How to Leave a Toxic Relationship: Ultimate Healing Steps

Ending a Relationship

“When you get out of it, you realize how toxic it actually was.” – Steve Maraboli

By: Claudette van Rensburg

If you’ve ever found yourself in a relationship where you feel more drained than delighted, well, my friend, you might be dealing with a toxic relationship. 

Acknowledging the profound impact of toxic relationships and getting out now is important. No breakup is fun, of course, but it’s much better than languishing in a relationship that’s actively damaging you.

We want to equip you with the right armor to survive a toxic relationship and help you rise to the best version of yourself! 

Key Takeaways

  • Acknowledging that you’re in a toxic relationship and understanding its negative impact are the first steps to healing.
  • If the relationship is abusive, make sure you have a plan. Pack a bag of essential documents and ensure you have somewhere to go.
  • Establish clear boundaries to give yourself space to heal from the relationship’s emotional turbulence. 
  • Surround yourself with a strong support system of friends, family, or a professional therapist as you get out of a toxic relationship.
  • Prioritize self-love and engage in activities that bring joy, such as exercise, meditation, and hobbies.

If you or someone you love is a victim of dating or domestic violence, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline or call 911 if you or they are in immediate danger.

What Is a Toxic Relationship?

A toxic relationship is one “characterized by emotional abuse, manipulation and gaslighting, addiction, or codependency.”[1]

In extreme cases, it’s the precursor to an abusive relationship. A few key elements can identify toxic relationships:

  • Possessive and controlling behavior 
  • Abusive behavior: emotional, financial, physical, or sexual
  • Gaslighting
  • Isolation from friends and family
  • Belittling and humiliation 

The impact of toxic relationships cannot be understated. Psychological abuse or manipulation can take its toll. According to an article published in the International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology,

women who were both physically and psychologically abused by their intimate partners had higher rates of depression than those who had been physically abused, strongly suggesting that the psychological form of IPV is not a minor type of violence, but rather a key determinant of mental health outcome.[2]

Depression isn’t the only health effect of toxic relationships. Other impacts include digestive disorders, high blood pressure, anxiety, insomnia, and heart disease.[3]

So, how do you spot a toxic relationship? 

Often it’s hard to recognize from inside a toxic relationship that you’re in one, so stay tuned in to your intuition. Trust your friends who tell you they spot the signs. They may see things you don’t.

If any of these signs hit close to home, it might be time to reevaluate your relationship and get the hell out of there.

How to Leave a Toxic Relationship 

They say it’s harder to leave a toxic relationship than it is for a Kardashian to smile through all the Botox. But a toxic relationship allowed to rage unchecked is a hop, skip, and jump to a straight-up abusive relationship.

So get out while you still can.

With a few careful steps and a healthy dose of self-love, you can do it.

And you’ll be so glad you did.

Acknowledge the toxicity and its impact

Let’s discuss something super important that often gets swept under the rug: Acknowledging the toxicity in a relationship and its impact on you is not easy. 

This is because your toxic partner has manipulated you into thinking nothing is wrong. As soon as you sense a little inkling of unease, that’s your Spidey Senses reaching out.

Listening to your Spidey Senses is your very first step to recovery.

Toxic relationships can be a wild roller coaster. One minute, you’re blissfully unaware; the next, you question your sanity. 

Cut off contact with your ex-partner

By establishing clear boundaries, you give yourself the space to reflect and recover from the emotional turbulence of the relationship.

You cannot heal in the same environment that is poisoning you.

Blocking their phone number and social media accounts is a powerful step in preserving your mental health. It prevents the temptation to reach out during moments of weakness or loneliness. 

This digital distance ensures you aren’t exposed to their updates or DMs, which might trigger painful memories or feelings.

Additionally, cutting off communication helps you break the dependency cycle and allows you to focus on rebuilding your life independently.

Without the constant reminder of your ex-partner, you can redirect your energy towards personal growth, pursuing hobbies, and forming new, healthier relationships.

