There are three primary stages of recovery from a toxic relationship, which usually means you had a long-term partner, probably over a year and often decades, who has a Cluster B personality disorder, including narcissism, antisocial and borderline personality disorders or other forms of psychopathology. This is the fourth article in this six-part series.
Last month we looked at how the purpose of Stage 1 is to survive the traumatic aftermath of the first few months after you leave the relationship without becoming a victim of homicide, suicide, returning to the toxic partner or developing a disabling or fatal disease.
This month we’ll talk about how to begin prioritizing your own self-care, recovering your lost self and re-creating a “new you” with renewed hope for your future.
Stage 2 – Transformation
Your first task in stage 2 is to reclaim the “self” that you have likely let slip away bit-by-bit during your relationship with a coercively controlling partner. To do that, you need to give yourself permission to create a protected, nurturing environment where you feel safe—a metaphorical cocoon.
This is a place, both physically and emotionally, where you can begin to reclaim and re-create the self you have lost. Just like in a real cocoon, this is where you allow yourself to melt and then transform into someone even more beautiful.
Most former partners have been told who they are, had their partner’s ‘unacceptable’ characteristics projected onto them and been manipulated into believing they are the problem. You can be left feeling like an empty shell with little idea who you are or what you want.
You will need a period of time—which will be a different duration for everyone—when you can block out most of the world, surround yourself with only a few trustworthy friends or family and ask others not to tell you what they think of you, whether good or bad, so that you learn again what YOU think.
Allow Yourself To Experience And Process Grief
This is a time when you confront the huge losses you have experienced—your partner, your own self-identity, possibly your job, financial security or health. Some people even lose their children through the manipulations of their toxic ex.
Like any loss, these must be grieved. Thinking of how you would nurture yourself if your spouse, parent or child died may enable you to give yourself permission to prioritize your own needs now, despite the messages you’ve received for a long time that your needs don’t matter.
You also need to eliminate stress, and as Sandra L. Brown, MA says, learn to lead a “gentle life.” This is the time for sleeping in, not having a schedule, journaling, long walks, artistic activities and tea on the porch or by a warm fire.
Often it includes removing additional people from your life and sometimes even leaving your work, at least for a period of time. It also means spending a lot of time alone. You need to rediscover what you like to do, what you like about yourself, who you are.
I like to break down specific activities that are beneficial in Stage 2 into four categories:
- Inform yourself
- Choose yourself
- Know and Express yourself
- Be yourself
However, I want to encourage you to shift your concept of self-care beyond specific activities or even beyond a specific period of time.
Self-Care Is An Attitude
I am trying to think of self-care as something I do all the time. How can I turn whatever I am doing into an act of self-care? Yes, of course, even when I am doing ‘nothing.’
Often, this is as simple as changing my attitude. When I am washing the dishes, is it a chore or an act of love that keeps my home healthy? When I take a walk, is it discipline or a gift I give my mind, body and spirit?
And perhaps most importantly, when someone minimizes or denigrates me, do I overlook it or believe it like I used to do, making excuses for the other person, or do I speak up and set a boundary?
I think of it like a spiral: When I honor my own needs, others are more likely to respect them also, making it easier for me to take care of myself. Plus, when I become accustomed to valuing myself and being around others who do too, I notice it more when someone doesn’t and I’m more able to reject abuse early on.
Can You Transform Your Devastated Finances?
Your finances are likely in bad shape after being in a toxic relationship. In Stage 1 I told you not to focus on that. Your first priority was to survive. Now, it’s time to address it.
Did your partner leave you with debt? Did you stop working due to stress? Or totally ignore your bills because you couldn’t concentrate? All this is normal, and you shouldn’t feel guilty. But now you’ve survived, you must do something about it.
First, start dealing with the stress in the ways mentioned above and permission yourself to take the time for meditation, exercise and self-expression through the arts or journaling. Make time to be with other people, but limit them to those who support you, are positive and with whom you can be yourself.
Second, look at your monthly Cash Flow. Catalog all your expenses and income. Do you have an income shortfall? How can you make up for that in the short term without sacrificing time for the personal care activities mentioned above and without increasing stress?
Do you have savings you can earmark to use for a defined period of time? Could you take out a loan and be disciplined to use only what you need to balance your budget for a few months? Where can you apply some sharp scissors to your expenses?
Third, create a vision for your future. You know you don’t want it to look like your past with the toxic partner. You also can’t go back and make it exactly how it was before that. Look toward your “New Dawn” as an opportunity to create what you most desire.
What does a Financially Free life look like to you? Consider everything, not just finances. As Einstein said, “Your imagination is everything. It is the preview of life’s coming attractions.”
If you would like some guidance in creating a new vision for your life and the path to get there, please request information about the Survive, Transform, Soar! “New Dawn, New Life” coaching package, which can be done individually or in a small group.
And MindShift.money offers a Financially Fit Bootcamp that teaches you how to stabilize your finances. Stage 2 is a great opportunity for you to change financial habits that don’t serve you while you are improving many other areas of your life, too.
Travel In Stage 2
Regardless of your past travel experiences or desires, I believe adding travel to your recovery process enables you to heal more quickly from a toxic relationship as you chart the path toward your New Dawn.
Your first task in Stage 2 is to spin your cocoon—that safe place where you can nourish yourself, re-discover your true essence and figure out what you want yourself and your life to transform into. Sometimes that is best done in your own home town where you may have a trusted support system and where you can minimize the upheaval in your life.
But it may be easier to create that safe space by putting yourself into new environments. I was fortunate to have redesigned my work a few years earlier to be done from anywhere. But even if you can only get away for a week or a weekend occasionally, you’ll gain confidence, limit the influence of others and get you out on your own where no one else expects you to be there for them. And you’ll limit your exposure to an ex who is still trying to stalk or manipulate you.
I found travel in Stage 2 to be a time of self-discovery where I came to know myself as I watched myself make choices about where to go, what to do, when to eat and sleep, and many other big and little decisions. I began to see a personality returning that I thought I had lost.
As you move through the cocooning stage, you will gradually feel yourself begin to shift in many areas. This is the result of self-care. You will start having more energy. The confusion and brain fog will slip away. Fleeting moments of joy will become more frequent and longer and you will realize you have periods of contentment.
Progress will come just like stages of growth in children—growth spurts followed by plateaus. And sometimes you’ll experience intrusive thoughts and other earlier symptoms as your brain begins to feel safe enough to process more.
A sense of hope is returning. You’re starting to take action steps toward that vision you’ve been developing for yourself. You have likely discovered some new interests and might even be thinking about a new career. You still have some work to do, but you are getting ready to break out of that cocoon.
What you are experiencing is called post-traumatic growth. You know your toxic relationship changed you, but now you are beginning to see changes that make you happy. You are getting ready to soar into a new life you could not have imagined only a few months ago. More on that next month.
Most of us know someone who is suffering the aftermath of a toxic relationship. Maybe it’s you. Whether the relationship ended yesterday or decades ago, please visit (or recommend) SurviveTransformSoar.com for a free report with seven tips for recovery and a weekly magazine delivered to your inbox.
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/PHOTOCREO Michal Bednarek
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.