I left my toxic ex - then he changed his behavior for another woman. How do I stop feeling like the problem was me?




Woman looking stressed and upset against a window.
Woman looking stressed and upset against a window.  

Crystal Cox/BI Photo

  • It's normal to have mixed feelings about a toxic relationship ending. Still, fixating on the love you have for your ex won't help your self-esteem.

  • Therapist Kelly Scott suggested reflecting on the bad parts of the relationship too, and allowing yourself to feel anger and disappointment.

  • Consider how your upbringing and past relationships inform your views on anger, Scott said.

  • Have a question for Julia? Fill out this anonymous form. All questions will be published anonymously. You can read more Doing It Right here.

Dear Julia,

I left a toxic relationship with someone I loved a lot.

I just wanted him to be more open minded, less aggressive with his words, and to try out things I enjoyed doing. He ended up doing all of that, but for another person.

I still have nothing but love for my ex and I'm happy he changed, but it really hurts how he made these changes after I was gone and for someone else.

It truly makes me feel like I meant nothing to him. I feel small and very insecure about myself or any future relationship.

Am I wrong to feel this way? How do I move on and heal?

- Florida

Dear Florida,

It's normal to feel lost when a relationship ends. I'm proud of you for leaving a toxic situation, but I also understand the toxicity doesn't make the healing any easier.

Though you still care for your ex-boyfriend, focusing on the love you still have for him could actually do more harm than good for your self-esteem, Tribeca Therapy relationship therapist Kelly Scott told me.

She said that it's possible you're internalizing your ex's past aggressive words and lack of interest, and tricking yourself into thinking his actions were your fault.

"In reflecting on past relationships, it's really important to include both reflection of the other person's contribution, and also being able to take a look at ourselves," Scott told me.

Instead of focusing on where you went wrong, try tapping into your anger and disappointment towards him in a healthy way, Scott suggested.

Tap into your anger in a healthy way

It may sound counterproductive, but sometimes anger is a valid emotion, Scott said.

"Sometimes aggression is incredibly appropriate and incredibly healthy and not destructive," she told me.

She added that some people fear their anger because of previous experiences with it. For example, if a person grew up in a home where their parents often yelled at each other, or an ex's aggression made them feel small and scared, it's possible they could avoid becoming angry themselves, out of fear it's "bad."

Tapping into your aggressive side doesn't mean harming others with your words or actions, Scott said. Rather, it's a way to process the entirety of your relationship, including the parts that broke you. It can be painful, but feeling that full range of emotions is the only way you can heal fully.

If you're struggling to tap into this complicated emotion, Scott said you should reflect on your upbringing and previous relationships and question how those interactions informed your views on aggression and anger.

You should also talk to trusted loved ones (and a therapist, if you can) about your relationship and how it ended, said Scott.

"When you're forced to tell the story to another person who doesn't know the story, it can often help you have new reflections," and notice the untrue stories you told yourself about the relationship, Scott said.

As Insider's resident sex and relationships reporter, Julia Naftulin is here to answer all your questions about dating, love, and doing it - no question is too weird or taboo. Julia regularly consults a panel of health experts including relationship therapists, gynecologists, and urologists to get science-backed answers to your burning questions, with a personal twist.

Have a question? Fill out this anonymous form. All questions will be published anonymously.

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