Breaking Up with Toxic Relationships: One Song at a Time

Whenever people talk about breakups, breakup songs, or having a broken heart: it's easy for us to feel sympathy for the lost love. We idealize love so much in our heads, and create this picture in our minds that lead us to feel as if our lives are incomplete without somebody beside us. Somebody to call our own. Someone to love.

But what if the person we love is actually harmful to our mental-, emotional-, or even physical health?

What if the best way to find love is to first take a minute to look in the mirror, and learn to love our reflection [hello Michael Jackson]?

What if the best way to mend a broken heart is to recognize that sometimes it's the relationship that's broken us - not the end of that relationship?

And I get it - it's often hard to see the forest for the trees, but when it comes to healing from a broken heart: I've found that music can be an integral part to finding my inner compass again... and - often surprisingly - finally understanding why a relationship needed to end in the first place.

I'm talking, of course, about toxic relationships.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. First, let's look at what a toxic relationship is.

According to VeryWellMind.com, a toxic relationship is "one that makes you feel unsupported, misunderstood, demeaned, or attacked. A relationship is toxic when your well-being is threatened in some way—emotionally, psychologically, and even physically".

This can manifest in multiple ways:

  1. You feel disrespected

  2. Your needs are not met

  3. You both have a hard time communicating

  4. You don’t feel free to live your life autonomously

  5. You give more than you get

  6. You don’t feel valued

  7. You resent your partner

  8. One or both of you are passive aggressive

  9. Your self-esteem is deteriorating

  10. You feel attacked and unsupported

  11. Your sleeping and eating patterns have changed

  12. You feel depressed or anxious

  13. You bring out the bad qualities in one another

  14. You feel like you walk on eggshells around your partner

  15. Your feelings come second to theirs (the sign of a co-dependent relationship)

  16. You feel gaslighted and manipulated

  17. You don’t feel your best emotionally or mentally around them

  18. You feel alone - even when you’re together

  19. You feel there is a lack of trust and excess jealousy

  20. You feel responsible for their happiness

  21. You are being abused physically, emotionally, mentally, or sexually

If you're anything like me, it can feel confronting, or even embarrassing, to admit [even to ourselves] that we're in this situation. Me? In a toxic or abusive relationship? Never. What can feel less embarrassing [and dare I say even empowering] can be to instead turn to music as a way of expressing how we're feeling.

Here are some examples of songs about toxic relationships that you've probably heard once or twice - especially if you've been in this situation.

  • Love on the Brain - Rihanna

  • Playing with Fire - Thomas Rhett

  • Jar of Hearts - Christina Perri

  • Jealous - Beyonce

  • Bad Things - Machine Gun Kelly

  • I Miss the Misery - Halestorm

  • Toxic - Kehlani

  • Toxic - Frank Ocean

  • Toxic - Britney Spears [phew!]

  • Illicit Affairs - Taylor Swift

  • Love the Way You Lie - Eminem ft. Rihanna

  • Church Bells - Carrie Underwood

  • Stormy Weather - Etta James

  • Wrecking Ball - Miley Cyrus

  • Why Dos it Hurt So Bad - Whitney Houston

  • Breathe Again - Toni Braxton

  • Truth Hurts - Lizzo

  • Ex-Factor - Lauryn Hill

  • Skinny Love - Birdie

  • Love Lockdown - Kanye West

Okay, there's a lot out there when it comes to toxic relationships.

But if toxicity takes on many forms

and

We're so often taught that we aren't complete if we're riding solo

and

We glorify the emotional rollercoaster that misconstrue as what love is meant to look and feel like [in both song and cinema]

and

We don't always feel safe communicating about when we are in toxic relationships... it can be a disaster.

We can listen to Bob Dylan, Amy Winehouse, Christina Aguilera, and Justin Timberlake all we like... but one of the key lessons I've learned, as I've found myself both lost in the forest, watched other people walking through and trying to navigate the forest, and as I've figured out how to step back and finally recognize the trees is this:

It is easy to fall for the narrative if we're letting the narrative be written by someone else.

Now, don't get me wrong: there is nothing wrong with listening to Toni Braxton [Unbreak my Heart, anyone?], Taylor Swift, or Boyz II Men, and letting yourself ugly cry for a solid 45minutes post-breakup with someone that you spent months trying to convince yourself was "the one", but at some point: we have to recognize that these seemingly negative experiences don't have to break you.

In fact: quite the opposite.

Yes, we know the old adage that we need to "grow through it, not just go through it", but in 2021: I realized that I needed a bit more of a roadmap when it comes to those growing pains. So I started looking at life's difficult events - even the toxic or abusive relationships I'd endured - as an emotional workout. In order to get physically stronger: we need to increase our weights at the gym, right? So when life and love throws us a curve ball: maybe this is the Universe's way of also increasing your emotional strength.

