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After the ending of a toxic relationship, survivors may be tempted to fill the void and avoid confronting their pain by reentering another relationship quickly. Sometimes, survivors are able to find an empathic, caring partner shortly after the ending of their abusive relationship. Unfortunately, what happens more often than not is that they end up with another emotional predator who resembles the same one they just left, retriggering and cementing the same abandonment wounds that they attempted to escape in the first place.
Or, because they haven’t taken the time to address their wounding and become self-reliant, they unconsciously push away any healthy partners that come their way.
For any abuse survivor, taking the time to be single (whether or not you plan to have another relationship in the future) is crucial to the healing journey. For childhood abuse survivors who have a pattern of entering unhealthy relationships, it is essential to have a period of being single to help interrupt and break the cycle of abuse. This hiatus from dating and relationships can change the course of your life and bring forth a healthier, renewed sense of self.
Since society places such an unhealthy emphasis on overvaluing relationships at the expense of one’s self-care, it is important to recognize how healthy being single can be, especially for a trauma survivor. In fact, research has shown that single people can be just as happy as their coupled counterparts (DePaulo, 2007; Grime et. al, 2015).
Here are five healing benefits of being single to keep in mind:
1. It allows you to create a new normal.
Children who grow up in abusive households literally have their brains rewired and are prone to engaging in a trauma repetition cycle that deepens existing wounds in adulthood (Van der Kolk, 2015). Those who have been in a long-term abusive relationship, whether emotional or physical, can also suffer from symptoms of PTSD or Complex PTSD. Without proper intervention and treatment, abuse survivors come to normalize verbal, emotional, psychological and sometimes even physical abuse as part of love. Without healing the wounds from childhood and examining any maladaptive beliefs, behaviors or boundaries, abuse survivors risk continually becoming attached to toxic partners throughout their lifetime without pause.
Being single for a period of time mitigates some of this risk by allowing you to carve out space and time exclusively devoted to you and your healing, without exacerbating those wounds. In conjunction with No Contact or Low Contact when co-parenting with your abuser, it is a necessary time to create psychological separation from your abuser. It enables you to create a new normal of peace, stability and independence that will serve you well – whether or not you decide to get into another relationship in the future.
2. It compels you to have higher standards.
Confronting your own loneliness can be difficult, especially if you suffered from isolation during the abuse cycle. Yet as you begin to heal from the abuse, consult support networks and mental health professionals, you begin to feel less lonely, far more validated and much more comfortable being by yourself.
In fact, you may even welcome the peace and the quiet after such a tumultuous relationship filled with traumatic highs and lows. A long reprieve from the toxicity of abuse can teach you exactly what you deserved and were worthy of, all along. It can teach you to appreciate silence as sacred. You are finally granted the space for much needed reflection and hibernation.
After you have grown accustomed to being on your own, standing on your own two feet and becoming self-reliant, you begin to enjoy your own company. This self-reliance is vital to building emotional health and resilience (Ryan, 2016). You learn how to go on adventures, engage in self-development and indulge in your own self-care without compromises and without the need for a partner. The longer you spend time alone, the more likely you’ll develop a higher standard for who you allow into your life. This is because you are creating such an enriching and emotionally satisfying life that you desire only people who add to your experiences rather than detract from them. You’ll nurture relationships with people who support and uplift you and cut ties more easily with those that belittle or berate you. This is a great way to filter out toxic friendships as well.
3. It gives you the space to grieve the complex emotions that arise – without taking your experiences out on anyone else.
It is important to remember that when you have been abused, your brain and your body are still reeling from the trauma. Just because the abusive relationship has ended does not mean that the effects of trauma will automatically dissipate. It takes time, effort and often the help of a validating professional to repair any harmful beliefs that you internalized as a result of the abuse, and for your body to return to baseline levels of safety and stability (Van der Kolk, 2016).
You may still be dealing with emotions of anger, sadness, anxiety and even conflicted feelings about your abuser. You might suffer from flashbacks, nightmares, depression, a critical inner voice, toxic shame and self-sabotage (Walker, 2011). The intense trauma bonds that have formed with your abuser need time to heal and be properly severed (Stines, 2016).
