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How to stop needing closure after a toxic relationship

closure
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When a relationship ends, people often seek closure. When you leave someone due to their toxicity, freedom is often not enough. In fact, you cannot feel free without answers to lingering questions.

Closure refers to a feeling of resolution and understanding following the end of a relationship. But when does the need for closure hold you back from moving forward?

The concept of closure after a relationship may be another product of magical thinking. That’s the same mindset that kept you in the relationship, despite all the signs this person would never change.

The concept of closure after a relationship may be another product of magical thinking. Click To Tweet

With that said, is it possible you’ll never receive the resolution your heart desires? More importantly, can you move forward and heal without the elusive closure you seek?

Do we need closure in a relationship?

The need for closure keeps you focused on the past relationship. It leaves your healing in the hands of the one who wounded you in the first place.

The idea that someone committed to misunderstanding you will suddenly give you validation makes no sense. And why would you trust them to tell you the truth after all their lies and manipulation?

The need for closure could be your self-saboteur protecting you from the hard work of healing. It lovingly convinces you that if you only extract a few choice words from this person you’ll be okay.

But healing never rests on one factor. It’s multi-faceted, ongoing, and ever-evolving. And it’s a journey that ventures within.

Seeking closure can disrupt this journey and re-traumatize you. When you go back to the toxic person and get gaslit or manipulated, you re-enter the dysfunctional dynamic.

Seeking closure can disrupt the healing journey and re-traumatize you. Click To Tweet

That can lead to backsliding into self-doubt, guilt, and emotional dysregulation. You become susceptible to their control and power games, and lose your hard-earned autonomy.

Resolution comes from within

closure

Desire for closure can be a form of emotional avoidance. Rather than sitting with the difficult feelings that arise after a broken relationship, you tell yourself answers to certain questions will solve the problem.

Often, the regret we feel after leaving a relationship has to do with how much we put up with and for how long. We mourn over the time invested and the loss associated with our sunk costs.

We try to redeem this wasted time and energy by finding answers to unanswerable questions. But, there is often nothing we can do to make sense of this loss. Except to take the hard lessons and move on.

The promise of closure can distract us from this seemingly grim fact. Closure is the sexy, glamorous alternative to the daily slog of personal growth and trauma healing.

Closure is the sexy, glamorous alternative to the daily slog of personal growth and trauma healing. Click To Tweet

It’s a one shot deal we believe has the power to solve all our woes. But healing results from a daily practice of facing our emotions, setting boundaries, and establishing a solid relationship with ourselves.

The truth is, closure comes from within and can never be granted by anyone else. It came when you finally decided to walk away from that toxic relationship.

It serves you to remember the source of your pain will never be the fount of your resolution.

How to overcome suppressed anger and why it’s dangerous

suppressed anger
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Much of the self-help advice out there seems to advocate suppressed anger. They bypass this important emotion and go straight to forgiveness instead.

People who have been gaslit and abused are expected to calmly set boundaries. The advice says to act in a monk-like manner and remember not to blame your abusers.

Common knowledge says forgiveness is the path to peace. Regardless of whether anyone has said sorry, expressed understanding, or asked for forgiveness.

More often, you are told to forgive in spite of receiving none of the above. That would be fine if there were evidence that forgiveness advances healing. But there is no such evidence.

On the contrary, suppressed anger can be far more dangerous than withholding forgiveness. Truth is, you are not a saint and you don’t have to act like one in order to heal.

Suppressed anger can be far more dangerous than withholding forgiveness. Click To Tweet

There’s nothing wrong with healthy anger. In fact, it’s essential to both your mental and physical health.

Anger has much to teach us and arises as a signal that something needs addressing. It could indicate wrongdoing toward you, for example.

If you’re like me, you might have held your anger in until you could no longer. Then something triggered you to explode and express anger inappropriately.

That’s an unhealthy release of the emotion. But the answer is not to go all Zen and pretend you never experience rage. Instead, embrace that emotion and lose the shame you feel around harboring it.

Consequences of suppressed anger

Women especially have been raised to believe anger is unacceptable. As a result, we never learned how to process our anger. More often, we did our best not to feel it.

When you talk yourself out of your anger, you minimize your feelings. This is a dangerous form of self-abandonment that can lead to physical as well as mental health problems.

Anger tells you when something needs to change. Suppressed anger prevents that change from happening. And the consequences can be disastrous.

Anger tells you when something needs to change. Suppressed anger prevents that change from happening. Click To Tweet

In his book, When the Body Says No, Dr. Gabor Maté explains how suppressed anger can lead to an array of diseases. He goes so far as to call it suppressed rage.

suppressed anger

Releasing suppressed anger does not mean unleashing it on someone else. That’s often the fear around our anger: that we’ll hurt others if we acknowledge it.

But you can experience your anger without taking it out on anyone. You can feel anger toward someone and not have to unleash it on them.

It’s a matter of connecting with your anger to better connect with yourself. You acknowledge that you feel angry and have a right to feel that way.

