Ending a relationship can be incredibly difficult no matter how toxic it is. Part of this is for simple biological reasons, as some scientific studies have shown that being in love activates the same areas of the brain as being high on cocaine.
Brain scans of lovers and people experiencing cocaine addiction both display increased activity in the pleasure centers of the brain (most notably the dopamine centers) and decreased activity in the frontal lobe, which is the area responsible for cognition. This means that while falling in love can make us feel good, it can also profoundly affect our judgment.
It is for this reason that love can sometimes be compared to an addiction. In love, much like addiction, there may be negative side effects such as abuse or gaslighting. But despite all of those bad circumstances, it can still be difficult to kick the romantic attraction and feelings of love.
If you find yourself feeling trapped in a relationship you know is not healthy, consider these 15 tips for letting go of it for good:
1. Recognize the Problem
Awareness is the first step. Educate yourself or consider talking to a therapist or counselor about what constitutes an unhealthy relationship. Take a good, hard, and objective look at your relationship and be honest with yourself.
Ask yourself these questions:
- Is this relationship serving my highest good?
- Is this relationship negatively impacting other areas of my life?
- Is this relationship detrimental to my self-esteem?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, consider ending or talking to a professional about the relationship.
2. Allow Yourself to Feelgrief you may have, and allow yourself to feel those emotions rather than attempting to suppress them. Accept grief as a part of the experience, and allow yourself the time you need to heal.
3. Discover the Lesson
Many people who move on from a toxic relationship feel guilt or shame as they perceive the time they spent in the relationship as a waste. However, every person who comes into our lives can teach us something. Rather than looking at your relationship as wasted time, try to find the lesson in it. What did this person teach you? What are you taking away from the relationship? How have you changed as a person, and how might you do things differently next time?
In life, lessons may often be repeated until they are learned. Look for the lesson from this relationship and you may be less likely to carry the same lesson over into your next relationship.
4. Create Separation
It can be hard to distance yourself from someone you’re used to spending so much time with, but it is usually necessary if you want to move on from the relationship. This doesn’t mean you can’t maintain a friendship with your ex, but it’s usually best to allow some time for both parties to heal before you try to spend time together as friends.
5. Let Go of the Mementos
It can be tempting to hang on to all the old relics of a past relationship. Doing so, however, may prevent you from moving on with your life. If you must keep the old love letters, movie ticket stubs, photos, or romantic gifts, you may want to store them somewhere out of sight until you’re ready to move on.
6. Take Off Your Love Goggles
Love often has a way of clouding your perception, which sometimes makes it difficult to a see someone for who they really are. If you really want to get out of an unhealthy relationship, you must be willing to take off your love goggles and look at the person objectively. Consider talking with a close family member or friend or even finding a therapist to help you look at the relationship impartially.
It isn’t uncommon to only hold on to the good memories of an ex and completely shut out the bad memories. Maintain your perspective by remembering both sides of the experience. Remind yourself of the good times, but don’t forget those bad times or you could end up forgetting why you ended the relationship in the first place.
7. Compose a Letter to Your Ex
Consider writing out all your feelings in a letter, even if you have no intention of sending it. You can choose to give this letter to your former partner or destroy it when you’re finished. The point of the letter is to allow you to release your feelings. Writing or journaling can help you reflect on the relationship as a whole, while giving you a way to further your mental and emotional wellness.
8. Focus On Empowering Yourself
Try your best to shift focus off the relationship and back to yourself. Consider trying new things or putting your energy into a hobby you’ve neglected. Remembering why the relationship was unhealthy and focusing on what it is you do want in a relationship can be empowering.
Most importantly, work on your relationship with yourself. Focus on cultivating self-love and respect. Remind yourself that you are worthy of love and that you deserve a healthy relationship.
9. Rewrite Your Story
We often tend to place the weight of our identities into our self-professed life stories. We believe we are what we continually tell ourselves. Examine your story and rewrite it in a more empowering way to start making positive changes in your life.
If you continually tell yourself you lost your soul mate and you’re destined to be alone, you might struggle to hang on to a relationship that is no longer serving you. Reframe your story and consider the fact this relationship may have just been one step on the journey toward an even better relationship in the future.
10. Practice Forgiveness
Release any feelings of guilt or regret you have surrounding the relationship. Forgive yourself for anything that happened in the past because you can no longer change it. You can only move forward and learn from it.
Be willing to forgive your former partner as well. Let go of any resentment you have regarding the relationship. Look at your partner with compassion and empathy and understand that all humans are susceptible to mistakes.
11. Live in the Present Moment
Life exists in the present moment. Choose to live in the present rather than getting lost in nostalgia. Often, people stay in a relationship that is no longer healthy because they are clinging to the past. Judge your relationship based on how it is at present rather than how it once was.
12. Accept What Is
We must be able to accept things as they are if we want to move forward. Many people remain in relationships that are unhealthy hoping they can somehow change their partner. It is important to remember you cannot change anyone, especially if they have no willingness to change themselves. If the relationship isn’t working for you, then you have the choice to leave and move on. That is something you can change.
13. Contribute to a Cause You Care About
If you’re having trouble letting go of the past, consider getting involved in a cause you feel passionate about. Doing this can not only occupy your time and mind as you process feelings and let go of the relationship, but it can also help shift your focus to something bigger than yourself. Studies have shown volunteering can significantly improve overall well-being. This can provide perspective and help you feel good as you also help your community.
14. Practice Self-Care
Most importantly, work on your relationship with yourself. Focus on cultivating self-love and respect. Remind yourself that you are worthy of love and that you deserve a healthy relationship.Letting go isn’t easy, and it isn’t uncommon to forget our own physical and emotional health after a painful breakup. The grief can be overwhelming and we may start to neglect our own needs.
Help yourself by choosing to practice self-care every day. Get plenty of rest. Eat nutritious food. Indulge. Take a hot bath. Get a massage. Whatever it is, just do something to meet your personal needs.
Furthermore, practice self-compassion. Moving on can be a big and scary step, so be gentle with yourself as you heal and create a new life after this relationship.
15. Embrace the Impermanence of Life
Forever is a misleading term. The only constant that exists in life is change. Despite our efforts to the contrary, we truly cannot hold on to anything in life forever. Everything—friends, family, and relationships—come and eventually go.
When it comes time for something to end, rather than clinging to what no longer is, realize impermanence is the nature of life and try to embrace it. Appreciate the good moments you had, cherish those memories, and let them go in exchange for new experiences.
Know When to Ask for Help
The first few moments, days, or weeks following a breakup can seem debilitating. For some, ending a relationship means a loss of identity, support, and normalcy. Ending a relationship—even a toxic one—can be incredibly challenging and emotionally draining. However, you do not have to do it alone. Know when to seek support if you need it.
If feelings of grief, shame, guilt, or other negative emotions persist and begin affecting your daily life after a relationship ends, consider finding a qualified therapist or counselor who can help you process and acknowledge your feelings in a healthy way. A qualified mental health professional can help you examine the past relationship in a safe place free of judgement while you work toward achieving a more complete sense of self after the relationship has ended.
Even if you feel like there is no hope after severing an important tie in your life, remember you can heal and you deserve a healthy relationship that meets your needs and complements you and your happiness.
- Lahat, I. (2014, July 9). The brain looks the same when we’re in love or high on cocaine. Retrieved from http://www.businessinsider.com/the-brain-looks-the-same-high-on-love-or-cocaine-2014-7
- Tabassum, F., Mohan, J., & Smith, P. (2016). Association of volunteering with mental well-being: A lifecourse analysis of a national population-based longitudinal study in the UK. BMJ Open, 6(8). doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2016-011327
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