Recovering from a toxic or narcissistic relationship and learning how to love again takes time, self-reflection, and work. It is important to learn to trust yourself again and to find a partner willing to grow together with you to build a trusting healthy relationship. Some of these key steps can also apply to family, friends, colleagues, and others in our lives.
1. Understand and accept your own needs in a relationship. Recovering from a toxic or narcissistic relationship takes time. Chances are you will be sensitive and need more reassurance or support than you usually would. Be aware that your internal and subconscious dialogue may likely be “I will never be happy, I will never find someone who I can love and trust and feel secure with”. It is normal and expected that your need for intimacy, availability and security may be elevated due to your past experiences. Any hint of rejection in a new relationship may put you on high alert. Sometimes you might text the person more than you believe you should. Or you call 5 times in the span of a few minutes and then shake your head and think, why did I do that? Understanding your attachment style, things that trigger your insecurities and what your true needs are, will move you in the right direction. Once you accept your needs in a relationship, you can begin deciding whether the people you date are willing to meet those needs. The key is to find that person who can listen, empathize and understand your legitimate needs and then work together with you to move forward. Rather than changing yourself to get someone to fall in love with you, change the question. Is this person willing to provide what I need to be happy?
2. Monitor how you feel. Another way to know whether you are dating someone who can meet your needs is to notice how they make you feel. You may be dating an emotionally unavailable person if you communicate your needs, and they ignore them. Not everyone has relationship needs that are compatible with yours. If they want distance, then they are not for you. They will trigger your abandonment issues if you continue in this kind of relationship. Your emotional needs should be important to both your partner, and to you. Honour yourself. If your partner’s words and actions don’t match, then that’s a message you need to hear.
3. Use vulnerable communication. Your internal dialogue and narrative might try to tell you that you are being too demanding or too needy in relationships. You deserve to honour yourself and your happiness so hold on to that and discuss it with your partner. If you are dating someone avoidant, you put your partner’s needs for distance and boundaries above your own need for closeness. It’s common to hide your wishes and needs but you end up being inauthentic to yourself. This can lead to feelings of depression and being unfulfilled. Being happy and fulfilled is one of the most attractive traits you can offer in your relationship. If your partner’s behaviour is triggering for you and they demonstrate an unwillingness to accommodate to make changes then that is a strong indicator that the relationship will not meet your needs. You can determine early on if your partner is willing to meet your genuine needs.
4. Enjoy dating and meeting new people. When dating one person, our past experiences and our beliefs can cause us, in the early stages to lose our ability to judge whether this person is a good fit for us or not. It is easy to become so focused on keeping a relationship that you ignore the signs that it is the wrong relationship. Dating multiple people can help evaluate your potential partner more objectively. This makes it easier to stop seeing someone who makes you feel insecure or inadequate. This is not to suggest becoming physically intimate with many partners but instead to enjoy meeting new people with different personalities, spending time together dating and going out. When you don’t “put all your eggs into one basket” it may be easier to stay more objective.
5. Move away from the drama. Give people who make you feel calm a chance. We often believe that having calmness in a relationship is a signal of little attraction. Once you notice someone secure, remember not to make impulsive judgements about whether they are right for you. Secure partners, create less drama and are clear about what they want. This takes the emotional volatility out of your heart. That’s how love is supposed to be, calm and compassionate. Remind yourself that you may feel bored at first as you are coming from a toxic relationship with high emotional volatility. When you are used to drama and the physical adrenaline and fight or flight response your body and brain can almost crave it. We misinterpret it as excitement and lust. Breaking that pattern will take practice. Think of it as testing out your radar. Think of dating as an experiment to get to know yourself first. And maybe along the way, you will find someone who surprises you.
6. Learn How to Establish Boundaries. Our boundaries are the essential building blocks for our relationships. They are how we operate in the world, our rules of engagement and everyday expressions of consent. Boundaries are guidelines, rules, or limits that a person creates to identify what are reasonable, safe, and permissible ways for other people to behave around us. And then also how we will respond when somebody steps outside of those limits. Boundaries differentiate us from other people and express our unique identities.
Our identity is defined by the individual qualities and factors that present us as being unique in terms of our body, our feelings, our property, our responsibilities, as well as those things that we are not. And hand in hand with this is, how we treat ourselves, speak to ourselves, how to regard ourselves and respect ourselves. And this is how we begin to develop our own identity. People who have a stronger sense of self are more aware of their strengths and weaknesses, more confident, and have higher self-esteem. Confident people are perceived as being more attractive. When you believe in yourself it inspires others to believe in you as well!
Education and awareness are just the first steps on the path to a healthier, happier life and relationships. Get support and guidance from a licensed therapist. Sonya Gandhi and her team at Four Seasons Counselling have the expertise and training to help you move forward with your life.
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Blog by: W M Hope