Denying your anger does not make it go away. Instead, it turns against you and ravages your body with disease. There’s evidence it causes depression and anxiety, too.

Suppressed anger means denying yourself full expression of your feelings. That’s why advocates of “good vibes only” can seem fake and hard to relate to.

Suppressed anger means denying yourself full expression of your feelings. Click To Tweet

They’ve cut off part of themselves in the hope that bypassing “negative” feelings will bring joy. But it’s a counterfeit happiness and the body knows the truth.

How to embrace anger

That’s why learning to embrace and process your anger can be a lifesaver.

This includes feeling your feelings instead of denying them. When anger arises, locate it in your body and get curious about what triggered it.

Often, our anger is about one thing that needs addressing. When we suppress it, we deny ourselves the chance to resolve that one thing.

Instead we invite depression which makes us feel bad about everything. And removes our motivation to do anything about it.

You might have the urge to dispel the angry feelings and that’s what makes you lash out. Try a different way of releasing the emotion such as movement or journaling.

Listen to what your anger is trying to tell you. What needs to change in your life? What’s one step you can take toward that change?

How to deal with a narcissist or toxic person

toxic person
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Do you have a toxic person in your life who lacks empathy and compassion? They refuse to understand you or take responsibility for their part in any problem.

These people manipulate rather than communicate honestly. They gaslight you as a way to control you and the narrative. It’s always about them and what they want.

That’s who we’re describing when we use the term narcissist in this post. They do not need an official diagnosis for you to know they are very bad for you.

The narcissist or toxic person might be in your family. They could be a spouse or ex-spouse, someone you work with, a friend, or romantic partner.

You may have several of these people in various areas of your life. And sometimes you need to detach from them for your own mental health.

Other times, it’s not possible or desirable to go no contact with the narcissist. You may have to co-parent with an ex-spouse or encounter a toxic person in the workplace.

So, how do you deal with these people whether or not estrangement is an option?

Silence in response to the toxic person

If you’ve made the difficult decision to cut ties with a toxic person in your life, they rarely go quietly. Narcissists are not in the business of accepting or complying with your wishes.

If you've made the difficult decision to cut ties with a toxic person in your life, they rarely go quietly. Click To Tweet

When you finally draw that line and go no contact, it’s usually after years of trying to forge a functional relationship. Going no contact means you’ve faced the truth that no such relationship is possible.

The narcissist will use hoovering to suck you back in. You will feel compelled to explain and justify yourself, to make them understand.

But there is no understanding with the toxic person. They are not interested in you, but in getting what they want. And what they want is to control you and get back to the way things were between you.

In my experience, there is nothing you can say or do that will make them understand your point of view. Silence works on the narcissist because it withholds the supply they desire.

The gray rock method

Gray rock is a psychology term that refers to you becoming as dull and lifeless as the object in question. When narcissists prompt you to explain or plead for understanding, you only provide fuel for their toxic fire.

Gray rock is a psychology term that refers to you becoming as dull and lifeless as the object in question. Click To Tweet

You may know already that no amount of talking will get the narcissist to see your side. Instead, it may fill you with self-doubt and reverse steps forward you’ve made in your healing journey.

If you’re in a situation where no contact is not yet possible, you can go “gray rock” instead. It means you refuse to engage with them in any meaningful way.

At first, they may challenge you on your new way of communicating. They might mock you or try to get you to engage the way you used to.

If you can withstand all that and continue to act like a gray rock, they will cease to have power over you. They will likely give up trying to bait you and move on to a better source of supply.

But, isn’t silence and gray rock phony?

toxic person

If both of these options feel inauthentic, they are. However, it’s not possible to have an honest and intimate relationship with a narcissist or toxic person.

It's not possible to have an honest and intimate relationship with a narcissist or toxic person. Click To Tweet

When you share your feelings openly and seek understanding, you get nothing but abuse. They objectify you as they use you to fill their own need for attention, control, and power.

No matter how good your intentions or how tactfully you approach them, your words will never have the desired effect.

They will never make a toxic person love you, understand you, express remorse, or share their honest emotions. These elements of true relationship are inaccessible to the narcissist or toxic person.

It is rare for this type of person to change or self-reflect. While you’ve been working on yourself, they’ve stayed where they are.

Silence and the gray rock method are modes of self-preservation. You’ve finally decided you can no longer play this unwinnable game.

It may come after physical illness brought on by stress. Or mental anguish that makes it hard to function. You may realize your very life depends on this self-protection.

Whatever the reason, you’ve finally accepted that reasoning will get you nowhere with the narcissist. It’s time to take care of yourself.

Why you stay in an abusive relationship with family

abusive relationship
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I received a message from a reader that described her mother’s abusive behavior. Despite having reached her 30s this woman continued to live with her mother and endure the abusive relationship.

Why is it so hard for us to have the courage to separate from abusers? What is so scary about being alone that we’d rather endure pain on a daily basis?

