Finding Peace After A Toxic Relationship

When a person is reeling in the aftermath of a toxic relationship, there are a number of steps towards finding inner peace that can help the survivor to transcend emotional pain.  It is inevitable that most people will encounter toxic people in either work, family, friendship or love relationships.  The abusive person need not have a full blown diagnosis of NPD (Narcissistic Personality Disorder) or psychopathy to cause emotional harm. Just possessing a few of the traits of pathological Cluster B personality disorders can render any contact with such a person equating to emotional harm and pain (Brown, 2009). The good news is that once armed with information about how to protect oneself from deceptive, toxic people, healthy individuals develop a discerning shield in terms of their intimate relationships.  And in circumstances where a survivor has unfortunately been blindsided by a malignant narcissist or other toxic person, there is hope for healing and finding balance and good health.

I want to emphasize that experiencing a toxic relationship with an abuser is traumatic for the survivor.  In the aftermath of narcissistic (or psychopathic) abuse, individuals can experience depression, anxiety, PTSD, C-PTSD (complex-PTSD), somatic pain, and  panic attacks.  Being in the force field of a pathological abuser for any length of time (but especially during chronic, long-term circumstances) results in psychological harm for the survivor. With that, it is imperative that the survivor seek out and obtain qualified psychotherapy with a licensed mental health professional who is trained in trauma-informed care and who knows about narcissistic/psychopathic abuse.  Life coaching by survivors can be very beneficial as well, to provide validation and confirmation. However, because recovery from toxic relationships can feel like you are emerging from the Dark Side with a complex constellation of clinical concerns (see above), you require recovery with a clinician (psychotherapist) who understands the delicate interplay of trauma, healing from abusive relationships, and has the training to provide such interventions. If someone you are working with claims to be able to “treat” these clinical concerns, and they are not, in fact, a licensed clinician, they are practicing unethically and illegally, and out of their scope. Buyer beware. The good news is that there is a growing number of therapists who are trained in this specialty.  Look for a trauma-informed, strengths-focused, empowering clinician to help you in your recovery.

The following are some suggestions for survivors that I provide for my clients in my own private practice. In the aftermath of abuse in a toxic relationship, survivors need and deserve inner peace and healing:

* As mentioned above, connect with a qualified helping professional who can address the very intricate and specific nuances of C-PTSD, depression, anxiety, etc. Healing will take some time, and the traumatic grief resulting from the toxic relationship requires an “unpacking” that is multi-layered in the presence of a caring, empathic, non-judgmental specialist (In some circumstances telehealth consultation may be appropriate for individuals who are geographically far from specialists).  In-person trauma-informed clinicians can also provide EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) interventions which help the brain to release how trauma is encoded. Trauma-informed clinicians may practice other interventions such as Emotional Freedom Technique, somatic experiencing, mindfulness-based cognitive behavioral therapy and/or expressive arts. You need to research and inquire how your trauma-informed clinician approaches trauma release and integrating wellness into the treatment plan. 

*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. 

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Andrea Schneider, MSW, LCSW
Andrea Schneider, MSW, LCSW is a licensed clinical social worker in private practice in San Dimas, CA. She received her MSW from the University of Michigan (the top-ranked social work program in the country) and her B.A. in Psychology from UCLA (#2 in the country).
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