How the Dhamma Helped Me Bounce Back from an Abusive Relationship

7 mins read
Published on Feb 16, 2024

Trigger warning: This article contains sensitive content related to suicide ideation, abuse, and self-harm. If you or someone you know is struggling with these issues, please know that you are not alone. Help is available, and seeking professional support can be a lifesaver. 

TLDR: How can we move on from an abusive relationship’s darkness to self-love? John (not his real name) speaks of overcoming suffering, breaking free from toxicity, and embracing the love that surrounds us.

A romantic relationship can enrich and empower our living experience. One may feel supported and cherished when the relationship goes well. 

However, the experience could be anything but empowering if it is an unhealthy relationship. When the relationship turns abusive, we may lose ourselves and become dangerous to our well-being as we attach our self-worth to what our romantic partner says. For me, my past relationship was sadly an abusive one. 

Amidst the hardships of a tumultuous relationship, I faced not only the distress inflicted by my former partner but also self-inflicted suffering.

Overwhelmed, I resorted to self-harm and contemplated suicide for an escape.

It was only when I took a step back and learned to love myself, that everything changed.

This story is about how I struggled and healed after a difficult and abusive relationship. May this serve as an opportunity for those in abusive relationships to seek help, you are not alone.

Recognising the Toxicity

It was my first relationship. 

Before, I had no clue about romantic relationships. My ideas came from family, friends, media, and the internet. I envisioned a relationship always being happy, loyal, supportive, and filled with love, despite not knowing what love truly meant. I had a checklist to “certify” a good relationship.

After a month of meeting my partner, I shared my feelings for her and my interest in beginning our relationship. Impulsively, I didn’t know much about her, attraction was being driven by the idea of being in a relationship. 

Initially, everything went as expected as how the movies showed relationships should be. However, like a moth flying close to an attractive fire, everything went wrong.

Unaware of her judgmental nature, our conversations slowly lost their joy.

The conversations wrapped around the negative things about her surroundings. She was always on the right side of reality while everyone who did not meet her standards was on the wrong side. That wrong side also included me.

I was there to listen and comfort her daily, but if I didn’t act quickly on a bad day, she’d scold me, deeming our relationship invaluable and proposing a breakup.

Attached to the image of a good partner sacrificing for the relationship, I immediately reacted by pushing everything away. While this romantic notion works in movies (e.g. the Korean male actor dropping all his commitments to help his partner in small distress), it clashes with reality.

This leads to disappointment, anger, and sadness when our real experiences don’t match the ideal in our minds.

I was too afraid to express my feelings authentically as I was scared of responses like “this relationship is worthless,” “let’s break up,” and “you are useless” surfacing. I felt like I was skating on thin ice always and started to internalise her comments that I was worthy of nothing.

I kept these emotions hidden from everyone, including my family and friends. I believed that I could numb my feelings one day, believing the pain would eventually fade.

Unbeknownst to me, I had already sunk into a metaphorical mud, unaware of my situation.

I emotionally dedicated myself to the relationship, constantly pleasing her despite my lack of enjoyment and inability to express myself. This commitment led to less time with family and friends. My days were spent hoping she’d have a good day so that I wouldn’t suffer. This made being present difficult, narrowing my vision and making life dull. It’s truly the worst way to handle such a situation.

The darkness escalates

As the verbal abuse accelerated, I tried to find ways to relieve that crazy stress. One day, I discovered that physically harming myself provided a strange sense of relief and energy. I resorted to punching myself and banging my head against the wall whenever stress or disappointment hit. 

It “worked” very well as a punishment for myself when I failed to meet her expectations. Not being able to satisfy her needs, what more was I deserving of other than punishment?

The negative self-talk became more aggressive, and I physically hurt myself harder. Although it gave me a short relief, the problem was still there, and I was not taking action to solve it. I was allowing the problem to grow itself and become the force to break me down.

This dark period eventually escalated into suicidal thoughts as a way to escape the overwhelming suffering. I wanted to take my life because I thought it was the way out of my problems. So there I was, standing ready to commit suicide at a moment’s notice.

During one clear moment, standing at the edge of death, I realised I had constructed a harsh narrative.

A harsh narrative in my mind, relentlessly judging, scolding, and devaluing myself based on others’ opinions without considering my well-being.

I cried. 

Amidst the turmoil, I recognised that I didn’t truly desire death; what I craved was simple — to be loved and to love someone in return.