Surround yourself with a supportive network

A supportive network of friends and family is absolutely essential to leaving a toxic relationship. It’s time to assemble your Girl Squad.

Studies show that social support is crucial to mental health. Authors Turner and Brown report that “social support is most persistently and powerfully associated with mental health.” 

Its significance to toxic relationships extends to recognizing that you’re in one and mitigating the effects of said toxicity. 

Turner and Brown again claim that “social support may provide a basis for identifying behaviors and circumstances as promising targets for intervention efforts to prevent or ameliorate mental health problems.[4]

If you don’t already have a close network of trusted friends and family, explore online communities or attend local meet-ups that align with your interests. Rest assured, there are others out there seeking similar support.

They help you rebuild your self-esteem, boost your confidence, and remind you that you’re never truly alone. 

Practice self-care and prioritize your well-being

When you invest time and energy into self-care, you essentially recharge your batteries, allowing yourself to function at your best. 

A 2022 article in Wellbeing, Space and Society concludes that self-care is critical to well-being. Authors Soto et al. say, “Self-care behaviors not only include actions to improve physical health, but also attitudes or desire to safeguard oneself.”[5]

In this respect, creating and maintaining a positive environment is crucial for meeting your most human needs and fostering well-being. 

This is your opportunity to create an environment that allows you to thrive.

Physical activities like exercise improve your health and fitness and release endorphins, natural mood lifters. Meditation can help calm the mind, reduce stress, and increase mindfulness, allowing you to approach life’s challenges with a clearer and more focused mindset. 

Researcher Gaelle Desbordes, using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), has found that meditation can result in significant changes throughout the brain, activating both emotional and cognitive areas.[6]

Engaging in hobbies or activities you love can spark joy, creativity, and a sense of accomplishment.

Taking care of yourself builds resilience, equipping you to handle stress and setbacks. Self-love and care are crucial for a balanced life, enabling you to thrive and be your best self.

Reflect on the lessons you learned

Reflecting on your experiences can provide valuable insights into your own behavior and the dynamics contributing to toxicity.

Identifying patterns in past relationships can help you recognize these telltale signs early on and avoid repeating the same mistakes. This self-awareness is crucial for personal growth and can lead to more fulfilling and healthy relationships in the future.

“We repeat what was traumatizing in an unconscious effort to gain mastery over it,” says Sharon Martin, licensed psychotherapist. So, understanding the root causes of these patterns can help you address any underlying issues within yourself.

Martin explains that when you’ve experienced emotional trauma in your past, “you may recreate experiences and relationships where you felt similarly in an unconscious effort to change the outcome, heal yourself by gaining the acceptance or love of someone, or feel in control.”[7

By getting out of this toxic relationship, you’ve started the process to break this cycle.

Therapy, journaling, or discussing your experiences with trusted friends can provide new perspectives and aid healing. It’s important to be gentle with yourself during this reflection period and acknowledge that growth takes time and effort.

By transforming your past difficulties into lessons, you empower yourself to set better boundaries, communicate more effectively, and choose partners who respect and support you.

This proactive approach enhances your relationship choices and improves your overall emotional well-being and happiness.

Rebuild your self-esteem and confidence

Robust self-esteem equips you with the resilience to face challenges and confidently pursue your goals. 

Engaging in activities and practices that nurture self-esteem and confidence can have a profoundly positive impact on one’s life. Learning a new skill, for instance, builds confidence and reinforces your belief that you can overcome challenges.

Celebrating your achievements, no matter how small, reinforces your worth and accomplishments, providing a foundation for further growth and a strong sense of self.

“I can love me better than you can.” – Miley Cyrus, “Flowers”

Take your time and be patient with yourself

Prepare to feel all sorts of emotions, which may include such as confusion, sadness, anger and relief. Each of these feelings is valid and part of your journey toward healing. Suppressing or ignoring them can prolong your recovery, so give yourself the grace to feel and understand them.

