How to Heal and Recover From Toxic Relationship Damage

Updated on September 19, 2018
janshares profile image

Janis has extensive experience as a licensed professional counselor in assisting clients recover from the pain of unhealthy relationships.

Breathe Again: Freedom From Toxic Relationships

A woman breathes in the fresh air of the ocean as she celebrates letting go of a toxic relationship.
A woman breathes in the fresh air of the ocean as she celebrates letting go of a toxic relationship. | Source

Toxic Relationships: How to Heal From Long Term Damage

So often, a woman will stay in a toxic relationship far beyond a time frame that is considered healthy. Her friends and family see her descending into a state of inertia, as if she has become a prisoner of her situation and of her own apathy. The unfortunate reality is, in a lot of cases, that women in toxic relationships that have become abusive, are literally in a prison out of which they see no escape.

The state of feeling paralyzed as a victim in a toxic or abusive relationship is not just a women's issue. Men can feel trapped in the same type of scenario, in the role of victim. Staying too long in an unhealthy love relationship, whether male or female, can render long term consequences for the mind, body and spirit.

The negative impacts of holding onto "toxic love" in a relationship extends far beyond one's gender, sexual preference, marital status, or type of commitment. All types of relationships may become subject to the sting of abuse or toxicity, where the dynamics between two people become unhealthy. Unfortunately, the consequences of staying in these types of relationships for too long are seen when it's almost too late. Much damage to the person's psyche has already been done by the time they make the decision to get out, be it physical, emotional, or verbal damage.

This article will identify that period of realization which focuses on the moment of "knowing" it's time to leave. Fears that keep persons paralyzed will be explored, long term damages of staying will be identified which accompany the decision to save one's self. A poem is also offered to creatively express the moment of inner strength that catapults the bound person to freedom. A four-step plan for healing and recovery is presented at the end of the article.

Reasons Why People Stay in Toxic Relationships

It's easy to question and pass judgment on those who remain in bad relationships for extended periods of time. When there is little, if any, experience with or knowledge about this type of relationship, it won't make any sense to the on-looker as to why people stay.

But there are valid reasons why people choose to stay or are forced to stay because they feel they have no other choice.

It is important to have an understanding of the complicated dynamics of the toxic relationship before making generalizations about how people should handle their toxic situations. It is also important for the victim to not be made to feel guilty about the reasons he or she has stayed. Some of the most common reasons people stay include:

  • Fear - The reality of fear is a very real issue for men and women who find themselves entwined in relationships that have become physically and verbally abusive. As a result of receiving threats or being assaulted, they actually fear for their safety. Or, in many cases, where violence is absent, they have a basic fear of making it on their own and fear independence.
  • Emotional Dependency - It may be hard to believe that otherwise accomplished individuals can feel a strong need to have someone there with them to make decisions, provide emotional support, and to be a companion. The thought of being alone produces more anxiety for them than does the unhealthy environment they share with the toxic partner.
  • Financial Dependency - Economics play a huge role in what binds and keeps two people together in an unhealthy household. Lack of financial resources makes it almost impossible for an abused person to leave a toxic situation.
  • Family Stability for the Children/Pets - Many unhappy partners will make untenable sacrifices to maintain a stable environment to avoid creating undue interruption in the lives of family members. More than ever, decisions about resolving toxic relationships revolve around what will happen to the family pet.
  • Societal and Religious Expectations - Keeping personal business secret, maintaining the facade that "all is well," and keeping the promise of the vow are strong holds on many partners who choose to stay in bad relationships. They cannot bear the shame and guilt which is felt by disappointing family, friends, and God. People stay in order to live up to the expectations of staying together, for better or for worse. Even if the couple isn't married, the rule is that it's better to be coupled than to be single.
  • Love - Although it may be labeled as "toxic love," some people stay in unhealthy relationships because they truly do love their partners. They are committed to the relationship, actually have had good times together, and are invested in a future with what they view as a partnership.

"Toxic Love Endures Forever"

Are you always surprised at how long people stay in toxic relationships?

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Toxic Love: The Moment of "Knowing" It's Time to Save Yourself

More often than not, persons who decide to get out of toxic relationships have been thinking about it for a very long time. During this period, they may also come to find themselves living out roles in which they don't recognize themselves anymore. These roles most often take on the label of "codependent," "abused partner," or "victim."

