft. Still. Silent. You’re alone. But it feels right to be alone. As you relax, a sense of uncertainty arises and slowly, you dissolve into a warm liquid.
Then, something new begins to form. You don’t know what it will be. Will it look at all like the caterpillar you used to be? You watch, as step by step, a new you takes shape. You feel excited anticipating what might be possible. Soon, you feel and smell and hear a world beyond you.
You can hardly wait to get out there and see it. But it’s hard! How are you going to get there when you can hardly move and you feel too weak to break free? Sometimes you want to give up. But you can feel the sunrise in the morning and you want to see it. So every day you try, and every day you are a little stronger.
You feel your resilience growing. You feel hopeful and that makes you try harder. One day, you are struggling, struggling…and then, pop! Something breaks free. You get a breath of fresh air. This encourages you, and you push harder. And then, suddenly, the resistance disappears, and you find yourself in flight.
Stage 3 – Soaring
This is a little like what the emergence of Stage 3 is like. It takes work. Sometimes it seems like it will never happen, but as you get stronger, you envision what your future could be like. There is growth and change happening that you may see only in glimpses. But if you trust the process and persevere, one day you’ll be surprised.
You’re ready to venture out beyond the boundaries you created to keep yourself safe. You still experience yourself a lot like you’ve always been, but everything seems different. Yes, you have some of the markings of your former self. But anyone who knew you then probably wouldn’t recognize you now…and new acquaintances will never guess unless they, too, have been caterpillars.
As you step into Stage 3, you may feel unexpected fear or anxiety stemming from the hope you’re beginning to feel. In the past, your hopes were dashed and maybe even ridiculed if you shared them. So do you now dare to believe you can have a positive future? If you hope but nothing happens, you’ll feel hurt.
There is nothing you need to do about this. Just acknowledge your thoughts as normal, but don’t let them stop you. You still have some work to do, but positive expectancy is warranted and helpful.
Here are some of the tasks of Stage 3:
- Recover your financial stability;
- Begin to date again;
- Reach readiness to forgive—yourself, God, the people who ‘weren’t there for you,’ perhaps even your former partner;
- Learn to trust again—one of the hardest and final things to recover; and
- Find meaning in this experience.
Your flight will have some dips when the wind seems to disappear. Your resilience is still fragile. And when you have a setback, you worry that you may be permanently damaged. The toxic relationship certainly changed you, but in time you’ll realize the experience has made you stronger, smarter and more compassionate.
You start liking and respecting yourself again. You’ve made some decisions about a new direction for your life, and you’re feeling excited about the future. You’ve discovered there really is a new dawn on your horizon. As you fly higher, you realize that soaring means you see a bigger landscape. You tip your wings to go where you choose, joy fills your heart, and you finally know that you’re the one who knows what is best for you.
Now is the time to give back, to share what you can see now with those who are just leaving a toxic partner and feeling like a caterpillar hiding in fear. Your story, your understanding and your knowledge will help them survive and give them hope to enter the chrysalis and persevere.
Shifting From Financial Stability To Creating Wealth
Financially, Stage 1 was all about getting out of debt. Stage 2 was about figuring out how to Live Within Your Means, exploring ways to expand your income and envisioning the kind of life you want in the future. In Stage 3, begin implementing.
You may have decided in Stage 2 that you want a career change. Now is when you should start taking active steps to make it happen. Perhaps you want a side business you eventually grow to replace your job or provide extra money to fund a Freedom Generator.
Maybe you want to continue your education—with college, an advanced degree or certification, or some focused training and mentoring. This is also a good time to educate yourself about where and how to invest to Make Your Money Work For You so you can start working toward Financial Freedom.
Travel in Stage 3
Stage 3 is truly about spreading your wings. This may be the time you explore a new town as a possible residence. Maybe you’re ready to move for a new job. Where have your dreams taken you? What have you always wanted to do? What new places excite you?
For me, this was the time to finally broaden my range into other countries. I learned how living in a culture with a different language forces the brain into the present moment, which is healing all by itself. Here are a few tips gleaned from my experience:
- …gives you space and a new place to explore different ways of being.
- …introduces you to new friends who are better mirrors than your projecting toxic partner was.
- …develops resilience as you tackle challenges and enjoy new experiences.
- Aloneness gives you time—and sometimes remote locations—to allow your feelings.
- Don’t plan everything – leave time for spontaneity and stay open to serendipity.
- You won’t know what you like until you try it. “Travel Therapy” can speed your recovery and help you ‘return to joy.’
What have you learned from your toxic relationship? If you’ve done the work of the stages, your post-traumatic growth will lead you to healthy relationships, loving self-acceptance, joy and a fulfilling life. If not, more opportunities will likely come your way to do this work.
According to Sandra L. Brown, MA, more than 50% of toxic relationship survivors end up in another pathological relationship. So it’s worth it to do the work!
Stage 3 is the time when many become ready to start dating again. As you re-enter that world, bring an awareness of your own vulnerability to toxic partners, as well as an improved ability to spot and honor red flags, those early warning signs of toxicity. That is our subject next month.
Make Authenticity Your Goal
The core of what makes toxic relationship recovery possible is the discovery and honoring of your authentic self. With this as your ongoing goal, everything else becomes easier. You will notice abuse. You’ll minimize cognitive dissonance. You will set boundaries and hold to them almost automatically. You’ll choose friends and partners differently. You will prioritize your own needs and take care of your body, mind, and spirit.
In honoring who you are, you will become the butterfly (or eagle!) that soars. Not sure yet what you want? If you would like some guidance in creating a new vision for your life and the path to get there, you can visit my site Survive, Transform, Soar! for more information on how I can help.
But first, you need to decide you’re worth the work. You have to step with courage into a willingness to experience new things, think in new ways and travel a new path—literally and figuratively—into the Dawn of a New Life. I didn’t think the transformation was possible for me, but I learned it is—one step at a time. And I can assure you it’s possible for you too. Please tell me in the comments if there’s a way I can help you get there.
And if you know someone who has left a toxic partner and either goes back, finds another one or is just still reeling from the aftermath symptoms, please don’t judge them. Just gently refer them to SurviveTransformSoar.com, where we can expose them to a myriad of resources and experts that can help them recover themselves and finally learn to soar.
The views and opinions expressed are those of the guest author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of MindShift.money.
image credit: Bigstock/Remains
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.