Love shouldn’t hurt – ever

Steps to Recovering from Toxic Relationships
Ending an abusive and toxic relationship takes a toll on a person emotionally, mentally and physically. Picking up the pieces of their life and trying to move forward can be a slow and painful process. Support from their family, friends and community makes it a lot easier.
Regardless of its toxicity losing a relationship is still a loss that needs to be grieved. No one can speed up the grief process. According to Doctor Kubler-Ross there are 5 stages of grief. These stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. The stages of grief do not always follow a certain pattern and often can be repeated several times before finally accepting the loss.

Kaytee Gillis’s article “The 6 Stages of Recovery from Toxic Relationship,” from Psychology Today states recovery from a toxic relationship has very similar stages to someone during bereavement. Again, it is important to note that these stages do not always follow each other in any order and can be repeated or even skipped as recovery is a different process for everyone. The following are the 6 stages of recovering from a toxic relationship: self-doubt, learning and researching, clarity, breaking free, doing the work of healing, and accepting and making meaning.

Self-doubt is common territory for all failed relationships however it can be extremely hard to decipher if you have been in a toxic and abusive relationship where someone made you feel like everything was always your fault. Deciding to end a relationship is hard enough without constantly second guessing all your actions because of gaslighting and feelings of guilt. This is why learning and researching is such an important stage. Working through the trauma and doubt by opening up to people who understand or have been in that situation. Reading articles or watching videos about abuse can help make your experience less scary. Talking with a trained advocate can help you process your experiences in a safe environment.

Clarity comes with distance from the situation. It is much harder to see abuse for what it is in the middle of a cycle of love bombing and apologies. When there is no contact with the abusive person it becomes clear what they have done and been doing to manipulate the situation. Learning and researching about toxic relationships help with this stage as well. Clarity can only come from learning what was wrong in the first place.

Gillis states that breaking free is when someone decides to leave a toxic relationship and has the courage, knowledge, and clarity to stop all contact. In some cases, contact has to remain for children. Gillis recommends that this contact be as brief as possible. She teaches a technique of ensuring that all communication is necessary, emotionless, and brief. This ensures that nothing can be manipulated or turned into a nasty argument.

Doing healing work looks different to everyone. This could be admitting to yourself that it was not your fault for the abuse and moving forward that you will not accept that kind of treatment in the future. Healing allows us to look at ourselves as imperfect and sometimes even broken with acceptance. It is a process towards forgiving ourselves and letting go. This takes time for everyone and may be a stage that needs to be repeated frequently.

Gillis final stage is accepting and meaning making. Typically, this happens when someone acknowledges that they are healing from the trauma and know that they have learned more about themselves and what they want. Sometimes it happens because they rushed into another relationship and see familiar patterns. Rather than blaming themselves they can see where they missed red flags and warning signs prior to getting involved. Some choose to turn this into something good and share their story to educate others.

If you believe you or someone you know is in a toxic and abusive relationship Crisis Services of North Alabama can help. We provide confidential, free, crisis counseling to victims and survivors of intimate partner violence and sexual assault. You do not have to face this time of grief and recovery alone. Please reach out to an advocate for support on our 24/7 HELPline at 256.716.1000, our local office at 256.574.5826, or our website at

-Christina Hays

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