Prior to making the decision to walk away, they have gone back and forth about the pros and cons of staying versus leaving. But in those extended bouts of indecisiveness, they more than likely have already lost a lot. The following list includes some of what the codependent, victimized, or abused person in a toxic relationship has already compromised by staying in it for too long.

  • A Clear Identity
  • Confidence and Self-Awareness
  • Ability to Assert Opinion and Point of View
  • Good Level of Self-Esteem and Healthy Self-Image
  • Financial Savvy and Independence
  • Ability to Make Decisions
  • Physical and Mental Health
  • Self-Worth
  • Dignity

The reality check comes at the eleventh hour when the damaged person becomes keenly aware of her losses in the moment of "knowing." The loss of such traits noted above affect a person's ability to interact with others. It affects one's ability to be productive and perform without anxiety. Having no self-worth hinders a person's ability to be successful and accomplish goals with confidence. It is no longer possible to operate on "empty" as one's self-worth and value continue to plummet.

At the moment of epiphany, damaged persons begin to feel a need to reclaim the self and stand erect, on their own two feet, without having to lean on OR hold up anyone else. They begin to see that survival is dependent upon one's ability to breathe alone. The poem "Breathe Again" expresses the resilience of the survivor who makes the decision to leave and save the self.

A Poem About Healing From Toxic Love

"Breathe Again"

Losing air and shape

Descending slowly to where?

I tried so hard in desperation to stay afloat

For what? Where is my incentive,

As I hold on to un-reciprocated love?

I wanted so much to save us, to save you

But now I give in to saving myself.

I couldn't bounce without the air of your breath

I lived for only you, in love and loyalty

And I willingly forgot about me

Now I remember.

Like a newborn gasping for air

I must relearn how to breathe again on my own

JLE 2007

4 Steps Toward Healing and Recovery

Now that you've read the poem, it's time to take some steps toward reclaiming yourself and restoring the dignity, confidence, and sense of self-worth that belong to you. Read the following points of advice to begin your recovery and healing from the damage rendered by your toxic relationship.

1. Create a support network - It is vitally important to have a support system to help you step mentally outside of your toxic situation and see it for what it is from a new angle. When you're too close in proximity, you may not see the damage to which you've become either accustomed or numb. A support network could include a support group, good friends, or family members you can trust.

Your support network can also include resources such as self-help books you can have available at all times to continually work your program of recovery.

A popular self-help book called Dark Souls: Healing and Recovering from Toxic Relationships, by Sarah Strudwick, provides a look at traits and dynamics between you and your partner. It offers the reader a clearer understanding of the relationship and the damages that result.

2. Re-establish your identity - Re-introduce yourself to all that makes up who you are as an individual. What are your likes and dislikes, your favorite things, your interests, and your accomplishments? Realize that your purpose and identity cannot revolve around another person only. You must maintain a part of your own identity in a relationship.

3. Make decisions for yourself to boost confidence - Increase your knowledge about things you avoided doing because you were too timid; set goals to tackle and complete small tasks, followed by bigger tasks to create a feeling of accomplishing something on your own.

4. Cleanse your mind, body, and spirit of toxicity - Engage in some type of movement or spiritual activity for cleansing and renewal after you have left the toxic environment/relationship. Follow through with cutting contact with the toxic person. Examples of activities include yoga, tai chi, aerobic exercise, meditation, journaling, detoxification, talk therapy, or religious practices within a supportive faith community.

You are now on your way to moving toward true independence, freedom, and love of self. Take your time as you exhale . . . and learn to breathe again.

[Janis Leslie Evans, M.Ed., N.C.C., L.P.C., Washington, DC, is a licensed professional counselor in private practice, specializing in relationship conflicts, unresolved trauma, grief and loss.]

How to Know if You're in a Toxic Relationship

Questions & Answers

    © 2015 Janis Leslie Evans


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      • janshares profile imageAUTHOR

        Janis Leslie Evans 

        4 months ago from Washington, DC

        Thank you so much for sharing your journey. It is a testament to your optimism about healing yourself and being in a healthy relationship. You've done really well.

