Ten years ago, I had no idea that the man I had just started dating would turn out to be a toxic narcissist. Back then, I was attracted to his charm, his confidence, and the way he seemed to have it all figured out. Growing up in a small town in Nebraska, I wasn’t exactly exposed to a variety of personalities, so his larger-than-life persona was intriguing to me.
In hindsight, there were signs. His subtle put-downs masked as jokes, his constant need for validation, his lack of empathy when I was going through a tough time. But love, or what I thought was love, had a funny way of pushing these warning signals to the back of my mind.
Over time, this toxic relationship took a toll on my self-esteem. I started second-guessing my decisions, my opinions, and even my worth as an individual. I became a shadow of the lively, confident woman I used to be. It was not until an old friend visited me and pointed out how much I had changed that I saw the reality of my situation.
The journey to self-love wasn’t easy or quick. It took me about 12 months to fully embrace the importance of loving myself first and foremost. Once this realization took hold, it gave me the courage to walk away from the person who had been draining me emotionally for almost a decade.
Now, as a 37-year-old woman who has just broken free from a toxic relationship with a narcissist, the world looks very different. The process of healing and rediscovering myself has been challenging but rewarding. Here’s what it’s been like to learn about self-love after spending years in a toxic relationship.
Learning to Love Myself Again
The first step towards self-love was recognizing the unhealthy dynamic in my relationship. This wasn’t easy, as it involved taking off the rose-colored glasses and seeing my partner for who he truly was, a toxic narcissist. It was painful, but it was necessary.
These realizations didn’t happen overnight. It took extensive therapy and countless self-help books to understand the depth of the situation I was in. But once I did, the path to self-love became clear. I had to start valuing myself and my well-being above the needs and desires of my toxic partner.
I began by setting boundaries in our relationship, something I’d been too scared to do before. It wasn’t easy, and he didn’t respond well. But standing my ground was empowering. It reminded me that I had control over my own life and decisions.
Then came the hard part: ending the relationship. Despite knowing it was toxic, leaving someone I’d spent a decade with was difficult. But each day post-breakup, I found a little more strength within myself. I started rediscovering old hobbies, spending more time with loved ones, and most importantly, taking time for self-care and self-reflection.
Through this journey, I realized that self-love isn’t just about feeling good about yourself. It’s about respecting your own needs and standing up for your own happiness.
Now, I want to explore a common misconception that can trap people in toxic relationships for years — the belief that love should be unconditional and that one should sacrifice everything for their partner.
The Misconception of Unconditional Love
One belief that held me captive in this toxic relationship was the idea of unconditional love. I thought loving someone meant accepting them for who they are, flaws and all. I thought it meant always being there for them, no matter what. This belief is common, and in many cases, it’s romanticized.
However, what I didn’t realize then was that there’s a fine line between unconditional love and self-sacrifice. Yes, love involves accepting someone’s flaws, but not when those flaws are causing you harm. Yes, love means being there for someone, but not at the cost of your own well-being.
This toxic relationship made me believe that I was selfish for wanting respect and happiness. It made me feel guilty for prioritizing my needs over his. But this is a misconception. In a healthy relationship, both partners’ needs are valued and met.
Unconditional love shouldn’t mean tolerating disrespect, manipulation, or emotional abuse. It shouldn’t mean losing your identity or self-worth to keep someone else happy.
In the next section, I’ll share the practical steps I took to break free from this toxic dynamic and how learning to truly love myself became my saving grace in this journey towards healing and self-discovery.
Breaking Free and Embracing Self-Love
The most significant step I took to break free from this toxic relationship was choosing myself over the relationship. It sounds simple, but it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Here’s how I did it and how you can too.
Firstly, acknowledge the reality of your situation. This is painful, but essential. You might be in love with a version of the person that simply doesn’t exist. Accepting this truth is the first step towards freedom.
Secondly, establish boundaries and stick to them. This will likely cause conflict, especially if your partner isn’t used to you standing your ground. But remember, it’s crucial for your mental and emotional health.
Then comes the hardest part: ending the relationship. You’ll feel a range of emotions — guilt, relief, fear, loneliness. But trust that it gets better with time. Surround yourself with loved ones and engage in activities that bring you joy.
Lastly, indulge in self-care and seek professional help if needed. Therapy was instrumental in my healing process, and it could be for you too.
The key point is this: loving yourself is not selfish; it’s necessary. Don’t let anyone make you feel guilty for choosing your happiness over a toxic relationship.
Breaking free from a toxic narcissist is tough, but with self-love and determination, it’s absolutely possible. You deserve to be happy, respected, and loved unconditionally — and that starts with loving yourself.
Shifting Perspective and Taking Control
During my journey, I realized that the first step to reclaiming my life was taking responsibility for my situation. This wasn’t about blame but about empowering myself to make changes. It’s a mindset shift that can help in overcoming any challenge in life.
Another crucial realization was understanding the influence of societal expectations and conditioning on my beliefs. For years, I had been living according to what I thought was expected of me, not what I truly wanted. This realization set me on a path to live life on my own terms.
Here are the key steps that helped me navigate this journey:
- Acknowledge your current dissatisfaction or struggles.
- Face the reality of your situation, avoid blind positivity.
- Understand external influences and societal conditioning.
- Pursue personal ambitions and desires, not externally imposed ones.
- Seek self-empowerment by breaking free from societal expectations.
Remember, it’s okay to question societal myths and expectations that limit your potential. Embrace the journey of self-exploration to reshape your reality and align your life with your true nature.
A resource that particularly helped me during this journey is the love and intimacy masterclass. It provided me with the tools to focus on self-love, which proved indispensable in navigating my way out of a toxic relationship.