I called my parents that I was strongly contemplating committing suicide and I shared that I did not want to die. 

They immediately came to my place and comforted me. Although It was the scariest moment of my life, their reaction was the most beautiful thing I experienced in my life. 

They showcased the true love and care felt when people genuinely cared for you. This experience reshaped my perspective on love and ignited a journey to reconstruct my relationships with people who truly cared.

Bouncing Back

Seeking professional help, I initiated the healing process and eventually mustered the courage to propose a breakup. However, the process was far from smooth, marked by numerous harassing messages and calls. 

Initially feeling a responsibility to handle the closure well, I found myself trapped in a cycle of negative self-talk and self-judgment.

The constant fear of judgmental messages amplified my stress, pushing me back into the urge to punish myself. It was almost returning to where I started. I was terrified by my phone messages or call notifications.

It took considerable courage to block her contact.

Looking back, that was my first step in showing self-care by drawing a clear line to protect myself. I had ignored my mental well-being while I was handling this situation. 

A lifeguard needs to ensure his/her safety before saving someone. I have the responsibility to take care of my mental condition before helping anyone. 

Putting myself first is not a selfish act but an honest move to express myself authentically in front of others so they can truly see who I am. This echoed strongly with what the Buddha pointed out in Sedaka Sutta (Two acrobats).

The Buddha summarised, “Looking after yourself, you look after others; and looking after others, you look after yourself”.

It requires courage, and I believe it also demands courage from others to accept the true me, appreciate those who do and understand and respect those who may not.

Rediscovering Myself and New Beginnings

Family and friends played pivotal roles in this journey. 

I openly shared my stories with those I had lost touch with during that challenging period, reconnecting with them. Their loving-kindness and compassion were a constant presence, a support I failed to notice amid difficulty. 

Even though those emotional challenges had nothing to do with them, I could always rely on them or speak to them without feeling shame or guilt about it. 

Love surrounded me, yet I was pursuing something I already had because others advised me to do so.

Pixar’s movie, “Soul“, beautifully illustrates this idea of overlooking what we seek that is already present in our lives. 

Dorothea’s quote resonates deeply: “I heard this story about a fish. He swims up to this older fish and says, ‘I’m trying to find this thing they call the ocean.’ ‘The ocean?’ says the older fish, ‘that’s what you’re in right now.’ ‘This?’ says the younger fish, ‘This is water. What I want is the ocean.'”

I consider myself fortunate. 

Between the therapy sessions, I joined a Buddhist group to reconnect with the triple gems (Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha). This avenue offered an opportunity to delve into self-discovery through Buddha’s teachings and their practice.  

Alongside the self-discovery journey in therapy, I recognised how my past moulded my worldview and prompted mental fabrications to cope with situations. 

The most challenging fabrication was my lack of confidence to express myself authentically, fueled by the persistent belief that people didn’t enjoy my company. 

This belief often drove me to please others, either to prove my value in relationships or to prevent them from abandoning me.

Connecting with spiritual friends helped me see the kindness in people and understand that there’s a place where I have the freedom to belong.

The Karaniya Metta Sutta (The Buddha’s words on Loving-Kindness) profoundly moved me. 

It imparts the wisdom that all beings share common desires for love, happiness, safety, and freedom from suffering, mirroring my own. In our practice, extending loving-kindness to ourselves is pivotal, as it aligns with our ultimate pursuit of happiness, love, and the cessation of suffering. We are both the source and recipients of kindness.

Moreover, this Sutta taught me kindness to everyone, including my former partner. 

Forgiving someone who hurt me so much was challenging. However, realizing that she, like every being, seeks love, freed my mind from hatred and softened my heart. 

I forgave her, as well as myself. With that, I began to see the world differently and understood that only a person who knows love can experience it and cultivate it.


In conclusion, navigating a challenging relationship, particularly with someone you deeply value or find hard to distance yourself from, is undeniably arduous. 

Identifying the toxicity within a relationship is pivotal, offering a chance to address it appropriately, whether through candid conversations with family and friends or by tackling the issues head-on with your partner.

Do not suffer alone. A problem shared is a problem halved. I even sought professional help and doing so is nothing to be ashamed of. 

Mindfulness during difficult moments is crucial; distractions can veer you away from the actual root cause. 

Even now, my healing journey continues with the unwavering support of those who genuinely care for me. Remember, it’s a journey, not a destination. May all beings be well and happy.

Sabbe Satta Sukhi Hontu.

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