How to Recover Your Broken Spirit After A Toxic Relationship
Today on The Wildheart Diaries, I’m talking about how to call your power back to you when you feel broken. When you come from a toxic family system, you don’t have a healthy blueprint for love and your spirit will feel like it’s been broken somehow. Luckily for you, and me, spirits are strong and cannot be broken. They can momentarily be shrunk, disowned, denied or frozen (survival techniques), but in the right conditions they will emerge strong again. Possibly stronger.
To reignite your spirit and allow it to shimmer and shine, you need to free it from the toxic crap under which it is buried.
The good news? You hold the key to its freedom. *happy dance* It may take some time and it may be emotional but I think you’re worth it.
[This was originally my most read blog post and so I turned it into an episode of The Wildheart Diaries.]
Your spirit is the essence of who you are.
You are born innately good + full of joy.
In my blog post What Meghan Markle + Prince Harry Can Teach us About Toxic Family Systems, I highlight the unconscious roles each child is assigned (Scapegoat and Golden Child). Mix that up with temperament, birth order, what else is going on in your environment, your attachment style, your generational trauma patterns and various other factors, and that will determine the person you ‘think‘ you are.
The person you grow up believing that you are is not necessarily who you really are! Especially if you had highly critical, easily displeased, unreasonably, self-serving and demanding parent(s) who only saw you in a way that benefited them.
A belief is a thought that we think over and over again until it becomes a truth. If you were told how ungrateful, bad, naughty, disrespectful you were, or had daily negative attacks on your character, you may have been misinformed or led to believe a load of lies.
On a side note: that’s why I made those awesome Smiley Thought Cards for kids to soak their brains in positive messages and ‘good enough’ feedback.
It’s not you little one! (it never was!)
Sometimes, there is a strong role model in the extended family or a kind teacher or neighbour. Somebody who shines a light on your true innate goodness and enables you to not descend down the same path as your parents.
My book ‘Stuck Between Two Worlds‘ also shows how toxic relational styles play out in families and tells the story from the child’s perspective. Grown-ups tell me it’s hugely helpful to read and validating for their inner child who is desperate to be seen for who they really are.
Where did you disappear to?
When you’re assigned a role, there is no room for healthy self-interest and exploration. You are what they tell you you are. Smiling when you don’t feel like it, you hide your feelings that you’ve been told will bring shame or embarrassment to the family. And you certainly do not express an opinion that differs to that of your parents.
Often in these families, children are parentified – they are the parent to their emotionally immature Mother or Father. Or they are infantilised – babied, protected and over parented. This keeps the energy with – and the attention on – the parent.
At all times, the world, the Universe and all the planets in the solar system revolve around them. Well in their immature reality, but for most mature grown ups, we recognise the vulnerability of a young child and we would never abuse our power! Not consciously anyway.
A lot of abuse is hidden.
Family is meant to be your safe + happy place!
It’s covert emotional abuse – it goes on behind closed doors.
This confuses and scares the child. They often have to live double lives. They may be performing well at school but struggling at home. Their little bodies are flooded with fear as they are held emotional hostage to their parents’ demands, delusional reality, emotional dysregulation and lack of empathy. This is played out rather spectacularly in my book ‘Stuck Between Two Worlds‘.
How can a child possibly survive that when there is no escape? They disassociate (check out) and create a rich inner world where they can disappear and daydream. They feel safe here.
How on earth did you manage to survive?
Lots of book lovers were made this way! It’s a defence mechanism. We had to pretend it wasn’t happening so we could avoid all the uncomfortable feelings that were flooding our bodies. We couldn’t survive if we believed that our parents were being this way because they were meant to keep us safe.
This is the freeze response to trauma and you can read more about that here. You can also find out what your trauma response is and how that impacts your parenting here.
I write more about the signs that you’re in a toxic relationship and the ways toxic families try to break your spirit in The Elephant in The Room: Secrets + Lies – Toxic Relationships.
‘They did do nice things though! Ah yes and that is how trauma bonds are created and the cycle of abuse is perpetuated. Nice. Mean. Nice Mean. Nice Mean. Keeps you hooked in and trying harder to get to the ‘nice’ bits.
‘They did feed me, clothe me and put a roof over my head! It wasn’t that bad.’ Yes they do that in prison also. You’ll keep excusing them for as long as you have to. The child in you will defend them to the ends of the earth. ‘They did their best.’ Yeah I know but it hurt you, and I care about you. You should care about you too.
The Path to Recovery. What do you need?
It’s very likely you won’t know what you need because in amongst all the chaos and drama nobody asked you: ‘How do you feel and what do you need?’ You may not even know that you have needs and choices. You do though and that’s allowed.
It’s also very likely if you haven’t unravelled this rather tangled ball of toxic wool and made sense of it in a way that validates you, that you will go on to repeat this style of relating, unconsciously drawn to toxic friends and partners who echo one or both of your parents. I talk more about that in this blog post. Yes! I’ve done it again quite recently!
You re-play the old story with new people and hope to change the ending. Of course, you can’t because it’s not you who needs to change. You don’t have to twist yourself in a pretzel to get these people to love you.
