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How to Let Go of Toxic Relationships and Be Yourself Again

How to Let Go of Toxic Relationships and Be Yourself Again

Toxic relationships come in many forms, physical abuse, mental abuse, verbal and even emotional abuse. Sometimes the toxicity is almost subtle. But if you constantly feel controlled, manipulated or berated, then you may need to do some introspection. Toxic and abusive relationships are more common than you may realize. In fact, one statistic claims 1.5 million high school students experience physical abuse from a partner. And that’s just in a single year [1]. More troubling, 43% of college women experience violent and abusive dating behaviors but 57% say they don’t always know how to identify it. And an incredible 58% say they don’t know how to help a friend in a bad situation.

In an even more unfortunate twist, many people who experience abusive relationships don’t think their relationships are abusive because they may not be getting physically assaulted. Yet for those who do manage to recognize the relationship they are in is a bad one, the impact the toxicity had can be a lingering one. The cruel words and treatments of an abusive partner can trick the victim into believing they are worthless, ugly, fat, stupid, and more. They can even begin to believe they deserve to be mistreated and fall into relationships that mimic the abusive behavior.

Why it should be fixed:

Abuse should never be tolerated. Period. And yet only 33% of teens who experienced a violent relationship actually told someone about it. This shockingly low statistic is not helped by 81% of parents refusing to believe teen dating violence exists. And that’s the other thing: Over 80% of parents feel they would definitely know if their child was being abused in some way, yet only 58% of those parents were able to identify warning signs. A lack of recognition from loved ones can further push you to believe you deserve to be mistreated. And it isn’t true.

Yet the side effects are chilling. Check out these facts from loveisrespect.org:

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  • Violent relationships in adolescence can have serious ramifications by putting the victims at higher risk for substance abuse, eating disorders, risky sexual behavior and further domestic violence.
  • Being physically or sexually abused makes teen girls six times more likely to become pregnant and twice as likely to get a STI.
  • Half of youth who have been victims of both dating violence and rape attempt suicide, compared to 12.5% of non-abused girls and 5.4% of non-abused boys.

It’s clear the effects of having an abusive and toxic relationship seriously and harshly impact the victim, even if they are able to leave the abuse. And even if you have experienced a toxic relationship and feel you successfully moved on, you should ask yourself if you truly have.

How to Identify a Toxic Relationship:

Before trying to get back to your truest self and move on from a toxic situation, it’s important to identify the warning signs that you are in one to begin with.

  • Narcissism: If your partner is uber obsessed with him/herself, it will be impossible to ever feel like a partnership. This doesn’t mean your partner loves to take selfies, but rather extreme selfishness when it comes to their own talents and the need for admiration.
  • Drama, Drama, Drama: If you are in a toxic relationship, you may find yourself more stressed out than you’ve ever been and feeling that your life is incredibly complicated. Remember that a healthy relationship improves your life. All relationships (healthy and otherwise) come with occasional drama, but if it’s consistent, take note; it may be a bad situation.
  • You just can’t seem to do anything right: Do you ever feel like you’re always being told that something you did was wrong? A toxic relationship can cost you your sense of self worth and success. Don’t waste your time!
  • Their jokes are anything but funny: When your partner teases you, do you get the sense they are actually saying cruel things to you behind the mask of humor? Teasing in a relationship is fine, but when the teasing seems more like bullying, it may be time to step away.
  • You no longer recognize yourself: If you’re in an unhealthy relationship, you may realize you’re acting strangely to those around you. Maybe you’re more quick to anger, or your drinking/smoking habit has increased. Perhaps your work has really become lackluster but you don’t care to improve upon it. This is a big red flag that you’re in a toxic relationship and it is having a terrible effect on you.

How to get out and get help:

Getting out of a toxic relationship is often times not easy, but it is necessary. So many of us feel like we need to be in a relationship, but that isn’t the case. In fact, feeling completed only when in a relationship is a sign of codependency. And that isn’t healthy. And if you’ve been reading this as a single person and yet you identify with the words, know it is possible to be in a toxic relationship that isn’t romantic. If your mom is constantly telling you you’re overweight or not successful, you’re in a toxic relationship with her! No matter who you find to be toxic in your life, it’s crucial to get out before you lose all sense of yourself.

Accept you are in denial.

We all want to believe we are happy, but sometimes we aren’t. And often times, it’s not your fault. If you feel depressed or depleted after spending time with a certain person, go back through the warning signs. If they all line up, recognize that you need to get out.

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Heal.

When you get out of a toxic relationship, you often feel emotionally damaged. Make a list of the things you used to love about yourself. Can you claim those same things now, or did that toxic relationship convince you those traits weren’t attractive? Surround yourself with positive people who inspire you to love your true self again.

Kelly McDaniel, author of ‘Ready to Heal: Women Facing Love, Sex and Relationship Addiction says the following:

The energy it takes to endure withdrawal [to an addictive or toxic relationship] is equivalent to working a full-time job. Truthfully, this may be the hardest work you’ve ever done. In addition to support from people who understand your undertaking, you must keep the rest of your life simple. You need rest and solitude.

Stop all contact! Period!

