Stepping Back after a Toxic Relationship

I shared a post a while back saying that sometimes it is necessary to take a break from people. At the time, my thoughts were to make sure you don’t deplete your energy trying to be there for everyone but yourself. Oftentimes, those of us who care deeply feel guilty when we cannot do for others, so we ignore our own needs (like health) to run to the side of the person calling for us. I think one of the downsides of being in a long-term narcissistic relationship is that we associate our being helpful as the other person “always” appreciating our contribution and recognizing how much we care about them. If they look for us, then it’s good, but turning them down results in guilt trips and rants. It takes time and multiple reminders to learn that those who care about us understand when we need to decline their request.

I’ve discovered that there are multiple things that happen when you leave a toxic relationship. Some of them include:

  • Realizing you have huge memory gaps that come back at odd times. This may happen more for some than others. When you can step away from a problem long enough to get clarity, you start to remember things that should have stood out to you, and you may even remember events that happened over a long time span. It’s like a fog on your brain has lifted.
  • Your emotions may feel extreme and volatile because they’re raw after you see how you’ve been used.
  • You’re often angry at yourself for believing and staying with the person even though you were the victim of deception.

These are normal. We’re often hard on ourselves and expect progress to move faster, but healing takes time.

One of the things I did last year was consider where I spent my time and who was in my circle. Just because we identify one toxic person doesn’t mean another won’t grab an opportunity to step in. On top of that, some of the friendships we have may be with those associated with the narcissist or also hurt by the narcissist (or both). It’s relationships like these that I took time to ask myself questions like:

  • Is our friendship solely rooted in the fact that this person hurt both of us?
  • What do we have in common outside of this person?
  • Are you my friend because of similar interests or because you want information to report to the person to whom I no longer speak?
  • How do you respond when I tell you something you do is offensive to me? Do you laugh? Minimize it? Apologize? Repeat as often as you can get away with it?
  • How do you react when I tell you I can’t or won’t do something for you? Is my “no” the spark for you to try to make me change my mind or regret denying you a thing?

This is something that I’d overlooked for a long while. Who we are to the narcissist (ex. co-worker, relative, classmate, etc.) and the narcissist’s relationship to those we’re hanging out with influences our interactions. For instance, if my narcissist happens to be my former boss and your new boss, I probably don’t care much about what the boss says about me or what is said to her of how I’m doing. If I’m with another company for which she has no influence, she’s only your problem. However, if my narcissist is the father of my son and your brother, you’re probably going to feel obligated to let him know how his child is doing even though he doesn’t ask or contact me about his son. I have to decide how much information I will share with you, if at all, because I am not sure if you are impartial, are on a mission to keep tabs on me, or are twisting what I said.

I’ve heard, repeatedly, about the importance of maintaining boundaries (in various relationships/situations from a work environment to one less restrictive), but it was when I took time to tune out other noise and just focus on strengthening myself and my family that I took time to apply healthy practices to myself. It is necessary to periodically set aside time to reflect and evaluate if what we’re doing or the relationships we’re keeping are helpful or harmful. Maybe we’re the problem. Maybe we’ve created an unhealthy bond with someone in which we only share misery. Maybe we haven’t given ourselves enough time to deal with an emotion. Maybe it’s something or someone else that causes us anxiety. We can’t address the issue until we take time to find out what it is, get to the root, and then decide where to go from there.

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