Reflect on your experiences and acknowledge the strength it took to leave the toxic situation. Healing isn’t linear, and there will be days when you feel like you’ve taken a step backward. 

Remember, this is all part of the process.

When you feel overwhelmed, surround yourself with supportive friends and family who can offer a listening ear or a comforting presence. 

Sometimes, talking about your feelings can provide relief and clarity. 

If needed, seek professional help from a therapist or counselor who specializes in relationship trauma — they can provide invaluable guidance and coping strategies.

Patience, compassion, and self-love are your most powerful tools on this journey.

Focus on personal growth and goals

Prioritize activities that bring you joy and challenge you to improve, whether learning a new skill, advancing in your career, or engaging in a creative hobby. 

More often than not, we all have a wish list of goals or unfilled fantasies. Start there. What are these to you? Perhaps that may be learning how to master the art of ballroom dancing . . . or writing a novel . . . or simply focusing on your health.

Once you establish and set your goal, you will have moved forward leaps and bounds.

Rediscover who you are outside of your responsibilities and roles. This self-discovery can enhance self-esteem and provide deeper joy and fulfillment. 

Signs You’re in a Toxic Relationship

Your partner constantly criticizes or belittles you

Incessant criticism and belittling can lead to feelings of inadequacy, self-doubt, and anxiety. Over time, this can significantly damage your mental health and well-being. 

When one partner constantly undermines the other’s confidence, it creates an imbalance in the relationship where one person holds undue power and control. 

A toxic partner unfairly uses power to manipulate and mold you “given that power increases the ability to persuade and motivate change in others,” according to psychologist authors Baker and McNulty.[8]

Constant criticism and belittlement are not signs of a healthy partnership. They are red flags indicating that the relationship may be emotionally abusive. 

Emotional abuse can be just as damaging as physical abuse, leading to long-term psychological scars.

A 2013 article published in the journal Violence and Victims finds, “Emotionally abused women can be more lonely and despairing than physically abused women.” 

Authors Karakurt and Silver argue “that emotional abuse and neglect may be contributing factors to the development and/or severity of illnesses such as chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia.”[9]

If you feel belittled by your partner on a daily basis — or ever, really, because who belittles someone they love? — you might be in a toxic relationship.

You feel emotionally drained or exhausted

Being in a relationship should bring you joy and contentment. When you consistently feel guilty, emotionally drained, anxious, or depressed after interactions with your partner, it’s a warning sign that cannot be ignored. 

These negative emotions can build up over time, eroding your self-esteem and overall well-being.

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Why You Feel So Exhausted After Leaving A Toxic Relationship 😔❤️‍🩹 Leaving an toxic, abusive relationship takes an immense toll, both emotionally and physically. The toxic dynamics and constant manipulation drain your energy reserves, leaving you feeling depleted and exhausted. Emotionally, the trauma and psychological abuse inflict deep wounds, shaking your sense of self-worth and causing intense emotional upheaval. Physically, the stress and anxiety experienced during the relationship can manifest as fatigue, sleep disturbances, and even somatic symptoms. The recovery process requires time and self-care to heal these wounds and rebuild your strength. Remember, the exhaustion you feel is a testament to your strength and the tremendous effort it took to break free. Be patient with yourself, seek support, and prioritize your well-being as you embark on the journey of healing and reclaiming your life. If you need help, comment the word “SUPPORT.” …we have a free support community designed specifically for woman who are survivors of abuse. You’re not alone. 💜 #healingjourney #healingfromabuse #mentalhealth #toxicrelationship #relationshipadviceforwomen #toxicrelationships #abusesurvivor #singlemoms #singlewomen #healing #exhaustion #ptsdrecovery #hypervigilance #selflove #selflovejourney #lovingsingle

♬ original sound – Ashley Paige

According to researchers with Charlie Health, victims of toxic relationships have an increased risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a symptom of which is chronic fatigue.[10]

If your relationship consistently leaves you feeling unhappy and exhausted, consider seeking support or making changes to prioritize your emotional and mental health. 

