New Year New Me: Leaving Toxic Relationships Behind

Image credit: Sahina Sherchan

By Kate Waldock

As the first academic term of the new year creeps ever closer, students returning from previous years and those that are newcomers have a chance at a fresh start. We start a new year; many of us still reeling from relationships left behind in the past. University is exciting, it brings with it the opportunity to meet new people and potentially find lasting friendships and partners. However, with that opportunity comes mistakes and heartache that can’t be easily avoided. Sometimes, those new people that enter your life don’t deserve to stay in it, and a new year offers students the ability to move forward with their lives.

In my first year at university, I met someone who seemed to be the girl of my dreams. Her music taste was excellent, she was beautiful, and the first night we met I was so flattered that she was nervous to be hanging out with me. What started as a relationship I could see lasting for the foreseeable future soured into something increasingly toxic. The life-consuming stress has engulfed far too much time, taking away precious happy moments with friends and university. I am far from alone; a study of 1751 students between age 16 and 19 showed that almost 50% of both males and females surveyed reported that they experienced “controlling behaviours”. Third year has finally swung round, and I am ready to leave that toxicity where it belongs- in the past- but the question is, how can we do that?

It’s important to remember when reading this that my experiences are subjective, and what works for me may not be the same for others. I have written this article with information gained from relationship and dating experts’ accounts.

Often when a toxic relationship ends it leaves the victims lost and hopeless. That person- whether it was a partner or friend- had become the one you rely on to make you feel better, perhaps because they were the ones so apt at tearing it down, or they ensured that they were the only ones to bring you up and oftentimes they did both. When you finally manage to leave that relationship behind, you can establish who in your life will continue to build your self-esteem rather than drag it down. The new academic year has lots of potential for new friends and partners that will respect you, but it’s always good to take time and make sure that your current relationships are positive. That way, when you begin your new term at university, you know you have people around you that will support you, whether it’s coming with you to that house party, or hugging you when you just need a friend. 

Indi Scott Whitehouse, Quench’s resident Features editor, gives some brilliant advice from her own experience for readers looking to move past toxic relationships:

“Recovering from a toxic relationship, while confusing, can be one of the most liberating and positive experiences you will ever have. Suddenly, there is no second opinion on everything you do, and nobody is making pessimistic comments about your emotions and life choices. You can use this recovery time to focus on yourself, strengthen your platonic relationships, and surround yourself with friends that make you feel confident and positive. The toxic traits of your partner may have meant that you became more distant from friends that provoked jealousy or disapproval in the relationships. 

For what might feel like the first time in a long while, you will be able to interact with friends who were seen as a threat by your partner and not be accused of flirting. It may take some time, but you can reverse the poisoned perspective your partner gave you. You will recognise that your friends hang out with you because they enjoy your company, and not because “they think they’ve got a chance of shagging you”. 

You will have a lot of new-found time to spend with friends, that was previously filled with what felt like obligatory time with your partner. Making plans for yourself and with friends can play a huge role in regaining your independence, and bring to light a fresh gratitude for the support your friendships provide as they help you to realise that (contradictory to your ex’s opinion) you are not a problem or a burden. 

In short, there is no longer another individual controlling your decisions. Life is yours for the taking, you will eventually realise yourself worth and understand that you are deserving of happiness.”

Indi’s outlook is one of optimism. Choose to focus on the good you have gained from leaving that toxic relationship, not the person you’ve lost.

University is full of societies. Dr. Kelly Campbell gives the advice to MyDomaine that taking up new hobbies is a brilliant way to begin to heal. From Disney society to the Hockey club; there is a place for you to fit in. Being independent can be scary, but it is a great way to find a new hobby, or meet new people that give you the attention and care that you deserve. You don’t have to post photos on your Instagram story to show those from your past that you’re doing well, you can simply go out and do well! Rather than attempting to prove that you’ve moved on, it ultimately feels much better to try and do the things that really interest you. 

How can we move on from our feelings?

The second part to moving on is slightly harder. It’s the part that comes from yourself, and it’s something that takes time. Rushing to reach that finish line adorned with future happiness, a good partner and the healed scars is not so easy as it may sound to those who’ve never endured a toxic relationship. It is not as simple as following the various guidelines set out by relationship experts to become happy and fulfilled again. As you begin to follow these guidelines, it’s okay to feel upset, angry, but also to mourn the relationship. That friend or partner was an important member in your life for a chunk of time and it’s difficult to remove that from your memory. It’s a stain in your t-shirt; it may take time and care to wash out. For a while, that t-shirt is marked with a history, but over time it fades back to that colour your t-shirt once was. 

I can only offer the advice that worked best for me. Each relationship is its own personal bubble, with different experiences to mine. So it’s important to remember when reading this article that our paths to moving on are going to be dissimilar. Take time for yourself. Don’t jump back into the dating pool too soon: take time to remember your own self-worth. However, don’t rule out any future. It’s a new year! Students are thrown back into the microcosmic world of university, tinder and various other dating apps are brimming with exciting new profiles, filled with selfies and the latest pictures of a summer holiday. This is an opportunity for those of you who have recently left a toxic relationship to explore bright futures with lovely people. 

The truth is that there is no step by step guide to moving on from a difficult relationship. The year won’t start with a completely new you, unfazed by the pain of a previous toxic relationship. However, each year that passes will help you move on and see that those past relationships don’t define you, and the things those people say to you have no bearing on who you truly are. 

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