Jumping back into dating or into another relationship bears the risk of amplifying these emotions and dumping salt on these wounds. Taking a hiatus from dating can grant you the freedom to honor your emotions and take the time to validate, express and process them in a healthy way. Working with a trauma-informed therapist is a great way to address your triggers in a safe space.
4. Instead of investing in another relationship, you get to invest in yourself.
Abuse survivors are well acquainted with putting a great deal of investment in a toxic relationship with little to no positive return. However, investing in yourself is quite different because it will always be worth it. When you invest in living on your own, you get the experience of a lifetime, perhaps one you might not have again if you plan to have a steady relationship in the future (Ryan, 2016). When you invest in your dreams, education, goals, career, self-care, it will always pay off because you are enriching your own life experience, wisdom and opportunities for success and joy. You learn that you are “whole” on your own and you are far less likely to settle for anyone who isn’t similarly self-motivated.
As Dr. DePaulo (2013) astutely notes:
“We hear all about how single people are supposedly at risk for becoming lonely, but little about the creative, intellectual, and emotional potential of solitude… We are told that single people do not have the intimacy that married people find in their partners, but hear only crickets about the genuine attachment relationships that single people have with the most important people in their lives. Missing from the stacks of journal articles is any sustained attention to the risks of intensive coupling—investing all of your emotional and relationship stock into just one person, “The One”—or to the resilience offered by the networks of friends and family that so many single people maintain.”
Being single opens you up to infinite possibilities for self-exploration and self-advancement without sacrificing your time or energy on anyone else. You have more time to exercise, do yoga, try meditation, travel, experiment with new hobbies and interests, make new friends, do things on your bucket list and integrate different aspects of your personality that may have felt stifled in the abusive relationship. Whether you’re blissed out on a yoga mat or launching your dream business, there is no greater way to spend your time and energy than investing in someone who will always appreciate and benefit from it: you.
5. You develop an improved immunity to abusive tactics.
There is no guarantee that you won’t encounter another toxic or abusive person in your lifetime. Even experts on this topic can still be duped by predatory types. However, as you begin to heal your wounds, develop better boundaries and learn more about covert manipulation, you also learn to trust your inner voice. As you find validation from trauma-informed professionals and survivor communities, you realize that you never have to discount another gut instinct or abandon your own needs for the sake of maintaining a relationship.
You become confident that you can fulfill your own emotional needs and manage your emotions without the need for anyone to validate your self-worth. This is an exquisite life skill to have that will serve you well throughout your entire life, whether single or with a partner. It will allow you to become less susceptible to tactics such as love-bombing (because you already have high self-esteem, over the top flattery just won’t cut it for you; you’ll require a genuine connection), triangulation (you will resist comparing yourself to others because you know how to self-validate), and gaslighting (because you’ve learned to trust your own instincts). The projections of others won’t rattle you to the core as they once did; you’ll take them as signals to move on from toxic people and only own what is yours alone.
Perhaps your journey won’t be perfect, but it will be much more authentic and liberating. You’ll learn that you are the only one who can save yourself. Most importantly of all, being single will give you the time you need to recover, evaluate what you truly desire and make your dreams come to life.
DePaulo, B. (2013, May 08). Are Single People Mentally Stronger? Retrieved August 27, 2017, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/living-single/201305/are-single-people-mentally-stronger
DePaulo, B. M. (2007). Singled out: How singles are stereotyped, stigmatized, and ignored and still live happily ever after. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin.
Girme, Y. U., Overall, N. C., Faingataa, S., & Sibley, C. G. (2015). Happily Single. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 7(2), 122-130. doi:10.1177/1948550615599828
Ryan, E. (2016, September 24). How living alone and being single build emotional health. Retrieved August 27, 2017, from https://yourlifelifter.com/2016/05/29/how-living-alone-and-being-single-build-emotional-health/
Stines, S. (2017, August 21). 10 Steps to Recovering from a Toxic Trauma Bond. Retrieved August 28, 2017, from https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/10-steps-to-recovering-from-toxic-trauma-bond-0110175
Van der Kolk, B. (2015). The body keeps the score: Brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma. New York: Penguin Books.
Walker, P. (2011, November). Grieving and Complex PTSD. Retrieved August 28, 2017, from http://pete-walker.com/pdf/GrievingAndComplexPTSD.pdf