image symbolizing self care after abuse or toxic relationships

The road out of abuse and toxic relationships is longer or shorter, depending on you and the way you look at the world. Most of the folks I’ve talked with about abuse, had trouble enjoying life, feeling the pleasures that life has to offer and even being their own cheerleaders when they succeeded at something.

This is an absolutely normal thing. We were invalidated by our abusive parents since birth and weren’t allowed to feel, much less feel pleasure or excitement in life. It is sad but remember that our parents weren’t able to enjoy themselves either.

They accepted the message from their own parents that they’re broken, rotten, unworthy of love. And that, if they ever do something to enjoy life, they will feel guilty and sad. They will be confused that they are happy while their family is wallowing in misery or illness.

It is OK, though. You are not responsible for what your parents experienced in their families. You are only responsible for yourself and your own happiness. Thus, to thwart the need to indulge in your own negativity, you need to go to the opposite direction and do things that make you happy even if it hurts. Or even if it makes you very uncomfortable.

You can start small. Like choosing a day of the week to focus on yourself and your needs only.

It doesn’t matter if you have responsibilities like children and a partner who can’t stand to be away from you for a moment. You need to be alone to deal with your trauma. Otherwise, your negativity will spill into your family life. Focus on those things you didn’t receive as a child because those things are still bothering you.

And give those things to you NOW. Because NOW is the best time to do it.

You can choose any day of the week to focus on your self-care (I’d prefer a weekend day since most of us out there are full-time workers). A self-care day is important, because, if you are happy and fulfilled then, your loved ones will be happy as well. In order to make this happen, I recommend the following practices that are cheap and easily available to all of us:

1. Journal about your feelings.

At the start of my journey of recovery from toxic relationships, I had so much anxiety that writing a diary was out of the question. My mind was too busy with how to survive the relationship with my mom, my narcissistic boss and some friends who were more destructive than supportive and encouraging. However, after my anxiety lowered, I got the courage to face myself and write everything down in a journal. It helped me so much that I continued to write about my feelings.

Nowadays, I write almost daily and even when I am close to a panic attack. It almost stops it on its track. The more open I am with my feelings, the less overwhelmed I am of those anxious thoughts that bring on the panic.

2. Give your mind a SPA session

A friend of mine joked once that, after starting to sleep longer than usual to improve her mental health, she felt as if she gave her mind a Spa treatment.

In the past, an abusive relationship like the one with your narcissistic mom or dad would keep you up at night. It might have been the case that the toxic parent didn’t allow you to sleep long because it would have been shameful. As an adult, you have responsibilities and chores around the house and this doesn’t allow you to over sleep.

My mom would shame me for sleeping a bit longer during the weekends, when I wasn’t at school. See, there was nothing to do around the house, but she, herself felt inadequate if she slept until 12pm. And, because she felt bad about herself, she needed to make the others around her feel the same.

The idea is to go against what you were taught. If you were told that sleeping after 12 pm is a shameful thing to do, then, by all means, do it. It can be only once a week or it can be as often as you want it to be.

You will feel stronger, your mind will be clearer and the anxiety in your body will dissipate during a long, sleep session. Isn’t that a good reason to disable your alarm clock?

3. Watch your favorite TV shows

Netflix is not bad as long as it provides you with the entertainment you deserve to have.

It is normal to want to be entertained. To laugh, to find out more things about the world, to learn about other cultures. A TV show provides you with this. So, don’t feel guilty for indulging in a Good Wife marathon. Or for counting the days until you’re off work to finally curl in a sofa to watch Game of Thrones. This will help you recover faster than you think.

I used to be obsessed with Twin Peaks and watched both seasons over and over since 2015. I still watch it and re-watch it today. Why? Because it makes me feel so fucking good about myself.

Moreover, I even started making friends who love the show and even connected with them on a personal level. Fans of movies are fun to be around and that is what you want to experience now. Joy, fun, good feelings.

4. Book a massage therapist, put on make up or buy yourself a nice piece of clothing

Even if you’re a guy, it doesn’t mean you don’t wanna look good. When you buy yourself a piece of clothing you’ll enjoy, you’ll feel better, you’ll have more confidence.

Once you feel like you have a need to be satisfied (your shoes are worn out, thus you need a new pair soon), satisfy it right away. Don’t argue with yourself, don’t try to find reasons why you can still walk with your old sneakers around the city. Just do it. Change the shoes, fix the broken laptop or give your tensed muscles the warm touch of a masseur.

5. Be lazy

Yes, you’ve heard me. Nothing is urgent on your to-do list if you think about it.

No, you don’t have to check your emails now. You don’t have to answer to that Facebook friend of yours or like your sister’s status updates. Unless there is a fire in your home or your kid is sick (god forbid), nothing is urgent.

So, sit back during the weekend, relax and do whatever you like doing. If you don’t wanna do anything, then don’t. Sleep long, day-dream or go through some heartwarming memories.

It’s very simple if you make it simple.

6. Let the nature do the healing for you

We’ve all heard of the restorative powers of nature. My earlier post ‘How walking in nature can improve your mental health’ addresses the effect that being in a forest or in green areas has on your self-esteem and mental health.

7. Realize it is not YOU, it’s THEM

It is not your fault for being abused.

That is an important thing to take from your abuse experience with your toxic parent. You have been treated poorly because your parents cannot function in the world without abusive patterns. They learned that the way to relate to people and show love is through abuse, control and manipulation. This is their fault and if you fell into their trap, it doesn’t mean you’re not worthy of love. Or bad. Or broken. It means you were unlucky.

You didn’t know much at the time, so don’t be too hard on yourself. It is OK to have gone through painful experiences because these experiences helped you learn who you are and where your boundaries lie.

If you need help with setting boundaries, check out my post ‘How to set boundaries and protect your beautiful self‘ and ‘What to do when someone doesn’t respect your boundaries’.

Do you have tips on how to practice self-care after a toxic relationship? Please share it with us.

Marlena

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Written by Marlena Bontas
I'm a writer of fiction and non-fiction with an MA in Social Psychology. My favorite subjects to write about are mental health, wellness, society, culture and art. I relax with a cup of coffee or while listening to music.