Your partner is possessive or controlling

A partner who continuously checks up on you, wants to know every detail of your day, and restricts your financial decisions is infringing upon your personal freedom. 

This possessiveness can lead to feelings of being trapped or suffocated. Over time, it can erode your sense of self-worth and autonomy.

Toxic partners may attempt to control you in various aspects of your life, which may include dictating what you wear, who you talk to, and where you go. In extreme cases, they may keep you from working to assert their control over you further.

A partner who respects your independence demonstrates trust and confidence in the relationship, which are the foundational elements of a healthy partnership.

You’re always walking on eggshells

When you’re constantly walking on eggshells, you are perpetually anxious about saying or doing something that might upset your partner. 

This creates an environment of tension and fear, which is neither sustainable nor healthy. In such a dynamic, you might find yourself second-guessing every word, every action, and even your own thoughts, leading to a significant emotional toll.

A healthy relationship, on the other hand, is built on mutual respect, trust, and open communication. It should be a safe space where both partners feel valued and heard. 

Feeling secure in a relationship means knowing that your partner supports you and values your well-being just as much as you value theirs.

If you constantly worry about triggering your partner’s anger or disapproval, it is important to recognize this as a red flag. 

Your partner isolates you from friends and family

Isolation from friends and family is a subtle yet powerful form of control. 

When a partner deliberately distances you from your support system, they are undermining your ability to seek advice, gain perspective, and maintain emotional independence. 

This behavior is toxic because it creates an environment where the controlling partner’s influence becomes overwhelming, and you may start to doubt your thoughts and feelings.

Breaking down your support structure is the typical modus operandi of an abusive partner.

First, these connections provide a sense of belonging and emotional support that can help you navigate life’s challenges. 

Second, having a network of loved ones helps to reinforce your sense of identity and self-worth, independent of your relationship. 

Their presence can remind you of your value and the love outside your relationship, making it harder for a controlling partner to manipulate your sense of reality.

This is particularly important in recognizing unhealthy dynamics and having the strength to address or leave toxic situations.

A loving partner will encourage and support each other’s connections with friends and family. They understand that these relationships enrich your life and contribute to your well-being. 

If you find yourself isolated, it’s important to recognize this as a red flag and seek advice from trusted individuals who can help you regain your perspective and strength.

Your partner refuses to take responsibility

When a partner consistently refuses to take responsibility for their actions, it can lead to a cycle of blame and defensiveness, where issues are never fully resolved, and resentment builds. 

This creates an environment of tension and conflict and can erode the self-esteem and emotional well-being of the person being blamed.

Accountability is a cornerstone of a healthy relationship. 

It involves recognizing and owning up to one’s mistakes, understanding their impact on the other person, and genuinely trying to change harmful behaviors. 

A willingness to apologize and make amends shows emotional maturity and respect for your partner’s feelings. It shows you value the relationship enough to work through difficulties together rather than deflecting blame and avoiding responsibility.

In contrast, a partner who refuses to apologize or denies any wrongdoing is often more concerned with protecting their ego than fostering a nurturing and supportive partnership. 

This creates a toxic dynamic where one person feels perpetually wronged and unheard while the other avoids growth and self-reflection. 

You feel physically unsafe or threatened

The World Health Organization reports that the global issue of intimate partner violence (IPV) disproportionately affects women. In the United States, about 25% of women and 10% of men have encountered physical or sexual violence in a relationship.[11]

It’s crucial to recognize and take seriously any situation where you feel physically unsafe or threatened. Your well-being and safety are paramount; no one should ever endure harm or live in fear.

In such a situation, reaching out to trusted friends, family, or professional resources can provide the support and assistance you need to navigate these challenging circumstances. There are resources to help you.

Your partner repeatedly crosses boundaries

Violating boundaries erodes trust, creates feelings of insecurity, and leads to a significant imbalance in the relationship. 