I’m not talking about situations where you fear for your life after fleeing an abusive spouse. That very real threat is an understandable deterrent to leaving.

But what about those of us who stayed year after year, decade after decade, with families who never supported us?

Why do we believe it’s more scary to be alone than with these people who harm our mental health and confidence?

For one, society has conditioned us to believe that family are loving and have our best interests in mind. As children, we had to believe that because the alternative was too painful.

We blamed ourselves for our family’s cruelty. That felt safer than blaming them. They were our caregivers after all.

Gaslighting prevents leaving the abusive relationship

Gaslighting keeps us beholden to an abusive relationship in our family. The focus gets turned on our human reaction to bad behavior instead of the behavior itself.

As a result, we’re groomed to believe we’re the bad guy. And keep trying to get our abusers to understand us and to win their love. Our magical thinking tells us we may someday get through to them.

There’s also a strange sense of security and familiarity that comes with being part of a family. Even when they put you down, you feel you are part of a unit.

Leaving an abusive relationship like this can create a new kind of pain. The pain of the unknown and unfamiliar: a feeling of being untethered and unmoored.

Social pressure

abusive relationship

The social stigma attached to leaving an abusive familial relationship is intense. Many of us who’ve had the courage to do so have endured judgment and a lack of understanding.

Our fear of what people will think keeps us quiet about our experience. This impedes intimacy with others and stops us from receiving the support we need.

Isolation

Every holiday and even ordinary weekends serve as reminders of what you no longer have. At Christmas and other important events, it’s assumed everyone is spending time with their family.

Shame around the fact that you aren’t celebrating with your family ensures you suffer in silence. Ironically, the only way to connect with others is to reveal your loneliness, but that feels too risky.

Guilt stops us leaving the abusive relationship

Society reinforces the belief that children owe their parents. Perhaps it stems from the biblical command to honor your mother and father.

Many adult children of dysfunctional families support parents who were never there for them. Putting a roof over a child’s head, feeding and clothing them is a parent’s responsibility. Not something that deserves payback later in life.

How to spot parental alienation and avoid mistakes

parental alienation
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Parental alienation happens when one parent tries to turn a child against the other parent. This usually goes on in the case of divorce or separation. One parent launches a campaign of attack on the other in his or her absence.

Children may even become estranged from the alienated parent. They fall victim to the alienating parent’s lies and lose one of the most important relationships of their lives.

In addition to losing the relationship, these children receive no emotional support around the loss. The toxic parent will make them believe they are better off without the other parent.

In reality, these children end up with a huge hole in their lives. Often, it is not until they enter therapy due to aftereffects of losing their parent that they discover the term “parental alienation”.

Unfortunately, the common advice to divorced parents to “take the high road” is incorrect in this case. Precious time is lost as the targeted parent tries to earn their goodness by refusing to disparage the bullying parent.

Instead the alienated parent needs to stand up for themselves and tell the truth about what is happening.

Here are a few signs that a child has suffered alienation from a parent. These, according to Richard Gardner, the premier researcher on the topic.

Signs of parental alienation

Weak reasons for hostility toward the parent

When asked why they despise the alienated parent so much, the child will give flimsy reasons that make no sense. They may even invent far-fetched stories that are easy to disprove.

See parents in black and white

One parent is the unblemished hero and the other an irredeemable villain in the child’s eyes. The bullying parent is perfect while the alienated parent has no good qualities whatsoever.

The dynamic reminds me of the hero/scapegoat in dysfunctional families. For this reason, I wonder if there is a relationship between these roles in families of origin and parental alienation.

For example, my children’s father used parental alienation against me, specifically with my youngest. It was difficult for me to see at first because as the scapegoat in my family, abuse felt natural. As the “hero” in his family, being viewed as flawless felt natural to him.

Children insisting they are acting independently

Before refusing to see me for five months, my alienated daughter emailed me a spiteful and vitriolic letter. It rewrote history to paint me as a cruel parent who only ever responded in anger when her child sought support.

When I asked my daughter if her father had encouraged her to write the letter, she insisted it was she alone who had the idea to craft and send it. She added that she stood by her words.

Five months later, she returned to me and shed tears during our reunion. She apologized for the letter and said she didn’t know why she had written it.

I believed her. Indeed, alienated children are conditioned to hate the other parent and may feel confused about why they do.

Lack of remorse

parental alienation

Children express no remorse over treatment of the alienated parent

Children who are victims of parental alienation feel no guilt about treating their parent in abominable ways. They have absorbed the lie that the alienated parent has no right to mercy, understanding, support, or love.

When my child treated me this way, my past as the family scapegoat primed me to accept it. In a sense, I agreed with my child that I deserved no kindness or honest communication because I had never received any.

I made the mistake of apologizing to my alienated daughter to encourage her to return to me. This is a typical scapegoat move of taking the higher ground and trying to earn my goodness.

Now that I know better, I realize apologizing deprived my daughter of the opportunity to see the truth behind our relationship rupture. And, of course, to hold her father accountable for his part in it.