In the aftermath of abuse in a toxic relationship, survivors need and deserve inner peace and healing:
Surround yourself with caring and authentic others in your tribe
These people may be family, friends, colleagues, helping professionals, acquaintances. Part of the healing in the aftermath of a toxic relationship is continuing to experience safety and belonging in healthy circles of support. For people who do not have family or friends nearby, it is especially imperative to seek out qualified helping professionals who can serve in the form of a “safe holding environment” (Winnicott, 1973) as the survivor is building her tribe of caring others. A word about online forums: some may be helpful, but many are not supervised by trained professionals. Some forums are magnets for cyberstalkers and trolls. Again, buyer beware. An in-person support group facilitated by a trained clinician and specific to healing from toxic relationships is ideal. Barring that, online support groups supervised and facilitated by trained and empowering professionals would be an alternative.
Go No Contact with any abusive person
If you share children or have to work with this individual, you can do Limited Contact, whereby your only communication is either strictly related to parenting (in which case you can use computer software like Family Wizard that is monitored by your attorney/the courts or in the case of work, keep conversation and communication strictly for business purposes and with a witness/second party present). Ideally and optimally for complete healing, at minimum Limited Contact (and only in the circumstances mentioned) , and in all other cases, absolutely No Contact. With No Contact, that’s when healing really begins. The toxic forcefield of the abuser is removed/unshackled, and the survivor has the opportunity to thrive again.
Practice supreme self-care
Taking care of oneself is not selfish. Self-care practices that are vital to healing and target all aspects of health: physical, emotional, social, spiritual, and mental.
Exercise: at least 30 minutes daily, preferably in the sun and in nature
If you live in a cold climate, getting outside is still important (snow-shoeing, cross-country skiing, etc). Studies show that immersing oneself in nature has multiple mental health benefits, particularly hiking (Bratman, 2015). Exercise lifts serotonin and endorphins, which are feel-good chemicals our body and mind need to operate smoothly and without depression or anxiety. Twenty minutes of sunshine/day lifts Vitamin D in our bodies (a deficit of this vitamin can result in depression).
Physiological release of pent up tension from trauma: in the form of yoga, meditation, journaling, kick-boxing, massage
Studies show that our bodies hold trauma; we must physiologically release trauma in a healthy way (van der Kolk, 2015).
Connect with spiritual affiliation, whether that is in an organized religious institution or as a solo practitioner
Having a sense of peace from a Higher Power, through prayer, reiki, meditation, nature, etc can have very beneficial impact on the healing journey.
Expressive arts release
One of the key mechanisms in releasing trauma is expressing the “felt” pain in a sensory manner (Malchiodi, 2015). Locate a trained trauma-informed expressive arts practitioner to help you with this component of healing. (Side note: coloring books are not art therapy. They can be very helpful with mindfulness, but they are NOT a substitute for expressive arts trauma-informed therapy.)
Good nutrition and sleep hygiene
Studies show we must have at least five consecutive (without interruption) hours of sleep to have a complete sleep cycle. When that is disrupted (for whatever reason but often by insomnia where trauma is concerned), depression and anxiety results due to plummeting serotonin levels. Tackling excellent sleep is imperative for healing. Some individuals may need to consult with a health practitioner about possible options for melatonin or sleeping aids (temporarily), stress reduction exercises before sleep, etc. Good nutrition is equally important. You don’t need to purchase expensive supplements to nourish your body with good nutrition. Studies show that omega-3 fish oil is excellent in protecting the brain against depression and anxiety (among other wonderful benefits) (Kendall-Tackett, 2014). Research healthy meals that are abundant in fiber, protein, fruits and veggies. Remember to drink ample water, reduce (or eliminate) caffeine and alcohol consumption.
Routines are important
The brain needs time to work through the trauma, cognitive dissonance, anxiety/depression after having been in a toxic relationship. Therefore, giving your brain ample time to be bathed in logic and creative expression is key to providing relief for the intensity of emotions in the aftermath of trauma. For example, if you find you are ruminating over a abusive relationship, it will be helpful to problem solve with your therapist a list of logical or creative actions you can take to get your mind off being stuck on flashbacks. Some suggestions may include, keeping your regular routine in place (for work, etc). Keep the brain focused on logical activities that require getting out of the emotional brain (sometimes a crossword puzzle or Words with Friends can zap you back into logical thinking and reasoning). Some of my clients like to do projects that help them with mindfulness, like crafting, knitting, playing a musical instrument, or just “puttering” around the house with various organizing or cleaning projects.
Keep a journal for when intrusive thoughts surface, because they will
And you will need help dismantling the cognitive dissonance associated with psychological abuse– by a trauma-informed therapist. Alternatively, Zen Doodle or a sketch pad can be used as a visual journal in expressing and releasing any intrusive thoughts. As well, give yourself permission to grieve the traumatic loss of someone who betrayed you. Therapy* will be important to guide you through traumatic loss, walking through the stages of grief, and healing the traumas associated with that connection.
* Connect with a qualified helping professional who can address the very intricate and specific nuances of C-PTSD, depression, anxiety, etc.