Since my teenage years, reading to me has been an escape from the real world and especially, reading romance on Wattpad was one of my guilty pleasures. I was this happy-go-lucky teenage girl, who would indulge in daydreaming and fantasizing about true love. But life grew dark and gloomy when I entered my first relationship. Yes, it was all butterflies and sunshine until two months of being in the relationship, when I realised, that my “perfect first love” was nothing but a shadow of the person I had idealised. Like most of the protagonists in the Wattpad novels I read, he was your typical bad boy, who brought drama and chaos in my life and my younger self mistook it for love.
My desperation to have someone love and accept me led me to self-abandonment. Instead of doing what was right and healthy, I stuck to the idea of love and fell in the clutching cycle of abuse where my identity was constantly threatened, my needs were overlooked, my emotional & physical boundaries were violated and what I felt was completely disregarded. I would feel guilty for voicing my opinions and asking for what I wanted. My self-esteem was completely down the drain for having been told that I didn’t deserve more and that I could not get another person as amazing as they are. I felt scared to express who I am. My identity was thrashed and with time, the person in me began to shrink. The Oxford Dictionary defines ‘toxic’ as poisonous. A toxic relationship is one that poisons your physical, emotional and spiritual identity. To truly define a toxic relationship is quite difficult, but one of the most important markers of it is when your mental health starts deteriorating and your identity, or ‘who you are’ starts fading away, which is what happened to me.
The realisation that a relationship is toxic does come fast, but most of us find it hard leave. At my every attempt of leaving the toxic relationship, my partner would promise he would change, that he would be different and suddenly he would shower me with all the love I’ve always wanted. What I experienced was “love bombing”, a form of psychological manipulation to keep me hooked onto the relationship. However, after an episode of love bombing, toxic partners almost always go back to their abusive patterns. It was only after two years of being in the cycle of abuse, that I learnt to trust actions and patterns instead of words and emotions. It was only after accepting the fact that I do have a choice and personal responsibility for my own healing and growth that I could free myself from my toxic relationship. There’s definitely no shortcut to understanding toxic relationships but here’s an insight from my own experience on how to free yourself from one:
1. First, do not confuse chaos with love. We get so used to the chaos, that we confuse the chaos for love and passion. And today’s sad reality is that this toxic love is glorified in books, movies (take Kabir Singh for e.g.) and sometimes in our own families which further makes it easier for us to overlook the consequences of being in such a relationship. If your partner showers you with love one moment and gets distant the next day (being hot and cold) or if he/she sends mixed signals or if your relationship is characterised by a lot of confusion and uncertainty, it is best to accept that this is unhealthy.
2. Secondly, see the person for who they are and not who you want them to be. We all have a tendency to idealise our partners and make excuses for their wrongs. But it’s best to communicate how they have mistreated you and how you feel by their actions. A mature partner would validate your feelings and take responsibility for their behaviour.
3. Thirdly, the longer you cling to toxic love, the more you lose the person you are. The result of being in a toxic relationship is often self-abandonment. Self-abandonment involves ignoring red flags, repressing your own needs for the sake of the other, rejecting a part of yourself or changing who you are for the other, compromising your values and beliefs, letting others trample your emotional and physical boundaries and silencing your voice to maintain the status quo in a relationship. Betraying yourself to stay in a toxic relationship would only drag down your mental health and therefore, recognising this is pivotal. If you have ever abandoned yourself, remember to be compassionate and forgiving toward yourself but do change your actions and take responsibility to better your mental health.
4. Fourthly, remind yourself of what a healthy relationship is and what you are in a relationship for. A relationship should make you feel safe, validated, accepted and supported. It is a space where you are encouraged to grow and be your authentic self instead of a place where you are forced to abandon yourself. It should be a space filled with trust, transparency, consistency, communication, understanding and respect. Anything less than this is settling for less than what you truly deserve.
5. Lastly, ask for help and reach out to friends, family or professionals with whom you can share your burden. Many times in a toxic relationship, we tend to withdraw and go into our shells in an attempt to protect ourselves. Toxic partners too, intentionally try to cut off your social connections to make it easier to manipulate you. Therefore, it is necessary that you stay connected to people who can validate your experience and help you through your journey of healing and growth.