I knew my ex wasn’t a healthy person. Despite the false intimacy and unhealthy patterns, I saw glimmers of hope and change that made me stay.
His reputation was endorsed by pastors, friends and even city officials. His reputation made me think I should defend him. He could be trusted, I told myself. I doubted if what he was doing was really all that bad. He was a strong leader with many idiosyncrasies.
I honestly didn’t realize how toxic my relationship was until a year after the breakup. The realization came after months of processing and many miles of distance. I cried tears of heartbreak, anger, longing, fear and then, shame.
I couldn’t stand myself for a while. The question interrogating my mind was, “How could you let this happen?” Even more, how could I let it happen for two years? While it was easy to be angry at him, it was also easy to forgive him. He was broken, arrogant and lost in his ego. I should have known better. The charm shouldn’t have clouded my judgment.
While it was easy to be angry at him, it was also easy to forgive him.
I still have to remind myself of how powerful the emotional undertow of that relationship was. Even a year following our breakup, it made me feel like I was crazy. I felt an immense amount of anger, but I was the only one I could blame. I felt stupid and ignorant of the reality I should have seen long before.
I have never wanted him back, but I wanted myself back every day. The confident girl who could trust herself and believed her intuition. If you find yourself in a similar narrative, here are some tools to help you forgive yourself after a bad relationship. You are stronger than the words, “How could I let that happen?”
I have never wanted him back, but I wanted myself back every day.
Tell someone what’s going on.
My therapist once told me, “There is healing in the telling.”
This couldn’t be more accurate. Telling the painful stories can be triggering whether you were in the wrong or not. It’s also necessary to understand that what happened was outside of your control. Recounting past hurt and watching it be felt by someone who loves you is healing.
Whoever you choose to tell, make sure they are trustworthy. Also, tell them as much as possible (while, of course, using wisdom). Darkness loves the dark, and it will want to stay there. Drag that darkness to the light with the strength of a trusted friend. Speaking about your pain may be the greatest gift you give to yourself.
Darkness loves the dark, and it will want to stay there.
Sympathize with yourself.
This is one of those things that’s easy to say but really hard to do. A friend of mine who is really knowledgeable on this topic recommends cataloging your life at the time of the relationship. You can write it down like a timeline. Just make sure that every external circumstance is on paper to see with your own eyes.
After doing this, you’ll likely find that there’s a lot happening outside of us that we don’t give grace to. Your dog dying when things were hard probably made you want to cling to any comfort you knew. The perfect job probably made it easier to tackle a bad fight. A shared group of friends likely influenced you staying as well.
Boundaries change as we change. They are ever-evolving as we learn our capacity and needs. It helps me to recount the boundaries I have now that I didn’t have then.
I learned to stand my ground when someone tries to gaslight me. In addition, it’s not my responsibility to assume expectations or accept blame for something when I don’t meet unspoken expectations.
I also learned to call a spade a spade. Meaning, I can confidently speak up when something’s wrong. Sure, I wish I knew these things when I was 20, but the reality is, I didn’t. There’s abundant grace in learning boundaries. The strength is in keeping them.
There’s abundant grace in learning boundaries. The strength is in keeping them.
I just turned 28. My friend got me a ring that twists around my finger. On the outside, it says, “Keep Going,” and on the inside, it reads, “Keep F****** Going.”
The look in my now ex-boyfriend’s eyes used to have the power to push me underwater and keep me there. I will not do that to myself. I will keep moving forward in forgiveness toward myself. I will believe that I am strong and capable. I will have grace for myself.