But it's an attitude adjustment. It's a thought adjustment.

It's an opportunity for you to pick up life's proverbial pen, and rewrite the narrative for your own story. And your own song.

Yes, you read that correctly. Your song. Not a song from Avril Lavigne. Not lyrics from Kelly Clarkson. Not a hit song from Selena Gomez, Sam Smith, or Alanis Morissette.

YOUR song - to express your experiences, and to channel your growth, lessons learned, and document your journey as you make your way out of the forest to a place where you can finally recognize the trees for what they are: toxic behaviors, negative feelings, and an opportunity for you to say "goodbye" to the relationships that aren't serving you, say "hello" to your self-esteem and self-love again, and [the best part IMO]: create a roadmap for yourself towards a happier and healthier version of you.

This is one of the reasons why I wrote my latest single for August: Goodbye. It's a song I released for "Don't be a Bully Month", but I'm not just talking about playground bullies at school - but bullying relationships, as well. Whether that's a romantic-, platonic- or even familial relationship: it's unfortunately easy to find ourselves in relationship with others who disrespect, don't value, or gaslight and manipulate us.

Especially when we cling to the idea that we need another person in order to be loved. Love starts with you. Love starts with recognizing and understanding the power you have in writing your own story, your own song, and your own life.

Healthily.

And powerfully.

For me: songwriting has always been the best way that I've found to help me identify key challenges that I'm facing, simplifying them into bite-sized themes so that they're not super overwhelming, and working through them creatively in a way that feels empowering, safe, and - dare I say it: even fun.

So it’s over, are you happy?
You turned and walked away
I was speechless, didn’t need this
I had so much to say
But the door slammed, and I stood there
Tears pouring down my face
In the silence, are you happy?
You threw it all away

Now you sit and you bitch that I’m
Living without you
Cause I’ve finally let you go

Goodbye, I’m already gone
Goodbye, I’m moving on
Goodbye, I’m taking back my life
Oh, goodbye

Now you found out, I am happy
You couldn’t look away
From my lipstick on his collar
To his arm around my waist
All the rumours that you heard
Turned out to be so true
Cos we’re over, and I’m happy
Doing better without you

But you sit and you bitch that I’m
Living without you
Cause I’ve finally let you go

Goodbye, I’m already gone
Goodbye, I’m moving on
Goodbye, I’m taking back my life
Oh, goodbye

I find it curious that
You’re so pathetic
Sulking like a child
I find it curious that
You’re sad that I’m happy
Now I’ve finally said goodbye

Oh, you sit and you bitch that I’m
Living without you
Cause I’ve finally let you go

Goodbye, I’m already gone
Goodbye, I’m moving on
Goodbye, I’m taking back my life
Oh, goodbye

It's a Process

Finding ourselves in toxic or harmful relationships is all too common. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence: "1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have experienced some form of physical violence by an intimate partner. This includes a range of behaviors (e.g. slapping, shoving, pushing) and in some cases might not be considered "domestic violence." 1 in 7 women and 1 in 25 men have been injured by an intimate partner".

According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline: "nearly 1 in 3 college women (29%) say they've been in an abusive dating relationship. 52% of college women report knowing a friend who's experienced violent and abusive dating behaviors including physical, sexual, digital, verbal, or other controlling abuse."

Further: 33% of adolescents in America are victim to sexual, physical, verbal, or emotional dating abuse. In the U.S., 25% of high school girls have been abused physically or sexually.

And I promise you: every single one of those people have - at some point - listened to, or been triggered by, a song they've heard on the radio after the fact. And unless they figure out their own roadmap of navigating their way out of the forest so that they can start to finally recognize the trees: chances are: the cycle is going to repeat.

This is why music and songwriting can be so powerful.

By giving yourself, or your teenager, the tools to turn their lessons into lyrics, their struggles into songs, and their growing pains into creative gain: they're able to use their own experiences powerfully to navigate both their current situation, and potentially future situations, effectively.

One song at a time.

And I'd love to help.

I've been using music to navigate my traumas for over 25years now, and coaching people [teenagers in particular] for almost five. For me, this is fulfilling my mission of "saving the world one song at a time" by helping people [like you!] to recognize that you really do have the pen... and that pen is powerful.

You can rewrite your entire life's trajectory, if you want to, with that pen.

The only question is: are you ready?

If so, I'd love to hop on a free discovery call with you to discuss more about you, your story, and how music and songwriting might be the thing to help you say "Goodbye" to toxic relationships, and "Hello" to a healthier, happier you.

I look forward to speaking with you soon.

~ Emma G

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