How to Break Up with Your Toxic Attachment Style
By Susan Ball, Abuse Recovery Expert.
When you have a toxic attachment style, you are vulnerable to emotional manipulation, codependency, and abusive relationships. You find it difficult to “break-up” even though you know the relationship is toxic and abusive. Your craving for the validation from another person is overwhelming and the thought of leaving is too painful to bear. So you stay and keep trying and looking for approval and validation. Being aware of your attachment style, where it came from, and how it is reflected in your relationships, is the first step in healing.
Codependency is the most common form of toxic attachment and is often the underlying vulnerability in abusive and toxic relationships. When one person in the relationship is overly dependent on the other this can manifest in a variety of ways. The codependent partner will constantly seek validation and go out of their way to please and transform themselves in order to get the validation, love, and affection they seek resulting in a loss of self.
Individuals with toxic attachment and codependency will make decisions based on the wishes of their partner, family, or friends, instead of their own needs. But sacrificing your own needs, wants, and desires eventually leads to resentment, unhappiness, and disconnection. Every time you sacrifice your needs, you give up a tiny piece of yourself until you honestly don’t know who you are and that’s a tough place to begin to create a life you love.
Codependents seek constant reassurance and external validation and have difficulty trusting their partner. Insecurity is an overwhelming emotion for codependents and it’s reflected in their inability to quit toxic relationships. Insecurity is at its core, fear based and centered in the lack of self-esteem. Feeling you can’t do life on your own or you’re not good enough will cause someone who is codependent to settle for toxic and abusive rather than leave.
Finally, unhealthy, abusive, and toxic relationships exist without boundaries, standards, and open, vulnerable communication. Without clear boundaries, it is difficult to maintain a healthy relationship. This leads to feeling constantly disrespected and results in feelings of resentment, frustration, and anger.
If you’ve been struggling with toxic attachment, you’re not alone. Toxic attachment can take a toll on your mental and emotional health, leaving you feeling isolated, lonely, and drained. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to heal toxic attachment and reclaim your sense of self.
Strategies to Support Breaking-Up with Your Toxic Attachment Style:
1. Understand Your Needs: Toxic attachment often develops when your needs are not being met. Identifying your needs and learning to meet them will help you form healthier attachments and relationships. Start with this question: What am I doing when I feel happiest, lightest, curious, and I want to do or have more?
2. Create and Enforce Boundaries: Boundaries are essential for healthy relationships, including the relationship with yourself. Setting boundaries helps you protect your mental and emotional wellbeing, as well as your time and energy. Ask yourself what kind of behaviour you’re willing to accept in your relationships, set your boundary then enforce it. A list of standards for your relationships is a good place to start. Knowing your standards will help you set and enforce your boundaries.
3. Find Support – a therapist or coach: It can be difficult to heal toxic patterns on your own especially if you have left a toxic or abusive relationship. It is a painful and confusing time and having support from a therapist or a coach will provide much-needed guidance and comfort for your healing journey. Investing in your future self is always a good idea.
4. Practice Self-Compassion: There is no point in berating yourself for staying too long, or getting caught up with another toxic person, or feeling emotional, or eating too much ice cream. To heal, you must learn to offer yourself the same kindness and understanding that you would to someone else. When you find yourself speaking to yourself as a mean person, ask yourself – would I say that to someone else? Chances are the answer is no. Being aware of your self-talk helps you change it from mean to compassionate. Practicing self-care, such as taking a relaxing bath or going for a walk, is also beneficial.
5. Take a Healing Break: My advice to my clients is no dating for 365 + 1 day. It is important to face every major holiday, anniversary and birthday alone. Taking breaks from relationships can help you to gain perspective and create healthier attachments. Allow yourself time to process your feelings and reflect on your experiences. Allow quiet time to love yourself and learn to validate your own life and feelings. This is your time to begin the process of living life unapologetically.
