Nancy Stroud, LCSW, RRT | 2717 Commercial Center Blvd | Suite E200 | Katy, TX 77494 | Tel: (281) 693-1455 | I do not take insurance

Trauma After Ending a Toxic Relationship: How You Can Heal and Move On

Was your marriage a toxic relationship?

How do you really know if what you endured was traumatizing?

And now, after the divorce, what’s next for you?

Was Your Relationship Toxic?

What does abuse or toxicity look like in a relationship? It can present in a multitude of ways.

You know that you felt bad in your marriage. However, you may not have recognized your specific experience as abuse.

Aside from obvious physical trauma, it’s important to ask yourself if you have experienced the following:

  • Cheating
  • Substance abuse or other addictions
  • Verbal disrespect
  • Constant criticism
  • Perpetually bad moods
  • Isolation

Oftentimes, people in a toxic relationship are aware that they feel terrible every day but don’t see the relationship as continually contributing to their emotional state and low opinion of themselves.

A partner’s addiction can be especially isolating and humiliating. Alcoholism and pornography habits, as well as a whole host of other addictions, can inflame a toxic marriage.

The associated abusive behavior is particularly difficult to work through because the addicted partner has a hard time seeing the impact their addiction has on others and places a higher priority on the substance or activity than anything else.

Generally, neglect, distance, and refusal to communicate by an abusive partner takes a toll on the marriage and their partner. When one partner is domineering, constantly abuses alcohol or other substance, repeatedly picks fights, or is otherwise difficult to get along with, the other partner suffers.

So, finally, after suffering this way for some time, you too may have chosen what many other abused spouses choose: to divorce your spouse.

Yet, you may have discovered that afterward you don’t feel the way you hoped.

Are You Experiencing Self-Blame and Shame after the Divorce?

You are not alone. This is a common response to life after a toxic relationship.

Perhaps you feel humiliated that you allowed yourself to be abused in front of your children. Or maybe you blame yourself for staying so long in the marriage.

Even worse, you may find yourself constantly ruminating or reliving the sad and emotionally painful experiences of your past. Flashbacks and sensitivity to emotional triggers in your current relationships often make it difficult to move forward. This is a sign that your toxic relationship was also a mentally and emotionally traumatic relationship.

Woman with her face in her handsMany people who divorced an abusive partner experience the following:

  • Shame
  • Guilt
  • Anger
  • Embarrassment
  • Depression
  • Self-doubt

Also, if children are involved, an abused former spouse may experience extreme worry about their kid’s mental state and post-divorce adjustment. To a degree, many of these worries just come with divorce territory. However, after a traumatic marriage, such anxiety is compounded by concerns that the other parent will abuse or manipulate the children too to get back at them.

The abused partner may also feel guilty that he or she must share custody and still expose their children to the toxic parent’s intimidating behavior.

It often becomes clear that the divorce doesn’t make the situation much safer emotionally. The abusive former partner isn’t any more cooperative than before. In fact, they may become more difficult to deal with. This can lead to further mental health damage for the traumatized partner.

Relationship Experts Point to Post Traumatic Relationship Disorder

Interestingly, recent research has begun to compare PTSD to a condition referred to as  Post-traumatic Relationship Disorder.

Though not an official diagnosis yet, there is enough evidence to suggest that a significant number of people who experienced traumatizing relationships suffer similar symptoms afterward. PTRD, as noted by researchers, presents in specific ways according to scientific study.

In addition to the symptoms of trauma listed above, PTRD sufferers often spend a lot of time…

  • treating new relationships with suspicion and feeling unable to share with a new partner.
  • obsessing over their own past choices, as well as the abusive partner’s current choices and partner(s).
  • grieving the years spent in the relationship excessively.
  • experiencing a decline in general health and self-care. Often this manifests in sharp changes in appetite (weight loss occurs during distress and permanent weight gain occurs over time).

These responses are shown to be more than just emotional reactions according to science but actual biological reactions. Study and subsequent evidence indicate that traumatic interactions with your spouse over time can cause actual brain changes.

Unlike PTSD, in which people tend to avoid the source of trauma, PTRD sufferers uniquely and inadvertently often retraumatize themselves.

