Terra Newell Talks About the Importance of Choosing Healthy Relationships and Not Ignoring Red Flags

Terra Newell Talks About the Importance of Choosing Healthy Relationships

When Terra was 25, she survived a knife attack at the hands of a con man, John Meehan. In self-defense, he was killed. This story would soon reach mass audiences and became the focus of the popular 2018 TV show “Dirty John.”

Since then, she has been sharing her story and raising awareness for domestic abuse, and helping other survivors find strength and continue living their lives. She’s been on Dateline, Dr. Oz, KTLA, and more. She also has her own podcast called the Survivor Squad.

After defending herself from John, she is still working through the trauma and shares with me how she’s learned to prioritize healthy relationships in her own life after her experiences with toxic partners.

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1AND1: Your story was shared with the world on the Netflix series “Dirty John.” Did you feel they did your story justice?


Terra: Certain aspects were glamorized, and other things were toned down way less. There were a lot of crazy things that happened in the show that didn’t necessarily happen in real life. For instance, John Meehan was doing drugs, and in the show, they portrayed that my mom was trying to help him get better. She didn’t try to help him in that way, and she actually tried to leave twice. It didn’t show much of the trauma bonding between them, but instead, the show highlighted more of my mom seeming desperate in the sense that she was caught up in coercive control, and I think my mom got a lot of blame on the receiving end.

But for legal reasons, they have to change about 50% of the show for gallery reasons because if something isn’t public information or in the podcast, they have to change it. But outside of that show, I have been able to share more of my story and how it personally affected me.


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A post shared by Terra Newell (@terranewell)

1AND1: What was it like for you seeing your mom in that relationship? Was it scary seeing him behave that way toward your mom?

Terra: It was scary because many of the things he was doing and saying were definitely red flags that several people saw, but many of those behaviors weren’t necessarily red flags to my mom. His toxic behavior was geared toward my sister because she already didn’t like this guy, but John knew how to flip that because my sister had issues with all of my mom’s boyfriends, which is true.

He had a way of hiding or disguising his red flags or harmful things he would say in joking manners. And that’s an issue that a lot of people actually overlook. I remember, as many other people do, I’m sure, hearing people comment about if a guy is mean to you, he’s interested in you, or if a girl is trying to fight you that they like you. And that behavior gets worse and can be really dangerous. We have to be careful about saying those things and using certain words because they have a lot of meaning for some, and for others, there is no meaning behind those words.

So it’s a reminder to even use something such as this as an example of a red flag, and if it makes you feel unsafe, you need to make that person aware and hope they respect that boundary and make a change not to do it again.

1AND1: In your relationships, how have you spotted those red flags?

Terra: Yeah – seeing my mother’s experience made me think about my own and the toxic relationship I found myself in after my partner hit me with his car. I am physically okay from it, but that also changed my reality and encouraged me to do some self-reflection and learn how to listen to my body when something doesn’t feel right.

Your body will always try to warn you, and your nervous system will react if something doesn’t feel right. Communicating with your partner when something doesn’t feel right is one thing, and working through that to make it healthy. But it’s another thing to be self-aware about yourself, what works for your body, etc., because your body will always tell you what works for you. But if you’re not listening, and in this case, if you’re not listening to those red flags, it becomes easier and easier to get used to and almost feels normal.

I’ve learned when my body doesn’t feel right or a situation isn’t safe for me. When I get stressed or anxious, I have tremors and need to do some breathwork and return to center myself. I have noticed that my clients in toxic relationships often have health issues such as autoimmune disorders, gastro issues, and thyroid problems. But once they’re out of those relationships, those symptoms stop. It’s all connected, a clear warning sign that something was wrong and a change needed to be made.

1AND1: How do you use what you’ve learned to help your clients and other survivors?


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A post shared by Terra Newell (@terranewell)

Terra: Everyone has different triggers, but something that I remind my clients about is to keep learning the importance of boundaries and, as I was saying before, being in tune with your body. Understanding my triggers and fight-or-flight response has helped me recognize red flags and escape toxic relationships. Learning breathwork and nervous system regulation has also been key in my healing journey. I cannot stress enough how important it is for everyone to prioritize their mental and physical health and find practices that are helpful and recentering.

I also work with my clients to highlight when things aren’t actually a red flag in partners. Sometimes there are disagreements, or they might not be a good match, but it doesn’t mean they are necessarily red flags. When we’ve been in toxic relationships, it’s easy to be anxious when we get into normal or healthy ones. They’re good people, and I encourage clients not to look at them being “nice” or “boring” as a bad thing because this person might actually be healthy and give you a healthy relationship. And after a while, they start to become more appealing and sexy.

1AND1: Is it fulfilling knowing that you’ve helped so many people?

Terra: Yes – in my experience and line of work, teaching people about these signs, helping them get more in tune with their bodies, and finding safety in themselves has been great. It has been fulfilling to know that I’ve helped people somehow, even if they aren’t receptive or don’t want to hear hard truths.

I know firsthand how difficult it can be to leave a toxic relationship, but it’s important to recognize the toll it can take on your well-being. It’s important to prioritize yourself and your health to surround yourself with people who support and uplift you. I hope to empower others to recognize their worth, prioritize their happiness and well-being, see those red flags, and trust themselves enough to create boundaries and seek healthy relationships.

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.