Love, Heartbreak

9 Women Share How To Face Fear And Leave A Toxic Relationship

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9 Women Share How To Face Fear And Leave A Toxic Relationship

There's nothing like fear to turn on your adrenalin, accelerate your thoughts, and shut you down. Ever been reduced to a cowering, helpless baby in a corner? It's pretty scary, but you're far from alone. 

And yet, “facing your fear” is what everyone says you must do if you want to truly change what’s negative in your life. How do you challenge yourself to do something out of your comfort zone, or  change things in your relationship or marriage when you are scared your actions might make everything so much worse?

For a lot of women in a toxic relationship, it’s their unconquerable fear that keeps them in that place.

It may be a fear of failure, a fear of “losing him” or everything you are comfortable with, a fear of causing harm to the children, or a fear of not being good enough to deserve anything else than what they have known. It may also be that they just don't know how to leave a toxic relationship. 

It’s a crazy, tormenting, vicious circle like Einstein’s definition of insanity: the ongoing repetition of repeating the same behavior in an unhealthy relationship over and over again while expecting a different outcome. And yet settling for the crazy is what many people do.

RELATED: If Your Partner Has These 8 Personality Traits, You May Have A Toxic Relationship

And you know them. Those long-term marriages, those relationships you don’t want? The ones where the partners have settled for the devil they know over the devil they don’t.

As educators and divorce coaches who talk to women every day who are treading water in this fearful place, what we know is that those women who are strong enough to do something else are the women who go on to change their lives for the better. But it is hard.

So, to give you perspective and relationship advice, we asked nine strong women who broke with their histories, touched their fears, and moved through the scary to do something else. Here's what they recommend for when you are caught in the whirlpool of insanity.

1. Decide if it’s really worth it.

“First, it depends on what it is. I ask myself do I really have to do it? Because there are many things society tells us we have to do and I don’t have to do them. I’ve learned this now, later in life. I try to be totally sincere and check in with myself. Then if I decide I have to do it, no matter what it is, I go and do it. You must save the only life you can save.”

2. Hire a professional for help.

“I am a divorced woman who was married for more than 20 years and raised three kids in the suburbs. When I am not doing what I should be doing, I get professional help. I worked with a coach who helped me understand my fears about selling my house, but also my true desire, like how much I really wanted to go back to graduate school for photography. I had to forgive myself for the fear of losing my family nest, but I am so proud of myself now for moving to New York City and living in a tiny studio so I can complete my Masters! Sometimes you just need a kick-start from someone else!”

3. Visualize the dilemma and choose.

“When I am facing something so scary, like the nearing day of my divorce, I visualize my dilemma. I think of my feet on the edge of a girder of a skyscraper — a really high girder in the sky! I visualize the fear of looking down. Yes, it’s scary! But then I think about what’s behind me, what I have known for so many years, and what it would be to turn around and not jump. And I find that is even less doable.”

4. Get perspective.

“One thing I do is remember my heritage. When I was young, I started reading books about the Holocaust and Primo Levi, how he and other Jews survived incredible oppression and torture, marching or working for hours in concentration camps, watching their loved ones be killed or never return. And then, I really go there. I think about the idiotic things I have to do! I think I can do them if they had to do so much worse.”

RELATED: 7 Things A Toxic Relationship Will Teach You About Love

5. Break the fear down into steps.

“I like to face a fear holistically, and slowly dismantle it into smaller pieces and attack it bit by bit. For example, I might tell myself I am just going to focus on the money part right now, then I know, it would be good to talk to a financial person who can help me understand what’s at stake. Then I might step away, and on another day, talk to the school counselor about what my kids are going through. There’s no way I recommend anyone try to do everything at once. You can’t do that well if it’s even possible!”

6. Imagine yourself as a strong warrior.

“You know this break up has reduced me to crying a lot. But a useful exercise for me is to go back to when I felt strong in my life. And then I remember my experience in college as an athlete.  I remember rallying my team when we would have to go out on the field to meet our opponent. One thing to remember is that the other side is human, too. They have fears like me. So I think it’s a couple of things when facing the fear of breaking up: remember when you have shown strength before and that you can do it again. And secondly, remember the other side is not a monster. It has fears too."

7. Stay present.

“I stay in the moment. I take a deep breath. A big breath. I think what is the worst-case scenario here? I was just in China — I got the job all by myself. I was hired for two weeks, and I had to bring it! They kept changing things on me, and I would stay up at night recreating my presentations for the next day, telling myself, ‘This is my chance.’ And I did it! When I succeeded and I realized no one had helped me, I had done it, it was my own Wonder Woman Moment. I did it by staying present.”

8. Do it for your kids.

"One of my biggest fears, growing up, was around sailing. I grew up listening to my father tell me how unsafe and dangerous sailboats were. When my son wanted to take sailing lessons, I was very nervous but eventually agreed to let him try. After three years of watching him come home with ribbons and awards and seeing him struggle with other sports such as soccer and baseball, I knew what I had to do. I faced my fear and learned how to sail. I’m so happy to have overcome this fear. I realize, sometimes it's hard for me to do things for myself, but I can really find the strength to do things if it's a matter of my children's well being.”

9. Connect with your best girlfriend for support.

“I turn to one of my wisest friends who has been through so much on her own, and who is really a role model for how I’d like to be. I ask her what she thinks I should do when I am out of my mind afraid. I don’t necessarily buy what she says, but it’s that conversation of back and forth and brainstorming, and even laughing, that helps me realize what I can do. What I must do.”

RELATED: Why It's So Damn Hard To Leave A Toxic Relationship

Educator and Divorce Recovery Coach, Liza Caldwell is the Cofounder of SAS for Women, a stand-alone action resource that, since 2012, provides strategic coaching, a specialized education, and emotional support for women thinking about divorce or seeking to navigate and thrive beyond their divorce story.