The challenges of building and maintaining healthy self-love in a toxic environment

Self-Love is usually classified as caring about your own well-being and happiness. We are usually taught as children that taking care of ourselves is a good thing and something we need to do to stay healthy and stay in a good frame of mind. But, we aren’t really taught what it looks like when we don’t love ourselves or what it feels like when we stop loving ourselves.

There are a good number of things that could cause us to stop loving ourselves or stop showing ourselves love, and we just don’t realize it usually because of the heightened mental and emotional state we are in.

Today, we are going to be covering the damage that being in a toxic relationship can do to your mental and emotional health, as well as the stages we go through in these relationships to sink to the level we have reached.

  1. Whirlwind stage.

This first initial stage generally happens when we first meet our potential partner. They are attempting to appear as though they are amazing and have every characteristic that you have ever desired in a partner. They listen very closely. They seem to be supporting and encouraging. They do their best to pull you in so quickly that you don’t have time to react nor do you have time to really see behind the mask they are wearing to see the stark differences between who they are pretending to be and who they really are. They will usually begin to talk about a serious commitment right away and will seem to be glued to your side. They don’t want to give you a moment to really think about what you are doing and why you are doing it. It appears on the surface that they just love you that much and are desperate to be with you.

In reality, they are trying to secure you and your affections for them before they slip up and the mask starts to slip. They know that if their questionable behavior surfaced too soon and too early on, you would most certainly think twice about what you were doing with this person, questioning the relationship and possibly walking away before the abuser had gotten what they truly wanted.

2. Honeymoon phase ending. The beginning of the toxic buildup and a new feeling of tension.

At this point, you have most likely been with this person for at least a few months now. You have most likely spoken about moving in together, wanting to spend more time together, taking the next step in your relationship or the pressure being applied for you to commit to the next step in the relationship.

There seems to be a strange tension surrounding your relationship now. The person who just swept you away with how amazing you thought they were begins to give you the cold shoulder occasionally. They seem to distance themselves more and more leaving you to question if you did or said something wrong. You may broach the subject but you most likely will not get anywhere with your line of questioning that is considered helpful at all. And so you will still be left to wonder about this new dynamic in the relationship.Your partner may begin to say snide things here or there, they may say hurtful things under the guise of a joke. You may begin to brush off the feeling of discomfort and hurt. You will just tell yourself that they didn’t mean it. They are tired. They must be in a bad mood. Things will be fine again soon.

But that, unfortunately, is the furthest thing from the truth at this point.

3. The incident. The catalyst that drove the individual to begin their act of anger or abuse. (This will generally be blamed on the partner being abused. – IE. They did something wrong, said something wrong. Its their fault.)

This new part of the relationship happens when the abuser seems to feel as though they have “conditioned” you enough so that you will not leave them after their first initial outburst. The abused partner will be completely caught off guard by the actions of the abuser. The abuser will have made their partner believe that they are to blame for the outburst and everything that ensued.

4. A semblance of understanding or forgiveness.

The aggressor or abuser will make their partner feel that it is their fault that they snapped. They will shift blame onto the abused partner. They may say statements like:

-I forgive you for making me mad.

-I don’t understand why you are mad at me. It’s your fault we got into the fight.

-I didn’t do anything wrong. Its your fault we got to this point

The partner may start to twist what was said or done to make it seem as though you are remembering events out of order or incorrectly. They will always question your version of events. They will also brush off any suggestion that their behavior was wrong, hurtful or detrimental to the abused partner. They will downplay their role and will highlight the fact that if their partner had done this, or not said that, this would have never happened. There is a constant lack of owning responsibility for their actions. And this will not change.

You may start to feel as though it is your fault. You may even ask for their forgiveness because you truly believe the twisted narrative they are spinning to validate their abusive and negative actions. So the abused partner is the one asking for forgiveness, which the abuser readily agrees to and a sort of calm normalcy invades the relationship at that point.

5. New Honeymoon phase.

This last phase of the cycle is the “calm before the storm”. This is the last phase before the cycle begins to repeat. And it will not repeat just once or twice, but will last for the duration of the toxic relationship.

This phase is what gives the abused partner hope that the person they fell in love with is still there with them, they just experienced a one-off incident. Things will start to settle back into a calm so that the abuser can maintain control over the situation by making sure his or her partner doesn’t know what to expect next. They want to make sure the partner is beginning to truly believe that they are the reason behind the fighting, the bad behavior, or the abuse. Once they are certain that the abused partner believes the narrative they have been told, they are free to begin the cycle again without fear that their partner will leave them right away.

The harsh truth about this type of relationship is that there is no end to it. It is a constant cycle that you are now stuck in. This repetitive cycle begins to wear away at your mental and emotional health. Speaking from my own personal experience, I began to hate myself because I truly believed I was the reason I was being hurt. I was brainwashed into believing that it was all my own fault. So, I began to see myself in a very warped and neglectful way. I no longer cared about my own mental and emotional health and loving myself because I didn’t believe I deserved it.

After 3 years of this cycle repeating constantly, I had been so broken down that I felt his punishment wasn’t enough for me because I was so horrible. I stopped caring for myself completely.

Then, I became reacquainted with the man who would later become my husband. I truly credit him for gently helping me to realize what I was going through was not healthy and was most certainly not my fault. When you have no outside help or constant interaction outside of the damaging relationship, it is easier and easier to forget who you are and become fulling ingrained with the idea that you are no more than what your partner says you are, and you have no value past that.

In a damaging and toxic relationship, it is next to impossible to develop and maintain a healthy amount of self-love and self-care. Your motives for trying to care for yourself are always questioned, your attempt to show yourself love in any fashion is laughed at and mocked. You are effectively stunted in your growth and development as a person. You are now stuck in a place where nothing healthy will grow or develop and any good thing is questioned or plainly destroyed.

I had to leave my toxic relationship in order to learn to love myself again. I had forgotten how good it feels to truly care for myself. To give myself time each day to do things that would make me smile, even if it was something as small as a walk outside, it was a new-found joy to me.

Learning to love myself and care for myself all over again was a true experience. And, I feel, has made me realize how truly important it is to have a healthy love and respect for yourself. If you have and maintain a healthy love for yourself, you have a harder time accepting someone else’s bad behavior toward you in any capacity. You are not ready to accept the lack of respect being show to you in it’s many forms.

If I had maintained a healthy love and respect for myself, would I have still been pulled in as deeply to a toxic and abusive relationship? I hope not. I would like to think not. But I will never know for sure.

Today, I am happier than I have ever been in my life, healthier than I have ever been in my life, and I no longer hate myself. All of these things are a win for me. Feeling victorious and totally whole after feeling broken and defeated for so long is amazing and something that I no longer take lightly or take for granted.

If you are still stuck in a toxic relationship, if you are being abused, know that there is a life outside of that toxic mess and it is waiting for you. You can be happy, you can be healthy, you can care for and love yourself again. It is a long road of recovery back to healthy thoughts and actions, but it is a road that is well worth the travel.

Thanks for reading, everyone! God Bless!!

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