When boundaries are not respected, it sends a message that your needs and feelings are not valued, which can deeply damage your self-esteem and overall well-being.

Setting and maintaining healthy boundaries is crucial for several reasons. 

Boundaries help define the lines between your needs and the needs of others, ensuring that you have the space to thrive as an individual. They allow you to communicate your limits and expectations, fostering mutual respect and understanding. 

Furthermore, boundaries protect you from being taken advantage of or exploited.

You can navigate conflicts more smoothly when boundaries are honored, and the relationship can flourish with open communication and shared respect.

A partner who repeatedly crosses boundaries undermines the integrity of the relationship. This behavior can lead to a cycle of resentment, frustration, and emotional distress.

Your partner gaslights you

A 2023 article in Personal Relationships reports that “the concept of gaslighting has recently gained widespread attention.”[12] Authors Klein et al. recall that it was Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year in 2022, after searches for the term rose 1740%.

Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse that involves manipulating the victim to doubt themselves and their perception of reality.

Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse that involves manipulating the victim to doubt themselves and their perception of reality.

This form of emotional abuse can erode your self-confidence and sense of autonomy, making it difficult to trust your instincts. 

Over time, you may find yourself constantly second-guessing your decisions and feeling isolated from friends and family who can provide support.

Klein et al. go on to say, “The most notable consequences for survivors were feelings of a diminished sense of self, increased guardedness, and increased mistrust of others.”

These tactics are designed to undermine your reality and keep you off-balance.

Prioritizing your mental health and well-being is crucial, and taking steps to address or leave an abusive relationship can lead to healing and personal growth.

Seeking Help

Not every toxic relationship is abusive. But all abusive relationships are toxic. So, it’s important you know that there are resources available to help you. You’re not alone, and you’re not stuck.

If you are in a relationship that feels abusive or dangerous, it’s important to seek help. Reach out to a trusted friend, family member, or professional for support. If you do, erase your text messages, phone calls, and search history as well as you can.

Create a safety plan for when you’re ready to leave the relationship. Here are a few tips for creating a safety plan:

  • Identify safe areas at home during conflicts
  • Keep emergency contacts handy
  • Pack an emergency bag with essentials
  • Plan and practice escape routes, especially with children
  • Seek support from domestic violence organizations for tailored assistance

You deserve to be in a healthy and secure relationship, and you can find help to guide you through this.

Here are some resources to get you started:

Conclusion

Toxic relationships can lead to long-lasting effects on mental health, self-esteem, and overall well-being. 

Acknowledging the toxicity and its impact and taking the necessary steps to break free and heal is essential. 

By recognizing the signs, seeking support, prioritizing self-love, and learning from the experience, you can move forward and build healthier relationships in the future. 

Remember, you deserve to be in a supportive and loving environment, and taking the steps to leave a toxic relationship is a courageous and empowering decision.

Frequently Asked Questions

How to detach from a toxic relationship?

To detach from a toxic relationship, it’s important to prioritize setting clear boundaries and communicating one’s intentions to end the relationship, even if it’s challenging. Completely cut off contact with the person, focus on taking care of yourself, and reach out for support from friends and family, or a therapist. 

How do you cut off a toxic person you love?

To cut off a toxic person you love, you need to acknowledge the relationship is no longer healthy. Love isn’t enough to heal a toxic relationship. Start by cutting off communication and rebuilding your life with the help of friends, family, and therapy.

How do I know my partner is toxic?

You know your partner is toxic when you recognize the signs, which include gaslighting, belittling, controlling behavior, isolation, and violating boundaries. You may feel drained and undermined by your partner. Physical and sexual assault are signs of not only a toxic relationship but an abusive one.

