Breaking Free from Toxic Relationships: Don't Look Back

Darlene Lancer LMFT
Trauma Quote (Artricle contains affiliate links benefiting author)Photo byDarlene Lancer

Toxic relationships are hard to leave. Surprisingly abusive relationships can become addictive. partners can get trauma-bonded, particularly in narcissistic relationships and having experienced narcissistic abuse. Outsiders don't understand the victim's dilemma or how you can love an abuser. Love isn't rational, and there are usually positive sides to the relationship. Additionally, there are other reasons that make it hard to leave:

  1. Abusers and addicts make it hard to leave because they make false promises or temporarily reform giving their partner false hope. Narcissists often "hoover" to get you to return to them.
  2. They may intimidate their partner with harm or increased abuse or make veiled or blunt threats of retribution or alienation of the children.
  3. After being abused and experiencing shame over time, partners lose their confidence. Their self-esteem is lowered, and they don't believe they can improve their lives. Often shame goes back to childhood, which is another reason that they've tolerated abuse.
  4. Toxic relationships are enmeshed and partners lose their autonomy. They make their partner the most important relationship and often isolate themselves from friends and family, so they become dependent. Partners in healthy relationships maintain their autonomy, so when the relationship ends, they've lost themselves.
  5. Lack of financial support.
  6. They may be in denial or minimize and rationalize the nature of their unhappiness or abuse.
  7. They accept the abuser's blame and blame themselves for problems in the relationship.
  8. They've become isolated and lack outside emotional support.
  9. Particularly mothers may want to avoid divorce because of their children.

All these reasons make it hard to leave, and attachment and trauma bonds make us want to return to our last relationship. Whether it's hard to be single or we still recall positive memories, the familiar unhappiness can feel safer than the unknown or a future of loneliness.

It's hard to get over a breakup. Romantic rejection causes a profound sense of loss and negative affect. It can induce clinical depression. Brain chemicals are released that make was try even harder to restore the relationship, including stress hormones and even aggression. When protest fails, it's followed by resignation, and then despair. Knowing that your brain is hard-wired to connect can help you resist acting on the feelings your brain is signaling using logic and thinking through your past experience and what you know about your ex's likely behavior.

For optimal results, start making changes in your relationship with yourself and with others; first, with your ex. Experts agree that although it’s difficult and maybe more painful in the short run, no contact with your former partner will help you recover sooner. Avoid calling, texting, asking others about, or checking up on your ex on social media. Doing so might give momentary relief, but reinforces obsessive-compulsive behavior and ties to the relationship.

Read more about why it's hard to leave and how to recover from breakups. Learn how to detach and let go. Get the Breakup Recovery seminar and Dating, Loving, and Leaving a Narcissist: Essential Tools for Improving or Leaving Narcissistic and Abusive Relationships.

Copyright, Darlene A. Lancer, 2023

Helen E. Fisher, Lucy L. Brown, Arthur Aron, Greg Strong, and Debra Mashek. (2010) "Reward, Addiction, and Emotion Regulation Systems Associated With Rejection in Love." The American Physiological Society.

Helen Fischer (2006) "Broken Hearts: The Nature and Risk of Rejection." Romance and Sex in Adolescence and Emerging Adulthood: Risk and Opportunities. eds. Crouter & Booth. Penn State Symposium.

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Darlene Lancer is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and expert author on relationships, narcissism, and codependency. She’s counseled individuals and couples for over 30 years and coaches internationally. Her books include "Conquering Shame and Codependency: 8 Steps to Freeing the True You," "Dating, Loving, and Leaving a Narcissist - Essential Tools for Improving or Leaving Narcissistic and Abusive Relationships," and "Codependency for Dummies," plus seven ebooks, webinars, and other resource materials. Her books are available on Amazon, other online booksellers and her website,, where you can get a free copy of “14 Tips for Letting Go.”

Los Angeles, CA

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