A simple step-by-step guide to belief-change work. This self-coaching process will help you develop a healthy and life-supporting definition of love. 




Step 1: Recognize your current belief about love.

Step 2: Find out how it could have served your abuser rather than you.

Step 3: To understand why you had this belief, figure out what positive role did it play for you in the past (i.e., it might have helped you survive through the pain during abuse by rationalizing it)

Step 4: If you want to let go of this belief, you need to make sure you’re not harboring resentment towards yourself for having it. It is helpful to appreciate how it could have helped you cope with the past reality. To release it in a spirit of self-respect, it might help to request your own forgiveness. By validating and forgiving your past, you’re making space for something new in the future.

Step 5: To reinforce the process of letting go of the belief that doesn’t serve us anymore, we need to find evidence that it’s not true.

Step 6: To define healthy love, look into good quality resources you can trust, and check-in with your heart to reflect what could and should it mean in the world where people were not perfect but treated each other right.

Treat this process as a long-term project that you can revisit multiple times.


What and Why of this article

After coming out of a toxic and abusive relationship, regardless of whether it involved a romantic partner or a family member, we often experience confusion or even disbelief in the concept of real love.

If you would like to read more about why we might feel this way, you can take a look at this article.


How we define love is crucial not only for establishing a healthy relationship with others but also with ourselves. Therefore, it is also a foundation for defining self-love.

To find a general direction, you can use inspiration from various sources in books and online that discuss true love. I’ll try to create a little summary of it in the following article. 

However, keep in mind that while there is some fundamental truth about it, you, being a person with your characteristic and particular needs, will most likely add something more specific doing your recovery work.


This article focuses on just that. It walks you through a coaching exercise to create your personal, individual definition of it. It will help you recognize your old beliefs about love, find out their toxic components, and rebuild them to better serve you in creating a healthy life.



The Coaching Exercise

Ok, introduction over and done, let’s dive straight into it. You can do this in the form of reflection and meditation, but it is much better to write it down in your recovery journal so that you can pause and get back to it whenever you need it. It’s also great to return to it after some time has passed by to either remind yourself of it or update it.


Remember, what follows is a brave process. Set your intentions to brutally honest and courageous. You need to get real to heal.


Step 1

What are your current beliefs about love?


Not all of them might be toxic. But if you’re coming out of an abusive relationship that lasted for some time, parental or romantic, it’s most likely that some of your ideas about love might be right now less than healthy. 


Identify every one of them that would result in you putting up with someone who’s not good for you. Don’t censor yourself. Brainstorm and list these beliefs one by one.


Step 2

How could it serve your abuser rather than you?


How could it contribute to you staying in a toxic relationship longer than you should? The objective is to gain clarity of where precisely the limiting beliefs lead to, to understand their consequence. We can’t get rid of old unhealthy patterns if we don’t think they cost us too much. 


Reason 1: Some psychologists say that we tend to keep a blind eye on some lies we believe in if they don’t humiliate or embarrass us. If you want to get rid of it, take out those beliefs that might make you feel ashamed, bring them into the full sun, and let them stand there. Take a close look and notice all their inadequacies. You’re breaking the evil spell right now. You’re making the unconscious conscious, and that’s the first step in their deconstruction.


Reason 2: In all likelihood, we have in our lives a lot of people with similar beliefs, and they reinforce ours. We need a pretty strong reason if we want for ourselves anything else than another toxic, abusive, neglectful, and damaging relationship similar to their bad romance. To ensure it, we need to get crystal clear about how our negative beliefs about love might not make our lives easier but those of our perpetrators.


Reason 3: It took a lot of time to develop these beliefs, and we try to avoid the effort it would take to change our minds about them. It’s funny, though, because actually, it takes a lot of effort to uphold them – it’s not like reality will only confirm these beliefs to us. Now and then, we will be confronted with a different perspective, and it usually creates dramatic conflicts in us. It’s an enormous emotional strain to reaffirm to ourselves, i.e., that love is always a struggle when we hear of relationships of older people still being sweet or funny with each other. It’s pissing us off, especially if deep in our hearts we feel that love without drama should be possible. Each time, it takes a fight to destroy our dreams and hopes, which we thought were already killed by our abuser a long time ago. 


The bottom line is – it’s a drama to live by these limiting beliefs, and it’s a drama to keep them alive at all costs. It’s much easier to live the truth, even if now it seems corny. Become a fan of cotton candy, why the hell not, at least life will be lighter.


Step 3

How did it serve you/help you in the past?


