Recovering from an involvement with a disturbed or disordered character is almost always a substantially unpleasant experience. But much good can come from the ordeal if one is both self-forgiving and affiming enough to be open to the learning to be had. It’s largely for this reason (and the fact that so many have written me asking for more on this very issue) that I thought the topic of toxic relationship recovery well worth revisiting (see also the prior articles in the current series: Toxic Relationship Recovery – Revisited and Toxic Relationship Recovery – Revisited: Part 2).
It’s not uncommon for folks who’ve wrested themselves from a toxic relationship to have many mixed feelings, including feelings of personal defeat, obsessive self-questioning and doubt, anger, mistrust, and even some paranoia (for more on these subjects see the articles (Toxic Relationship Aftermath: Doubt, Mistrust, and Paranoia?, Moving on After an Abusive Relationship, Aftermath of a Toxic Relationship – Part Two, Toxic Relationship Aftermath: A Wrap-Up, When Your Character-Disordered Ex Defames and Makes Trouble for You). Sorting through these feelings can itself be quite the excruciating ordeal. But with the right amount of self-affirmation and acceptance, and the courage to face the hard realities of what happened and the likely reasons why, there are some potentially valuable take-aways that can make all the difference between remaining relatively vulnerable to falling into a similar trap again and emerging a stronger, more aware, and confident character. The vignette that follows (again, as always, details have been altered to preserve anonymity) will hopefully illustrate this point.
Susan could tell you the very day she was finally done – really done – with Kevin. It wasn’t just after she’d left him. She was certainly fed-up at that point. But she wasn’t really through with the relationship on an emotional level, and for a lot of reasons. Many of the reasons had to do with the incessant manipulations, games of get-back and control, and other distasteful things Kevin kept engaging in after she dared to finally break free. But, as she’d come to realize over the many months of honest self-reflection, there were other reasons, too, some of which were connected to her own fears about genuinely and permanently letting go.
Susan had always had someone in her life. In fact, she couldn’t remember a time longer that a few weeks or months between relationships before she’d gotten involved again. And she had recently gained the insight that part of the reason for this was the dread she’d long carried with her about being alone in the world – emotionally abandoned as she’d been in her younger days. What she didn’t know before, but had recently come to realize is that being on her own didn’t have to mean being alone in life. She could be truly independent, especially on an an emotional level, and still be intimately connected to others. She knew that now, but she didn’t always know it. Instead, in her fear of being alone and in her relative lack of self-confidence, she inevitably gravitated toward those who seemed strong, confident and capable. And if they seemed kind enough, were attractive enough, and were really interested in her, well, that was the ultimate aphrodisiac! But she’d come to realize that in he bids to feel secure she had made herself to vulnerable to characters who in addition to their obvious strengths were also of a nature that made them prone to exploit her neediness. And now that she had finally come to know both her own strength and her true worth, she more clearly saw the emotional abuse she unnecessarily endured on so many occasions. That would be different now. She didn’t really need to have anyone in her life, although she might want the right kind of person again someday. Not only was she confident she could make it on her own (her recent business success had finally demonstrated that in spades!), she also had no fear of being “unattached,” and she was ready to be far more choosy than she’d been in the past. She was also really enjoying her new-found freedom. So her next relationship – if there were to be one – would have to be an equal partnership between two people who didn’t really need each other per se but rather clearly knew and valued each other and simply wanted to walk through life together. While a small part of her did lament that it took what it did to get her where she was, the bigger and healthier part of her knew that for her – given all her circumstances and experiences – there was probably no other way. Knowing, and more importantly, accepting that, gave her peace.
Next week will see the inauguration of a new series. And Character Matters on Sunday, November 1st at 7 pm EST will again be a live program, so I can take your calls.