That is what you are searching for – Love.
You’re lovable as you are. Your parents failed to show you or reflect that back to you. They can only love you as much as they love themselves. Their treatment of you is NOT a reflection of how lovable you truly are. Toxic personality types are void of healthy love. So as I said, your blueprint for love will be wonky. From your perspective, you can still love your parents AND be upset about how they have treated you. You can still love your parents AND love yourself enough to give yourself what you didn’t have and should have had.
It’s unlikely that they will change and I don’t advise waiting around any longer hoping that they do. Haven’t you wasted enough time already? You’re better off forging a new path. Here are some ideas to get you started:
1. Educate Yourself about Toxic Relationships
2. Develop Strong Boundaries
A boundary is where you end and another person begins – it defines your sense of self. It allows you to work out what is right for you and who you are. Toxic relationships invade and break your boundaries. More controlling types are entitled, they lack respect and healthy boundaries. They trample all over your boundaries and emotionally exhaust you. Like a big hoover, they suck out all your goodness.They have rights but you don’t. Sometimes, you become an extension of the toxic person or all tangled up with them. You can’t work out what is yours and what is theirs. Where they end and you begin.
Learn the power of ‘no’ without apology and guilt. You’ve probably never been allowed to say it, but I bet you’ve had to hear it a lot!
At first, it will feel strange and scary asserting your rights 6 Reasons People Avoid Setting Boundaries but eventually, you will wonder how you ever functioned without them.
3. Grow your Self-Awareness
Free yourself from being the person who – at their own expense – puts everybody else first. Don’t be that person! You’re not here to please others or make them happy. You’re here to live your own life unapologetically. You have a right to take up space in the world and to make your own choices.
Listen to your broken spirit’s faint whisperings
Start off by acknowledging to yourself that you are unhappy. Admit to yourself that this is not working for you and you need help.
- You’re not making a fuss,
- not being a burden
- You’re not wrong
- Definitely not broken
- You’re are not a troublemaker. You’re simply being truthful and asserting your needs.
Of course, toxic types will be committed to making you selfish, wrong, broken, for doing so because that doesn’t follow their agenda.
There is no shame in asking for help. In fact, it’s the smartest thing to do when you are taking care of your good self. It’s your responsibility – nobody else’s.
Understand what healthy self-interest and good esteem look like. It was never about you and it should have been.
How can I rediscover my confident self?
You should have grown up knowing that you matter and been given the freedom to be yourself. It’s hard to be yourself now when you’ve never truly met your real self. Well, not yet, but you can change that. How can you find healthy relationships if you don’t know who you truly are and what makes you happy?
4. Work on your Emotional Intelligence
Your feelings connect you back to your spirit. The communication cord has been cut. For too long now, you’ve been running from them, stuffing them down inside or checking out from them. You were taught that at a young age. Incorrectly. You don’t want to pass that on to your kids do you?
If you hadn’t noticed, you’re a human and you were born to feel. Your feelings are not inconvenient, but messengers and they want to tell you things to help you.
Have a read of 10 Rules Your Emotions Follow so you can see where you’re at with your emotional self. That connection needs repairing and strengthening.
5. Develop Self-Compassion + Self-Assertiveness
Self-love isn’t just having a manicure and a bubble bath, it’s about taking care of you in ways that you never knew were possible. That’s not your fault because nobody showed you. You didn’t know you mattered so why would you prioritise or invest any time in yourself?
Be kind to you and accept yourself just as you are. Don’t get hung up perfection because it sucks.
Allow yourself to make mistakes, get it wrong and to be human.
Your children will catch it + it will poison them too.
That’s what toxic does, it poisons.
That horrible voice may not even be a loud shouty one. It may be more passive-aggressive because you’ve been taught that some feelings are bad. Incorrect. That adds a nice layer of shame to your already confused and tangled up feelings. Ick. You stuff them down deeper, and they come out sideways. My anger is often disguised as humour or sarcasm. I am working on owning my anger and expressing it in healthy ways. You can be a nice person AND be angry.
Nobody is coming to save you!
That is our fantasy. Watching. Waiting. Hoping. We pray for the day that somebody will come along and make it all better. Like our parents should have done. They didn’t know how for whatever reason. Focusing on them won’t help us. Let’s focus on you. It’s your turn now.
Nobody is coming to save you. I’m sorry to be brutal but staying stuck in this fantasy will not help you, and I am here to help.
Find out how to work with me here.
It’s time to start taking care of you and re-parenting yourself (and if you have kids parenting them differently). Your legacy to them can be better. When we know better, we do better. We can break the cycle one step at a time.
Set yourself free! Start where you are.
Create the life you deserve + are meant to be living.
Pick one thing on this list to focus on (the one that speaks to your heart the loudest). If you’d like my help, there are lots of episodes on my podcast, The Wildheart Diaries to help you, or learn more about the many different ways you can work with me.
Know that you are worth it (as Cheryl Cole would say!), but seriously you are. And it’s about time you took yourself seriously too.