What To Do After A Toxic Past Relationship So You Never Make The Same Mistakes Again

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toxic relationships

Many of us have suffered through a negative experience or toxic relationship in our youth. Whether yours was with your father, your mother, your first love, or even a friend, these experiences can cause lasting damage — and even shape how you approach future relationships.

One of my clients went through a string of abusive romantic relationships as an adult, so she sought my help to figure out why:

She told me, “When I was 9-years-old, I made and sold crafty things, like homemade jewelry and pottery, around the neighborhood. I was so proud of my work, and the neighbors appreciated it and bought it. But one day, my dad, who was furious, came and got me and said, 'How dare you embarrass me in front of the whole neighborhood by having them think I’m not man enough to provide for my family… I have to have my little girl go out and make money for us.'"

This experience not only crushed her desire to make crafty things again, but caused her to take on a sense of needless guilt, humiliation and mistrust for the most significant male figure in her life — her father.

Because of this toxic relationship experience, she didn’t have any sense of what a healthy, loving male figure in her life would be like — which is why she settled for a history of abusive relationships as she got older.

These types of toxic relationships and negative past experience cause you to form certain expectations of how people are and how they behave — creating roadblocks for your future happiness. 

When my clients come to me with these kinds of hurtful, past experiences, the first thing I suggest is that we break their story down, piece by piece. This way, they can begin to dissect the toxic relationship and separate themselves from the lies they were fed when they were younger.

Why would I ask them to revisit such painful memories? Well, when they relive these experiences in slow motion, we can pick them apart and separate the fiction that was imposed upon them by another and then they can begin to see the truth of who they are.

If you too have endured a toxic relationship or gone through hurtful experience in the past, I encourage you to take these steps to identify the truth — of how you felt in the situation — and the fiction — the painful (and often unnecessary) thoughts you were fed, that you unknowingly internalized and now allow to affect your life the present.

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Ask yourself, “How did I feel at each step of the way?” 

In this case, the woman I’ve been referring to received positive feedback from her neighbors and placed value on her creations by giving her money for them. I had her analyze the scenario all the way up until that hurtful moment. How did it feel to create the things you sold? How did it feel to have your creations validated by the neighbors who bought them? How did it feel to see their smiles and hear their praises?

Recognize your truth in the moment. That’s all you. All of that is a result of who you are and what you’ve done. Then, I had her meditate on those positive feelings to affirm these qualities of who she really is.

Identify the “fiction” that you were fed by another.

Think about how the other person caused you to feel — based on what they said or how they responded in your experience. If you’ve been accused wrongdoing by someone, ask yourself how true was it that you were responsible for the others reactions? Was it actually what you did or was it a manifestation of how they interpreted what you did?

For the woman in my example, her father accused her of embarrassing him in front of the neighborhood by earning money and giving them the impression he was unable to provide for his family. How true was that? None whatsoever. His response to her was complete fiction, It had nothing to do with her, yet at 9 years old she felt she had done something horribly wrong. Otherwise, why would her father be so upset?

He too was acting on impulses shaped by his relationships growing up. Hurt people, hurt people.

Recognize how this fictitious belief has affected your life and your choices in the present.

Once you are able to separate your truth from the fiction, you can start to see how the cycle of your present life choices began.

In the case of my client, at 9-years-old, this experience helped shaped her optioning of men. It stuck with her, becoming her “normal,” since this was all she knew. Once this happens, especially at a young age, she begins to think this is how men are. Why would she expect anything different? And as a result, she settles for men who treat her this way in her life now — despite this experience being nearly 15 years ago.

Once you’re able to recognize how your toxic past is affecting your future, only then can the true healing and change being.

RELATED: Why Do You Stay In Abusive Relationships?

Here are three steps for overcoming your toxic past relationships that will help you build a happier future:

1. Identify your values.

Now’s the time to do some inner digging. Identify — and build — your values, so you can discover what’s truly important to you. When you identify and live in alignment with your values your confidence grows because you know you are living in a way that honors who you are. Subsequently, when you act in violation of your values your confidence takes a hit because you’re dishonoring who you truly are.

2. Re-create your identity.

Identify what you want. You already know what you don’t want, but now’s the time to identify what it is you do want. Think of qualities of people you admire. If there are qualities they exhibit that you’re fond of, incorporate them into your life. Image yourself as the person you most desire to be, and then make consistent actions to be in congruence with your ideal image.

3. Take steps toward living by your new sense of self. 

Once you know what sort of future you want to create for yourself, figure out how to get it. This takes planning. Author Steven Covey said “begin with the end in mind. The new self is no longer a victim of the past for you now only focus on the present and future. Make a list of the qualities you want in the person you most desire to be and be that person. Also, make a list of non-negotiables so you don’t fall back into old patterns. For example, “I don’t tolerate people yelling at me anymore.”

RELATED: If You Want It, Go Out And GET IT, Plain and Simple

What defines you? You get to decide.

When you become untangled from what others have said or done to you in the past, you have the freedom to chart your own course. Quit giving the actions of others power over you. Start living your life as you define it.

Craig Nielson is a trained counselor and certified professional coach, speaker and bestselling author, who specializes in helping women transform their lives, become fully empowered and more self-confident. To start working through your toxic past relationships, visit Craig's website,, and schedule a free consultation.

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