References

1. Graham, Callie. (2022). Demystifying toxic romantic relationships: Identifying behaviors and post-breakup outcomes [Doctoral dissertation, Arizona State University]. Arizona State University Digital Archives. https://keep.lib.asu.edu/system/files/c7/Graham_asu_0010E_21687.pdf 

2. Forth, A., Sezlik, S., Lee, S., Ritchie, M., Logan, J., & Ellingwood, H. (2022). Toxic relationships: The experiences and effects of psychopathy in romantic relationships. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 66(15), 1627–1658. https://doi.org/10.1177/0306624X211049187

3. Forth, A., Sezlik, S., Lee, S., Ritchie, M., Logan, J., & Ellingwood, H. (2022). Toxic relationships: The experiences and effects of psychopathy in romantic relationships. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 66(15), 1627–1658. https://doi.org/10.1177/0306624X211049187

4. Turner, R. J., & and Brown, R. L. (1999). Social support and mental health. In T. L. Scheid & T. N. Brown (Eds.), A handbook for the study of mental health: Social contexts, theories, and systems (2nd ed., pp. 200–212). Cambridge. https://d1wqtxts1xzle7.cloudfront.net/49769850/A_Handbook_for_the_Study_of_Mental_Health__Social_Contexts__Theories__and_Systems___2nd_edition-libre.pdf?1477079296=&response-content-disposition=inline%3B+filename%3DMarital_Status_and_Mental_Health.pdf&Expires=1719861981&Signature=Ks6C94viU8QapO4uLLt6W5Dgr4-kEYEYX7Q5QX0kTHlYgqyk234ta-4m20dq0TosANCIh-adS1l7FyPZ0K3dMQHVS9~1j4EJyN9xpKL8WFesYhB-T1tZ5PSLZ74nTtLNloYe26Ph7Q-6G6MpcL98dCkNKMWYHRJUJQoqDnnaouhrmuw93t4CyluFwF9xyye3UMKJ-IXqBcwy6gPoDrFY9h7ciMJo99zfYzz4PJQ8Tbx7U4gw4eKSNk3G321m2r3w63HnNSzDgLVcRRX4KFHx6bHfEroLlNa0KPlDz14JbOzwWacDvlFgVrl90WNLGvJ3luYczqln53Ak5setCrTwlA__&Key-Pair-Id=APKAJLOHF5GGSLRBV4ZA#page=

5. Torres-Soto, N. Y., Corral-Verdugo, V., & Corral-Frías, N. S. (2021). The relationship between self-care, positive family environment, and human wellbeing. Wellbeing, Space and Society, 3, 100076. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wss.2022.100076

6. Powell, A. (2023, November 9). When science meets mindfulness. Harvard Gazette. https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2018/04/harvard-researchers-study-how-mindfulness-may-change-the-brain-in-depressed-patients/

7. Martin, S. (2018, July 13). Why do we repeat the same dysfunctional relationship patterns over and over? Psych Central. https://psychcentral.com/blog/imperfect/2018/07/why-do-we-repeat-the-same-dysfunctional-relationship-patterns

8. Baker, L. R., & McNulty, J. K. (2019). The relationship problem solving (reps) model: How partners influence one another to resolve relationship problems. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 24(1). https://doi.org/10.1177/1088868319881243

9. Karakurt, G., & Silver, K. E. (2013). Emotional abuse in intimate relationships: The role of gender and age. Violence and Victims, 28(5), 804. https://doi.org/10.1891/0886-6708.vv-d-12-00041

10. Charlie Health Editorial Team. (2023, October 27). Yes, being in a toxic relationship affects your mental health—here’s what to do. Charlie Health. https://www.charliehealth.com/post/how-toxic-relationships-affect-your-mental-health

11. Forth, A., Sezlik, S., Lee, S., Ritchie, M., Logan, J., & Ellingwood, H. (2022). Toxic relationships: The experiences and effects of psychopathy in romantic relationships. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 66(15), 1627–1658. https://doi.org/10.1177/0306624X211049187

12. Klein, W., Li, S., & Wood, S. (2023). A qualitative analysis of gaslighting in romantic relationships. Personal Relationships, 30(4), 1316–1340. https://doi.org/10.1111/pere.12510

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