        To let go of the residual hatred, you must realize that the hate is now unnecessary. You don't need it anymore. It is taking up prime space in your body that should be housing the joy you get from your new relationship. Make a decision to open spaces in your body and soul to receive what is good. As you said, "I finally can breathe fresh air." Exhale the hate and make more space for the fresh air. Thank you for reading, I wish you continued peace.

      • profile image

        A Peden 

        4 months ago

        I was 20 when I got out of a toxic relationship over a year ago. I had never had panic attacks before that relationship, then they were happening on a regular basis. I had also attempted suicide during that time period. Realizing how far I had gone, that's when I decided to leave the relationship. I had found out afterwards that she had been cheating on me anyway.

        Now, as of late, I have been in a new relationship for just over two months now. For so long, I hated the other girl for driving me to my lowest point in my life. I still find hatred from time to time. But I realized that it isn't healthy. This new relationship has been one of reprieve. Among my friend group, she is definitely the least cynical, and the happiest person I know. She takes the edge off of my cynicism and helps me learn not to hold on to hate and not live in the past.

        Everything I learned from my previous relationship I'm using to build something with her. Trying to make sure that my wounds don't turn into the worst parts of my personality and instead turn them into the best parts. I haven't felt so hopeful in a long time, and I finally can breathe fresh air.

        My only question: How do I fully let go of this hate inside me? How do I not let this previous girl's actions and my own previous actions control my thoughts anymore?

      • janshares profile imageAUTHOR

        Janis Leslie Evans 

        5 months ago from Washington, DC

        I'm glad to hear the article helped a little but I can clearly see that your internal struggle continues. It's so difficult when children are involved. But besides the children, it sounds like the experience has impacted how you see yourself and what believe you've become. The fact that you reached out after reading this article is a sign that you still have a sliver of strength left. Use this sharing as a step forward to getting help. Find a therapist who can meet with you and help you heal. I wish you well, thanks for reading.

      • profile image


        5 months ago

        15 years and all of my adult life so far I'm more entangled than ever. Made a decision to leave yesterday. I have three Kidd, my youngest is 4 months old. The toxic relationship I've lived for so long has changed me. I feel cynical, hopeless I've given up on happiness. I've become toxic too. I let rip yesterday said every Mean thing I could think of, cajoled, derided, threatened. He taught me well in this respect. I'm at my mums noe it is a safe harbour but I can feel my kind being drawn back to the question should I try again... Reading this is helping a little but I have so little strength left to hold up my head tight noe, just enough to ensure my Kidd are well and happy but I sm struggling with a sense of utter dejection knowing there are no more chances its so toxic it would be madness to keep trying

      • janshares profile imageAUTHOR

        Janis Leslie Evans 

        7 months ago from Washington, DC

        Absolutely, Julia. Heal yourself first. I hope you found this article helpful. Thanks for stopping by.

      • profile image


        7 months ago

        I myself am still in a toxic relationship. I've just recently realized I need to get out of it. I need to heal on my own before I can be with my soulmate

      • janshares profile imageAUTHOR

        Janis Leslie Evans 

        7 months ago from Washington, DC

        You've made my day, Anna. I'm so glad you found this article to be a helpful resource on your healing journey. I wish you peace in your recovery. Enjoy your day.

      • profile image


        7 months ago

        Thank you so much for posting this article, I am going through recovery after a deeply toxic relationship and bitter break up and searched for something to help keep me on track with my emotions today, this really helped x

      • janshares profile imageAUTHOR

        Janis Leslie Evans 

        9 months ago from Washington, DC

        That's so good to know, Kari. I'm glad the poem resonated. Continue to take good cads of yourself. Thank you for stopping by and reading this article.

      • k@ri profile image

        Kari Poulsen 

        9 months ago from Ohio

        I love the poem, and I see myself in it. I remember how I gasped for air like a newborn. How I willingly forgot myself. Now I am trying to repair myself and my life. I am sure I will.

      • janshares profile imageAUTHOR

        Janis Leslie Evans 

        12 months ago from Washington, DC

        Thank you for sharing your experience, Bobby. So glad you are healing. Thank you for taking the time to stop by and read this article.