Any kind of breakup (healthy, toxic, romantic, non-romantic) is hard. And we often feel the need to hang on to some kind of friendship with that person. Even if they were abusive, we want to reach out on occasion in a friendly text so they know we don’t hate them. Why? This is one of the worst things you can do if you are trying to overcome a toxic relationship’s hold over you. Many abusive and toxic people have a sweet side. This is often what causes us to think they can change, or that it wasn’t really that bad. But don’t be fooled into reengaging. Do whatever it takes to strive for zero contact [2].

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Expect more drama.

Unfortunately, in today’s world of social media and instant gratification, breakups tend to come with a lot of shade from the ex. This can sometimes mean being made out to look like the bad guy, even though you may have been dealing with abuse. While this can be so heartbreaking, it’s important to remember that you know the truth.

Don’t give in and look like “the crazy ex,” but do surround yourself with people who love you and care about you. Remember that you did what you needed to do for yourself, and any argument you encourage based on lies will only cause the toxic person to persist. Block them on social media, block their number and don’t give in to the drama. You’ll never be able to truly overcome the experience if you allow yourself to look at the continued abuse every day.

Force yourself to overcome!

For some people, writing a letter to the person you want to let go is helpful. Obviously, you don’t want to send the letter! In fact, you can burn it or even bury it to signify the end of the relationship and gain closure. Pour out all the feelings and words you wish you could say and end the letter with acknowledgement of release. Try: I release you across all space and time. Thank you for helping me learn and grow.

Don’t ever tolerate it again.

Perhaps most importantly, don’t ever allow yourself to be mistreated again. When you’ve experienced a toxic and/or abusive relationship, you walk away knowing what to look for. If you find yourself dating someone who reminds you of that person, recognize the pattern you may be falling into and do what you need in order to get help and walk away.

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If you are in the U.S. and need help identifying whether you or someone you love is in a toxic relationship, text loveis to 22522. You’ll receive a response from a peer advocate who can answer questions you may have.

To speak to someone, call 1-866-331-9474.

If you or someone you love has been driven to consider suicide after a toxic relationship, please know there are people who care. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24/7 at 1-800-272-8255. For anyone outside the United States, click here to find help in your country.

Featured photo credit: William Stitt via stocksnap.io

Reference

[1] Love Is Respect Org: Dating Abuse Statistics
[2] Psychology Today: Three Steps for Getting Out of a Toxic Relationship

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Heather Poole

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Last Updated on October 30, 2019

How the Stages of Change Model Helps You Change Your Habits

How the Stages of Change Model Helps You Change Your Habits

Change is tough, there’s no doubt about it. Old habits are hard to shift, and adopting a new lifestyle can feel like an uphill battle!

In this article, you will learn about a simple yet powerful model:

Stages of change model, that explains the science behind personal transformation.

You’ll discover how and why some changes stick whereas others don’t last, and how long it takes to build new habits.

What is the Stages of Change Model?

Developed by researchers J.O. Prochaska and Carlo C. DiClemente over 30 years ago[1] and outlined in their book Changing For Good, the Stages of Change Model, also known as the Transtheoretical Model, was formed as a result of the authors’ research with smokers.

Prochaska and DiClemente were originally interested in the question of why some smokers were able to quit on their own, whereas others required professional help. Their key conclusion was that smokers (or anyone else with a bad habit) quits only when they are ready to do so.

Here’s an illustration done by cartoonist and illustrator Simon Kneebone about the different stages a smoker experiences when they try to quit smoking:

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    The Stages of Change Model looks at how these conscious decisions are made. It emphasizes that change isn’t easy. People can spend a long time stuck in a stage, and some may never reach their goals.[2]

    The model has been applied in the treatment of smoking, alcoholism, and drugs. It is also a useful way of thinking about any bad habit. Social workers, therapists, and psychologists draw on the model to understand their patients’ behaviors, and to explain the change process to the patients themselves.

    The key advantages to the model is that it is simple to understand, is backed by extensive research, and can be applied in many situations.

    The Stages of Change Model is a well-established psychological model that outlines six stages of personal change:

    1. Precontemplation
    2. Contemplation
    3. Determination
    4. Action
    5. Maintenance
    6. Termination

    How are these stages relevant to changing habits?

    To help you visualize the stages of change and how each progresses to the next one, please take a look at this wheel:[3]

      Let’s look at the six stages of change,[4] together with an example that will show you how the model works in practice:

      Stage 1: Precontemplation

      At this stage, an individual does not plan to make any positive changes in the next six months. This may because they are in denial about their problem, feel too overwhelmed to deal with it, or are too discouraged after multiple failed attempts to change.

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      For example, someone may be aware that they need to start exercising, but cannot find the motivation to do so. They might keep thinking about the last time they tried (and failed) to work out regularly. Only when they start to realize the advantages of making a change will they progress to the next stage.

      Stage 2: Contemplation

      At this stage, the individual starts to consider the advantages of changing. They start to acknowledge that altering their habits would probably benefit them, but they spend a lot of time thinking about the downside of doing so. This stage can last for a long time – possibly a year or more.