All our thoughts and beliefs have a positive intent behind them, even if it doesn’t look that way. Usually, it’s to keep us away from pain and danger, or if we can’t avoid it altogether, then to minimize it. They also try to make coping with something painful easier, even if it makes abuse make sense. If someone can’t escape it, they’ll try to learn to live with it.


So before letting go of our negative beliefs, it’s good to understand why we held on to them. The ability to recognize it and acknowledge it helps us let go of it fully and in a healthy way, without shame, guilt or resentment. It allows us to respect ourselves and keep our dignity. It helps us feel compassion for what it took for us to endure and survive our struggles when we didn’t know how to deal with them better.


We always do the best we can with the resources and knowledge available to us at the moment. Remembering this will not only help us avoid judging ourselves for past choices, but it will also give us hope for the future. As you’re learning new possibilities to respond and behave, you’ll have more tools at your disposal and options to choose from.


Step 4

Gratitude and forgiveness


Once we acknowledge our toxic beliefs’ role in our lives, we can thank them for serving us. Then, admitting that they can’t help us in any meaningful way anymore, we let them become a part of the past. Just like when Marie Kondo lets go of the items that no longer serve their purpose. She’s right in saying that sometimes the purpose of something is only to teach us what we don’t like or need.


A part of the letting-go process is also forgiveness. In this case, not forgiving the abuser, but ourselves. The behavior or belief we held might have been created by the necessity to cope with hurt, or it could have been inherited from our parents before we could make a conscious choice whether we wanted to accept it or not. Either way, it wasn’t our fault that we had them, but it’s our responsibility now to decide what to do about it.


That being said, since we were the ones, consciously or not, acting on those beliefs, we need our own forgiveness. And you know how it goes – to receive forgiveness, we need to take responsibility for what we did and apologize first. Yes, I mean we need to tell ourselves we’re sorry.


In your healing journal, you can write yourself a letter with an apology, but do it from a place of dignity and self-respect.


It can start like this: ‘I know that the beliefs that I held were formed without my conscious consent and that they served my survival. I know that I wasn’t the one who was doing the abuse to me, but as I’m growing in awareness and maturity right now, I can acknowledge the role some of these beliefs and choices played in my life. Admitting my part of the responsibility, at the same time, I realize my agency, which is an empowering act because as long as there is something in any given situation that is up to me – I have a say in it, and I am also in control. That means that I am freeing myself and no longer have to be a victim. That’s why I am in power to apologize to myself for holding on to the beliefs. I understand that although it was the abuser who inflicted the pain I have experienced, my beliefs and choices unconsciously resulted in me tolerating this situation for too long. If I can have the strength to take full responsibility for my own decisions and actions, I empower myself to be the only one in control of any of them in the future.

Dear past me, please, accept my apologies and compassion for what you have endured. I am deeply sorry for you. May these apologies be the evidence of our healing, growth, and development, and the proof that the future might and will be better than our past.’


Step 5

What is the evidence that your past beliefs are not accurate?


When you’ve managed to release the grip of your old beliefs, in this step, we will make them finally crumble down and prepare the foundation for the new ones simultaneously.


Look at your old beliefs and try to think of evidence that the opposite might be true. Take into consideration your own experience or someone you’ve heard of. What was it? Write it all down.


Step 6

Redefine love


You’ve already started it in the previous step. In this one, consult your heart and your deepest wisdom, asking yourself what real love is then? What is the opposite of abuse, and what is love for you? What does it mean? What are its characteristics? 


Here are some suggestions that could get you going – might it be perhaps caring, loving, warm, safe, secure, protecting, nurturing, supportive, encouraging? Might it have the ability to take oneself, others, and life lightly, perhaps have a sense of humor? What else?


If you hit a block at this point or find resistance because of what your mind could consider realistic and not, use the technique of suspension of disbelief – in a magical, perfect world if everything would be miraculously possible – what would ideal love look like? Write with your heart.


You can also get inspiration from good quality sources in psychology, philosophy, religious and spiritual traditions, literature, and poetry.


Patience, take it slow


The important thing is to take it easy. If you like, you can try and complete it within a day, but in case this feels overwhelming or intimidating – don’t worry, you are supposed to take it slow.


Developing your old beliefs took a lot of time too, so changing them might be a process of discovering deeper and deeper layers and different aspects of them. It will also require trying them on for size, seeing how comfortable they fit, adjusting, or getting rid of what doesn’t work. You’ve got to practice them over time to realize that they’re valid and get a confirmation that they do serve you in life to develop trust in them.


The truth that I found is that real love grows and expands over time. And just as our knowledge and understanding of the person we love gets deeper – whether it’s someone else or ourselves – our love for them gets deeper as well. That means that once you start this process, the more time you invest in it, the more good you have to look forward to.