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Q: How to leave a toxic relationship?

Disclaimer: I am only sharing my personal take/experience related to this issue. I am not an expert, so please do not consider this post as your final answer. Take it with a grain of salt, do your own research, and reach out to an expert/authority figure if you need professional help to get out of a toxic relationship.

A: I guess I would answer this question with another question: “What makes you stay in that toxic relationship?”

I believe that to know how to leave a toxic relationship, we need to know why we’re staying there in the first place.

However, before going further, let’s make sure that we’re on the same page. Here’s an excerpt from a TIME article about toxic relationships:

Dr. Lillian Glass, a California-based communication and psychology expert, says that a toxic relationship is consistently unpleasant and draining for the people in it, to the point that negative moments outweigh and outnumber the positive ones.

Dr. Kristen Fuller, a California-based family medicine physician who specializes in mental health, adds that toxic relationships are mentally, emotionally and possibly even physically damaging to one or both participants. And these relationships don’t have to be romantic: Glass says friendly, familial and professional relationships can all be toxic as well.

With that being said, logically, we know that we need to get out of a toxic relationship. That’s crystal clear. The problem is, we don’t always feel like we’re capable of getting ourselves out of that relationship, for many different reasons (one can be more complicated than another).

However, most of the time, it’s fear. We are afraid to leave.

What do you get out of that relationship?

We’re afraid of leaving that relationship because we believe that despite being toxic, we get something out of that relationship. Maybe we get the feeling of being loved, assurance, friendship, comfort, a sense of familiarity, security, or financial support. The fear is about missing these things in our lives if we decided to leave the toxic relationship.

Now, the question is, how can you get those things you (think) you need outside of this relationship? How can you give yourself those things? Are there other people that can provide you with those things and who are they? How can you get them to help you?

Make plans on how you can get those things that you need (or want) outside of your toxic relationship. Get it from other people, or get it from yourself. Once you know that you can have the things you need outside of your toxic relationship, you’ll gain the confidence you need to leave. You won’t be afraid to leave anymore because you know that what you need (or want) can still be obtained outside of that toxic relationship.

This is what I did to leave a toxic relationship I was once in.

Do you think this toxic relationship poses a serious threat to your life, either physically, emotionally, or mentally?

If yes, immediately reach out to a psychologist, a psychiatrist, a social worker/activist, or an authority figure you respect. If that sounds like too much of a stretch, reach out to a friend or family member you trust. Yes, it can be hard, but do it. Save yourself. Your life matters. Love and respect yourself by seeking help to get out of the relationship as soon as possible.

Cutting ties.

While you’re in the process of getting out of a toxic relationship, when possible, I find it best to totally cut ties with the other person. Do not stay with them, be with them, talk to them, or meet them. For me, this is important to prevent me from swaying or changing my minds (oh, maybe s/he’ll change. oh, this time s/he promised. oh, s/he said sorry).

It will be more difficult and more challenging to get out of the toxic relationship if we are frequently in touch with the other person. Their pull can still be so strong, and we’re risking ourselves to get sucked back into that relationship again.

However, if it’s impossible to totally cut ties with the other person at the moment, try reducing your time/interaction with him/her. Surround yourself with people that make you feel good. Sign yourself up to join various activities that you love. In the meantime, reach out to the people you trust and make plans about how you can distance yourself from this person.

But, I love him/her. I want to help him/her.

I know that this, sometimes, becomes our excuse to go back into a toxic relationship (I was guilty of this!). However, we need to know that we can’t love them if we can’t love ourselves. And we can’t help them when we have terribly wounded ourselves. The best thing to do is to love ourselves first by healing our wounds and nursing ourselves back to health. Once we’re completely healed and strong, once we’ve gained our confidence that we can be completely OK outside of that toxic relationship, then we can decide if we want to ‘help’ the other person, or if we want to get connected/interact with them again.

I hope this helps!


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I took another digital detox this weekend—I limited myself to a 5-minute screen time on Saturday and Sunday to quickly check my business account. I closed my social media account for the rest of the days.
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I am an Indonesian writer/artist/illustrator and stationery web shop owner (Cafe Analog) based in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. I love facilitating writing/creative workshops and retreats, especially when they are tied to self-exploration and self-expression. In Indonesian, 'beradadisini' means being here. So, here I am, documenting life—one word at a time.