      You can think of this as the procrastinating stage. For example, an individual begins to seriously consider the benefits of regular exercise, but feels resistant when they think about the time and effort involved. When the person starts putting together a concrete plan for change, they move to the next stage.

      The key to moving from this stage to the next is the transformation of an abstract idea to a belief (e.g. from “Exercise is a good, sensible thing to do” to “I personally value exercise and need to do it.)[5]

      Stage 3: Preparation

      At this point, the person starts to put a plan in place. This stage is brief, lasting a few weeks. For example, they may book a session with a personal trainer and enrol on a nutrition course.

      Someone who drinks to excess may make an appointment with a drug and alcohol counsellor; someone with a tendency to overwork themselves might start planning ways to devise a more realistic schedule.

      Stage 4: Action

      When they have decided on a plan, the individual must then put it into action. This stage typically lasts for several months. In our example, the person would begin attending the gym regularly and overhauling their diet.

      Stage 4 is the stage at which the person’s desire for change becomes noticeable to family and friends. However, in truth, the change process began a long time ago. If someone you know seems to have suddenly changed their habits, it’s probably not so sudden after all! They will have progressed through Stages 1-3 first – you probably just didn’t know about it.

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      Stage 5: Maintenance

      After a few months in the Action stage, the individual will start to think about how they can maintain their changes, and make lifestyle adjustments accordingly. For instance, someone who has adopted the habit of regular workouts and a better diet will be vigilant against old triggers (such as eating junk food during a stressful time at work) and make a conscious decision to protect their new habits.

      Unless someone actively engages with Stage 5, their new habits are liable to come unstuck. Someone who has stuck to their new habits for many months – perhaps a year or longer – may enter Stage 6.

      Maintenance can be challenging because it entails coming up with a new set of habits to lock change in place. For instance, someone who is maintaining their new gym-going habit may have to start improving their budgeting skills in order to continue to afford their gym membership.

      Stage 6: Termination

      Not many people reach this stage, which is characterized by a complete commitment to the new habit and a certainty that they will never go back to their old ways. For example, someone may find it hard to imagine giving up their gym routine, and feel ill at the thought of eating junk food on a regular basis.

      However, for the majority of people, it’s normal to stay in the Maintenance period indefinitely. This is because it takes a long time for a new habit to become so automatic and natural that it sticks forever, with little effort. To use another example, an ex-smoker will often find it hard to resist the temptation to have “just one” cigarette even a year or so after quitting. It can take years for them to truly reach the Termination stage, at which point they are no more likely to smoke than a lifelong non-smoker.

      How long does each stage take?

      You should be aware that some people remain in the same stage for months or even years at a time. Understanding this model will help you be more patient with yourself when making a change. If you try to force yourself to jump from Contemplation to Maintenance, you’ll just end up frustrated. On the other hand, if you take a moment to assess where you are in the change process, you can adapt your approach.

      So if you need to make changes quickly and you are finding it hard to progress to the next stage, it’s probably time to get some professional help or adopt a new approach to forming habits.

      The limitations of this model

      The model is best applied when you decide in advance precisely what you want to achieve, and know exactly how you will measure it (e.g. number of times per week you go to the gym, or number of cigarettes smoked per day). Although the model has proven useful for many people, it does have limitations.

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      Require the ability to set a realistic goal

      For a start, there are no surefire ways of assessing whereabouts in the process you are – you just have to be honest with yourself and use your own judgement. Second, it assumes that you are physically capable of making a change, whereas in fact you might either need to adjust your goals or seek professional help.

      If your goal isn’t realistic, it doesn’t matter whether you follow the stages – you still won’t get results. You need to decide for yourself whether your aims are reasonable.[6]

      Difficult to judge your progress

      The model also assumes that you are able to objectively measure your own successes and failures, which may not always be the case.[7] For instance, let’s suppose that you are trying to get into the habit of counting calories as part of your weight-loss efforts. However, even though you may think that you are recording your intake properly, you might be over or under-estimating.

      Research shows that most people think they are getting enough exercise and eating well, but in actual fact aren’t as healthy as they believe. The model doesn’t take this possibility into account, meaning that you could believe yourself to be in the Action stage yet aren’t seeing results. Therefore, if you are serious about making changes, it may be best to get some expert advice so that you can be sure the changes you are making really will make a positive difference.

      Conclusion

      The Stages Of Change Model can be a wonderful way to understand change in both yourself and others.

      While there’re some limitations in it, the Stages of Change Model helps to visualize how you go through changes so you know what to expect when you’re trying to change a habit or make some great changes in life.

      Start by identifying one of your bad habits. Where are you in the process? What could you do next to move forwards?

      Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

      Reference

      [1] Psych Central: Stages Of Change
      [2] Boston University School Of Public Health: The Transtheoretical Model (Stages Of Change)
      [3] Empowering Change: Stages of Change
      [4] Boston University School Of Public Health: The Transtheoretical Model (Stages Of Change)
      [5] Psychology Today: 5 Steps To Changing Any Behavior
      [6] The Transtheoretical Model: Limitations Of The Transtheoretical Model
      [7] Health Education Research: Transtheoretical Model & Stages Of Change: A Critique

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