      • profile image


        12 months ago

        Good Words! As I heal, I find myself looking for why I couldn't fix this abuser. Frankly, she couldn't be fixed. Toxic people are selfish and it's all about them. After a year and a half I left. She came back a few months later and I took her back. Now a year later, she still treats me as optional but denies it. I wasn't moving forward in my life. I often waited for her to let me see her. This is no way to live. I quit seeing my friends and family. I quit loving myself. She was not truthful more than once and it hurt. She didn't have much love for me or it didn't seem so. After I blew up on her, I cut off contact, started working out, got a new job, started seeing my friends and family more...a lot more. Never let anyone take your happiness. Its yours!! But folks, it hurts like hell thinking I could have made it work. I still love her but I'm happier not worrying about where she's at or who she's with. She will eventually fade and I'll get better.

      • janshares profile imageAUTHOR

        Janis Leslie Evans 

        13 months ago from Washington, DC

        You're very welcome.

      • profile image

        Anh Nguyen 

        13 months ago

        it's very useful. Thank you so much.

      • janshares profile imageAUTHOR

        Janis Leslie Evans 

        2 years ago from Washington, DC

        You're welcome. Glad I was able to help. In time, you will fill the void with renewed purpose.

      • profile image

        Christ i 

        2 years ago

        Thank you for your help today. I really needed this. I myself am experiencing the loss of my loved ones. Im having trouble finding my purpose. I feel empty and lost. Ive isolated myself. Thank you again for your advise.

      • janshares profile imageAUTHOR

        Janis Leslie Evans 

        2 years ago from Washington, DC

        Thank you kindly, Aaron. I really appreciate your critique of this article. I use it to supplement my work with clients who have been damaged by the toxic relationship dynamic. They find it helpful so your comments are validating. Thank you for visiting.

      • Aaron Seitler profile image

        Aaron Seitler 

        2 years ago from Manchester, United Kingdom

        Fascinating work here and very applicable. Because we've all seen the movies and we all think we 'know' how to deal with a relationship when it becomes toxic, when this is not necessarily true, we can either mishandle these situations or become impotent. I agree with the elan that this hub advocates.

      • janshares profile imageAUTHOR

        Janis Leslie Evans 

        2 years ago from Washington, DC

        Great comment, Stacey. I appreciate your visit.

      • Stacy Deason profile image

        Stacy Deason 

        2 years ago

        love has many faces, sometimes pleasant sometimes unpleasant, ups and downs are a part of every relationship, but don't run blindly behind your love. If a person don't value your emotions, it may be a waste of devoting time for him/her in false hope.

      • janshares profile imageAUTHOR

        Janis Leslie Evans 

        2 years ago from Washington, DC

        Glad you liked it. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment.

      • shprd74 profile image

        Hari Prasad S 

        2 years ago from Bangalore

        relationships are complex

        mixture of

        pride, love, hatred, ego


        economic culture, have,

        no single resolve.

        very informative hub janshares.

        - hari

      • janshares profile imageAUTHOR

        Janis Leslie Evans 

        3 years ago from Washington, DC

        Pride is a tough one, Dana. It does so much damage. I hope your friend will one day find peace. Thanks for your generous comment.

      • Dana Tate profile image

        Dana Tate 

        3 years ago from LOS ANGELES

        I have a friend who was desperate to get her boyfriend to marry her. She played all kinds of games and used emotional blackmail to get him to the alter and finally she won. This guy was a cheater who already had one ex-wife and five children. Against all advice she married him and seven years later she's miserable. She comes from a family of long-stable marriages; also, they're very religious. But I think her true reason for staying is pride. She would rather be miserable than admit everyone else was right.

      • janshares profile imageAUTHOR

        Janis Leslie Evans 

        3 years ago from Washington, DC

        Thank you so much, Stacie L, for saying so. My hope is that it opens eyes to what people may not see and that they get some help. Thanks for stopping by.

      • Stacie L profile image

        Stacie L 

        3 years ago

        Many adults do not recognize a toxic situation due to their upbringing.

        They know it doesn't feel right but think it's their problem so it may never improve.

        Self awareness and the need to heal is the first step.

        These are good points you discuss in your hub and it could help others recognize their own situation and get help.

      • janshares profile imageAUTHOR

        Janis Leslie Evans 

        3 years ago from Washington, DC

        You're welcome, word55. Thank you for stopping by to read it. Very true in some cases that unresolved emotional damage can block blessings later on.

      • word55 profile image


        3 years ago from Chicago

        Hi jan, this was very good. Some people will say, "that's life" but a lot of people end up emotionally damaged and won't give the "right person" the opportunity to enjoy them. Thank you for sharing.

