When Love Becomes Toxic? Get to Know More About Abusive Relationships

Often, within a loving relationship, the dividing line between what is care and concern for each other and what may be abusive and controlling behavior, can seem tenuous to those who live the situation in fact. After all, how can we pay attention to the first signs and indications that something is not normal?

"I've always been a very sociable person, full of people around me. I've always enjoyed talking to everyone, including men, which has become a problem for him. Many of our discussions revolved around the fact that he didn't like my friendly relationship with men. So, little by little, I moved away from my friends. He always said he was the only man who could be my friend.", says Julia, who preferred to use a pseudonym and not identify herself. 

Excessive jealousy is usually the first indicator of emotional and psychological abuse by one of the parties in the relationship. M.F, another girl who wanted to share her experience, describes in her report how she remembers that the use of social networks started to become a problem for her ex-partner: "When I began my relationship with him, I was soon asked to exclude certain boys of he was jealous. At the time, I used only Facebook because I had excluded Twitter and Instagram, after he said it was necessary, since I exposed myself too much.", says.

Different types of emotional manipulation and abuse can come from people with specific patterns, which are intensified in certain cases. A professional in the behavioral area, psychologist Luciene Oliveira talks about: "Some behaviors are so rooted in our culture that we have no perception of them. For example, when it comes to problematic performances of masculinity, many things are normalized, so it is difficult to recognize them at the beginning of a relationship. A healthy relationship is not achieved by imposing control, much less by monitoring actions on social networks.”, affirms.

For many women abusive characteristics in a relationship, unfortunately, sound familiar. It is not difficult to meet a colleague or friend who has been through similar situations, and the stories are repeated several times. In several cases, when the hypothesis of the end of relation is raised, threats are constantly made, either incisively against the victim himself or in reverse, when the abuser manipulates the partner saying that if she ends the relationship, he will take his own life.

“When I finally took the position to end the relationship, what used to be demands, fights, screams and manipulations became blackmail. ‘If you don't come back with me, I'm going to kill myself‘, and that persisted for weeks.”, says Isabella V., in her report.

In the same way that a demonstration of toxic masculinity can generate controlling practices, female insecurity disseminated in our cultural patterns and socially constructed is also a factor that, in an unhealthy relationship, ends up intensifying and bringing serious consequences for the victims' mental health. 

B.S, who also preferred not to identify herself, talks about how she feels affected after having experienced an unhealthy relationship. "I don't feel comfortable with my body because I remember him looking at other girls' bodies while he was with me, and I compare myself and want to be like them. Today, I feel that my insecurity comes from that, from always thinking that I am not enough in a relationship."

After experiencing a relationship that fits these parameters, it is extremely important to be open to professional and therapeutic follow-up that can help deal with trauma and internal problems caused by abuse. Sometimes, due to lack of access, condition or knowledge of the care options, psychological treatment is not sought after the experience of delicate situations, which leads to a worsening of behavioral reflexes such as insecurity, low self-esteem, excessive fear and even other more serious emotional problems such as anxiety disorder, depression and other ones. 

"It is necessary to widen the dissemination of channels and forms of support, especially to victims. Mental health institutions often offer free care, although this is not much talked about.", says Luciene.

woman with highlight on her cheekIn a context of abusive relationship, violence ends up not only being verbal and emotional, but also extending to physical issues. According to the United Nations (UN) ranking, Brazil ranks 5th in the list of countries with the highest number of feminicides. According to the same data, 3 out of 5 women have already gone through an abusive relationship.

In contact with women who were willing to talk, in different reports we see how physical violence and intimate violation are perpetuated in different ways within an abusive relationship.

"He always had these strange touches on my body that I didn't like and asked him not to do. The worst in the sense of physical invasion has actually occurred, but at the time, when I was 14 years old, I didn't quite understand how serious it was. Besides, whenever something went wrong he made me take the pill the next day, sometimes four in the same month, two in one week." - M.F.

"The worst thing I've spent these nine months is when we were in an intimate moment and I realized I was being recorded without my consent. He knew that I didn't like it, never felt me comfortable. I always asked him to erase it, and he just said he'd erase it later, but he acted as if he didn't like me to ask for it." – M. 

"My group of friends always slept at my house, we always went out together. And he came too. And while my friends were in my house and he was with me, he insisted a lot that we perform sexual acts, even with my friends around. I didn't know how to talk, or say no, I was young, I was 15, and I was ashamed to talk with my friends around. It was horrible and I hate to think about it." - V.S.

Alessandra Cesar, a psychologist who also specializes in the area of building well-being and self-esteem, talks about what should be done in cases like these: "When perceiving abuse, it is fundamental that the victim look for specialized psychological support and, if necessary, legal too. Presence of family, friends and acquaintances is also essential as it is a very delicate moment, where there is a break-up and a very significant emotional wear and tear. These bonds can help her to strengthen herself, to feel more secure, heard and welcomed.’’.

The support of family and friends is extremely essential for the victim, both to get out of the relationship and to be able to deal with the traumas that may arise later. 

Isabella V. explains how was important the support she received during a delicate period that followed the end of a relationship. "I had many anxiety crises, I even lost weight and had a big drop in my performance in class. And there goes the importance of having people by your side who know you and show you another side, who make you see things in a real way and help you get out of it little by little. We know it's not everyone's reality, but if it wasn't for my friends, maybe I'd be in it until today."

We know that getting out of a relationship like this is not easy, and that often even talking about it with someone close to you becomes difficult. Whether it is the daily struggle against sexist cultural roots, or the fight for female autonomy and empowerment, we always need to talk, and more than that, listen and be attentive to who may be going through something like this close to us. Knowing mainly that as much as it may seem, we are never alone.

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The article above was edited by Gabriela Sartorato.  

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