By Gabriella Bosticco
It's often said that the hardest relationship isn't the toxic one, it's the one after. Now, I don't agree with this for a second - being treated with respect will never come close to what I experienced - but the relationship after definitely has its difficulties. I'm currently experiencing this myself, and it's come with so many surprises.
The idea of being in a relationship after experiencing abuse is terrifying. After having your vulnerability used against you, just the thought of letting someone else in in that way brings so many worries, especially when you've spent months, even years, trying to recover from the last time.
One of the principal themes of coercive control is victim blaming, and it can be so hard to unlearn that mindset. What if this is the thing that I did that made them turn out that way? What if I'm going to take this new person and turn them into them? Personally, I realised that it was easier if the toxicity was all my fault, because then I had some control over the situation. If it was my fault that it turned out the way it did, I could make sure it didn't happen again. Obviously, this isn't true, but it's so hard to shake the feeling that not only could it happen again, but it could be my own fault.
Self blame isn't the only thing to unlearn. It's learning that you don't need to constantly be on high alert. Learning that all the things they hammered into you aren't real; it doesn't mean anything that there's a full stop on the end of that text, or that they're sleeping on their other side tonight. Not everything has a double meaning. When your instincts are based on having to anticipate someone's every move to try and protect yourself, it's hard to take everything at face value, not to mention the hit to your self worth that constantly second guessing yourself can cause.
The good news is, cliché as it sounds, with the right communication, the right person will understand. They'll happily take it at your pace, respecting your hesitancy. I've dated people who wanted to push me quicker than I was ready for, and I was beginning to accept that I might never be ready, that I was too 'damaged'. I was wrong; I just needed someone who would respect my boundaries.
If, like me, you're working on unlearning the habits taught to you by toxic relationships, good luck! It's by no means an easy process, but one that leads to better days. It's the little things, like being able to hang out with friends together or going grocery shopping without a fight. It's not having to keep everything secret; it's hearing your friends say how happy they are for you.