      • janshares profile imageAUTHOR

        Janis Leslie Evans 

        3 years ago from Washington, DC

        You are very welcome, Motherbynature. I'm so pleased it resonated with you. You are so right about the support system being a part of the problem sometimes and just as toxic. I'm glad you were able to free yourself from toxic situations. Thank you so much for taking the time to read and vote. My hope is that this article touches many people who need the validation and push to save themselves.

      • Motherbynature profile image


        3 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

        This is so needed. I voted up. People underestimate how important it is to have a support system. Sometimes the support system lets people down and guilts them into staying in a toxic situation. Many people, myself included, have endured being used and mistreated by people and then reached out for help only to hear "She's your sister/aunt/cousin. Make it work". That makes it difficult to realize that your feelings are valid. It makes you think you might be overreacting even though your gut is telling you that feeling terrible all the time is not normal. Thank you for writing this.

      • Akriti Mattu profile image

        Akriti Mattu 

        3 years ago from Shimla, India

        Pleasure is all mine :)

      • janshares profile imageAUTHOR

        Janis Leslie Evans 

        3 years ago from Washington, DC

        Oh, so beautifully stated, Akriti. I appreciate that comment and your visit.

      • Akriti Mattu profile image

        Akriti Mattu 

        3 years ago from Shimla, India

        Very honestly written. Toxic relationships are never worth it. People should stop working them out .Instead focus on the beauty life has to offer.

      • janshares profile imageAUTHOR

        Janis Leslie Evans 

        3 years ago from Washington, DC

        I wish her well, MsDora. Hopefully, you can get it to her somehow. Thanks for reading, appreciate the visit.

      • MsDora profile image

        Dora Weithers 

        3 years ago from The Caribbean

        Presently, I know a young woman who is in a toxic relationship with one of my relatives. I wish I could get her to read this! You laid it out very sensibly. Thanks for these steps toward healing.

      • janshares profile imageAUTHOR

        Janis Leslie Evans 

        3 years ago from Washington, DC

        Insightful wisdom you share about toxic relationships, Dr Billy. Thank you for that and for you visit. So glad you liked it.

      • janshares profile imageAUTHOR

        Janis Leslie Evans 

        3 years ago from Washington, DC

        Thanks, Jeb. I'm grateful for your visit and that generous comment. I hope it reaches and benefits the people who need it the most.

      • Dr Billy Kidd profile image

        Dr Billy Kidd 

        3 years ago from Sydney, Australia

        Good Job, janshares!

        One thing to remember is that we all have a love style. It's the way we approach romantic relationships. It's a long-term thing and a product of growing up. It's difficult to change a love style. That's why we find ourselves in the same kind of relationships over and over.

      • Jeb Bensing profile image

        Jeb Stuart Bensing 

        3 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

        This is an eye opening informative work of writing. My Sister was in an abusive relationship several years back, which had changed her perspective very much when it came to other relationships later down the road. You have shared a very soulful way of coming to terms with yourself and the relationships which can be toxic.

      • janshares profile imageAUTHOR

        Janis Leslie Evans 

        3 years ago from Washington, DC

        What a sad story, pstraubie48. You did all that you could by reaching out and letting her know you were there for her. I really appreciate your lovely comments, vote up and the sharing. You are a blessing anytime you visit me and bring angels. God bless you and your family.

      • pstraubie48 profile image

        Patricia Scott 

        3 years ago from sunny Florida

        This is so so important. I served as a parent liaison for a school system which involved being available to parents for whatever reason. I had this one young Mother (older than me but still young) who came in with black eyes and bruises on her arms (who knows what was covered) and she refused to leave. No way to support herself with the kids..and so on. I told her I would help her (as part of my job I had become closely connected with the community, business leaders etc) but she said no.

        One Monday she came in after a horrible weekend and I said to her, "I won't come to your funeral!"

        Not long after that she moved. THEY who knows where and I lost touch with her. They never sent for the kids' school records.

        I got it; I understood on the one hand but on the other, not so much.

        You have shared this so eloquently and it deserves to be read by all

        I am sorry I have been away for so long; I am always glad when I visit .

        voted up++++ and shared

        Angels are winging their way to you this evening. ps


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