They do this through repeated sharing and review of the past relationship as they interact with others, which can go on for years. Thereby, they unknowingly energize the bad feelings and compound their emotional pain and mental suffering.

Does this seem like your experience?

Unfortunately, this period also tends to be a time in which you may also experience a decline in your quality of life and desire to care for yourself. You may struggle with finances, child care, or parenting. Your inability to create a more ideal situation becomes depressing and further isolating.

To recover, a good community and solid support are vital.

However, to achieve what you need requires diligence, as it can be very difficult to seek and trust help and care after years of isolation, abuse, and trauma.

How Do You Recover from a Traumatizing, Toxic Relationship?

Without help, you may continue to feel like you’re the undeserving, ineffective person your former spouse said you were. Treatment depends on rebuilding healthy connections and subsequently reversing the biological damage.

As a whole, we are built to bond.

When we bond in relationships—communally, relationally, sexually, interpersonally—with a person, we open up and can receive love and connection.

Again, this happens on a biological level as well as an emotional level. Hormones like oxytocin are released deepening on our link to others. And though this also happens among friends, the bonding to a partner is much deeper.

Thus, when that partner is abusive, the mental and emotional wounds are deeper, too.

Because you were biological and emotionally open to your partner, their abusive comments, behavior, and criticism had a devastating effect. Your brain accepted the abuse as truth about who you are and what you deserve. Your feelings about yourself reflected that detrimental brain change and belief.

So after the toxic relationship, if you receive no treatment, nothing occurs to reverse those brain changes.

Your shame is actually problematic brain change!

You’ve become relationally and mentally stuck due to the abuse of your natural need to bond. No amount of others telling you not to listen or to ignore your ex-spouse matters. Not because you don’t want to feel better, but you can’t change without help.

On a biological level, you truly accepted and believed your partner. You likely still operate on the thought that you are the problem or something is wrong with you. Thus, you react emotionally to triggers that bring up the trauma. In fact, you may overreact to a new partner or current situations based on thought patterns set by the trauma of the past partner

So, how can you move forward with such thinking foremost in your mind?

How Rapid Resolution Therapy (RRT) Helps

The key to this treatment is to heal the brain and nervous system. When we bring the mind and body to a relaxed state, this is more possible. And that is a completely opposite approach than that of traditional talk therapy.

In traditional therapy, you may be asked to “express your feelings,” share details of your interactions with your ex-spouse, and revisit your troubling marital history again and again. In effect, you are retraumatized as you share. Such restimulation of your problem and re-energizing of difficult emotions is not helpful.

RRT seeks to bring calm and soothing the brain around the trauma.

Together, we will not go into details of the past. Instead, we will spend time doing relaxation exercises and using visualization techniques to help reduce emotional upset and focus the mind.

When the body and mind are relaxed, the brain is better able to accept new, healthy messages.

The goal is not to rehash the past but to change the way you think about yourself moving ahead. The messaging of the toxic relationship partner who—by reinforcing negative messaging with force and tension—relied on their bond with you to make you accept it. In contrast, RRT therapy depends on consistent positive messaging reinforced by repeated calm and focus in therapy sessions.

That being said, this therapy works best in office, rather than as therapy homework.

As your therapist, I can help guide the process and redirect unproductive thoughts until you are more able to achieve calm and helpful thinking on your own.

My work with you would be focused on what is effective and reality-based. We will focus on messages and agreements that help you move forward in a positive way. We will reinforce only what is highly valuable and supportive for you. The messages of your former partner will be systematically deconstructed this way.

This will happen quicker than you think. You may have endured years—even decades—of negativity in your toxic relationship. Your partner’s abuse was part of your everyday experience.

Now it’s time to reach out and get the help you deserve.

You can heal and recover. We may need to work through your sense of guilt and undeservedness one session at a time. But Rapid Resolution Therapy is worth the work.

RRT helps make every part of your brain able to accept your ability to heal. You will discover that you can recover from your trauma. You can be the person and the parent you want to be. And you can not only have a healthy relationship with others but also with yourself.

I am here to help you believe in yourself again and become the person you long to be.

For more information regarding trauma recovery and Rapid Relationship Therapy, please visit my RRT specialty page or contact me for a consultation soon.

2018-10-10T15:09:56+00:00June 15th, 2018|