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After psychotic breaks, emotional healing is needed, and part of this recovery involves navigating relationships impacted by your psychotic breaks. Sometimes people cannot tell what is real and what is not during your psychosis, especially when it is totally real to you. This conflict of reality can bring confusion and fear in your friends and family. Sometimes you can develop false beliefs or a false narrative about people in your life, which can be traumatizing for all. Once you stabilize, reconciling these relationships can come with some trepidation because of what others have witnessed. You might worry what they think of you now. Will they trust you again? Do they still want to be part of your life? Do they support you and believe that you can get better? Do they look at you the same?

On the one hand, other people’s feelings regarding your break are important and influence the future of your relationships, especially the feelings of those people who witnessed your psychosis firsthand. But what other people feel and think is only part of the equation. Your feelings and apprehension toward what others think about you can inhibit essential relationships. You can’t use other people as a mirror for what you feel and think about yourself.

Residual Emotions That Influence Relationships

While medication stabilized me from having delusions and hallucinations, I still dealt with the lingering and pervasive real emotions that I experienced during psychosis. Because of my trauma, I was hypervigilant and highly anxious with my interactions with others. My shame and embarrassment made it hard for me to face people and deal with that moment of truth: to find out what they think of me now and if they still want to be part of my life. My emotions caused isolation for me because I tried to decide without talking to them what they thought of me. The truth is, though, over the past decade, almost all people in my life have accepted me for who I am, including my mental health condition.

Managing a Sense of Control

For someone like me who is serious and reserved, who always likes to think I’m in total control of myself and the environment around me, having a psychotic break and losing all control of myself was particularly unnerving. I cling to a sense of control at all times of what people think of me, and I completely lost that during my psychotic breaks. What I have had to realize, though, is that you cannot have total control over the way someone else may react to your psychotic break, just as much as you had no control over what you said and did during your psychotic break. You have to accept that life is never entirely under anyone’s control, with or without mental illness.

You may mistakenly take responsibility for things you said and did during your psychosis as if you are judging yourself based on the same standards and criteria you have of yourself normally. That only leads to unnecessarily blaming and shaming yourself. I believe you have nothing to feel sorry for other than having compassion for how your psychotic break could have made others feel. Because you cannot control someone else’s reaction to your illness, which may be based on a variety of factors, you also cannot let someone else’s opinion of you shape how you feel about yourself. Your recovery is not dependent on this person’s vote of confidence, even though it can help. In this case, you can only concern yourself with what you can control once you stabilize. You can still be a kind, helpful person willing to hear how others feel about what happened.

Who to Reconcile With

Sometimes, you are not quite sure who to reconcile with because people may know about your illness who you are not aware of. Just this fact can be daunting and cause heightened self-awareness. It can be unsettling that others may know what you went through, but you may not know who those people are. Who do you have a conversation with? Sometimes, a discussion isn’t necessary, depending on what kind of relationship it is. If someone is kind to you and their behavior hasn’t changed, maybe a conversation isn’t required. If you trust someone enough to have a conversation about what you went through in a way that benefits you, as a measure of deeper friendship, that is your choice. I will tell you that I have never regretted opening up about my experience to people who genuinely care about me. Doing so and being received well is a healing, edifying experience.

Relationships That End

It can be painful, though, to lose a relationship or experience someone “distancing” themselves from you. When you are healing, it does matter when people believe in you, even if you cannot count on that. If someone acts differently towards you, it can feel like you are being judged for what you have been through. It can feel like they are assessing you as having a subjective character flaw, even though what you have is completely medical and objective. The idea can be sad that someone out there doesn’t believe you can get better. As much as you have to believe in yourself, it hurts to lose a vote of confidence.

The truth is, the relationships that ended for me were with people who were growing apart from me anyway. My illness was simply a final justification to end the relationship that was already about to be over. You have to remember that if someone ends their relationship with you, it’s probably not entirely about your mental illness or you, for that matter. It says more about the person ending their relationship with you over mental illness than it says about you.

Preserving relationships through reconciliation is very important, but believing in yourself and accepting yourself, no matter what, matters more. Reconciliation is a process that takes time and courage, but you may be surprised at how many people still accept you and support you. You have to give people who matter to you the chance to accept you for all that you are.

Original article featured in Psychology Today | January 29, 2024. Image credit: ‘Creating Understanding with Loved Ones’ by Karolina Grabowska/ Pexels