With time, patience, and a loving, compassionate commitment to yourself, you can heal toxic attachment, codependency, reclaim yourself, and create a life you truly love without the need for external validation. Remember that it’s a process and each step you take breaks the cycle of codependency.
Susan Ball is an Abuse Recovery Expert who works with women ready to free their voice, break the cycle, and live life unapologetically. You can begin your healing journey by downloading her free ebook ‘12 Proven Action Steps to Break the Cycle’ here: https://www.recoveryafterabuse.ca/f/break-the-cycle-12-action-steps
This is a very good article and it enabled me to figure some things out for myself. In the past I was told I am co-dependent yet, I had no problems ending my first two marriages because of abuse and adultery. After my third marriage ran into problems, I convinced myself that it had to be me. I felt bad as a person and flawed at my core. I fell into the trap of trying to be a better person, a better wife although, I didn’t realize I was being controlled, bullied and subjugated… all features of my first two marriages. Before I got married I was an independent person and managed very well on my own but, all three husbands treated me as though I was an incompetent fool. Having said all that, where does it leave me regarding my repeated abusive relationships?
Hi Sylvia, I feel your pain – I did it 4 times! Repeated toxic relationships indicate unhealed programming. For me, it was emotional lack in my childhood that created my codependency and my unhealthy need to be loved. So unhealthy that I was willing to work at keeping abusive relationships – my norm. When I stopped and really started to look at me deeply and began the process of changing my programming to something healthy then I was able to set boundaries, standards, and non-negotiables for all my relationships. Something deep down needs to be healed. It can be done and you can repleace unhealthy with healthy.
Susan, thank you so much for your reply. What I do know is that my dad was a violent alcoholic… he would assault my mum and me too. My sister was the adored one. Mother was a vain narcissist and although she worked hard… we were well looked after and the house was spotless, she too favored my sister and I was the scapegoat. There was a lot of emotional and verbal abuse and she put a lot on my young shoulders expecting me to be mature long before my time. Both of my parents allowed my sister to abuse me: punch, slap, kick, bite. They never held her responsible for her wrong doings rather, they’d accuse me of having done something to deserve the abuse. Given my history, how do I sort that lot out? I’ve read lots of books and been to therapists but, even they seem to find it too much. I live in the UK and therapy over here isn’t half as good as the states. I agree that deep down something needs to heal but the more I dig the more comes up and the more confused I become. I’m still trying to put it all in a nutshell but, a lot of what I know seems very fragmented. It does my head in! Thank you again for your time Susan. I do appreciate it.
Ms. Ball – THIS is what I need to know more about – my father made my mother codependent, and I am finding this to be true for me now, and am NOT liking it. I broke free last July after 9 years of emotional degradation, PTSD, and walking on eggshells – not being respected and my thoughts and opinions did not matter – same as growing up with my father so I actually thought this was normal until my mental health collapsed. Of course it is NOT, and am beginning the year finding out who I am and what I want all over again. THANK U for your perspective – I didn’t need the terminology – I just needed to figure out how to proceed and not be financially dependent so am working 2 jobs. THANK U for your insight and I look forward to more.
Hi Lynn, so happy you are working on finding out who you are and what you want. That is the foundation of creating a life you love. Sending you big hugs and I know you can do this!
Hello! I’ve been in these co-dependent relationships all my life!. I am 67 now, without love, children (or grandchildren!) , any form of joy. From the choice of relationships I have made I can see that I need to consider my own mental health and need encouragement.. I really blame myself. At this point, I am still in 2 co-dependent relationships, one with my ex who currently lives with me and another with my brother, who is dependent on me for care since he has major health issues. I am having trouble finding a way to break free, but your own voice, as well as others’ is really inspiring me to do something about my circumstances. Thank you!
Hi Laurel, I’m so sorry to hear about your pain. Making change can be tough, but for our own mental and physical health, we need to! You can do this and create peace in your life