Every single person has them, no matter who they are. Yet each of us experience relationships differently. Relationships with family members, relationships with friends, romantic relationships, relationships in the workplace and even the relationship with ourselves.
But how do we know if the relationships we have are healthy, or if they are toxic?
Toxic relationships, can become apparent in many people who we interact with. A toxic relationship can be identified by the way you are made to feel by the other person. If you are in a toxic relationship you can be repeatedly made to feel:
· Not good enough
· Taken advantage of
. Angry at the other person and yourself
How do I know this?
Unfortunately, I have experienced a cycle of toxic relationships.
When I first gained interest in having romantic relationships during my late teens, I found myself in a relationship with a guy who was extremely jealous. He would always be questioning who I was spending time with and who I was talking to. He often accused me of cheating on him with other guys from my college. This was my first relationship. It was on and off for a period of almost 3 years. At the time, I believed that the jealousy was “normal” and that it was how relationships were supposed to be.
Once this relationship came to an end, of which was due to him openly admitting that he had been seeing another girl, I took some time out for myself. I focused on my studies whilst ignoring any invitation to go out with my friends, who I had become distanced from.
Once I had finished college, I started seeing another guy, who I met through the place I was working at alongside college. Again, this relationship was one which was overruled by jealousy. I was often made to feel like I wasn’t good enough and had to always be doing the things that he wanted to do. This relationship lasted around 18 months before a very rocky ending. The end of this relationship came after he tried to stop me from enhancing my career.
To keep myself busy, I was working additional hours and spending a lot of time on my own researching different career paths. Things became unsettled at home, and I was beginning to feel very isolated. I began to spend time online, looking for people to talk to. I began talking to a few people online
One of the guys I had started talking to travelled over 5 hours to come and see me in person. He had booked a hotel for the weekend in my town and we saw each other a few times over the weekend. Once he returned home we began a long-distance relationship
At first this relationship was very supportive. After about 8 months of being in a relationship, we decided to move to a location approximately half way between both of our current homes. We moved to Nottingham together. At first, things were very supportive, we both managed to gain full time work local to where we were living. We would go for days out. We used to travel to see friends and family. We also went on a holiday abroad together. The future looked bright for us both.
Things began to change quickly.
He became paranoid, in which he needed to know my passwords for my social media accounts. He would call my workplace to confirm that I was actually at work. He even began to pass negative comments about my appearance, my friends, my family and my choices.
I began to feel like anything I did was never good enough. I would go to bed before him so that I could cry myself to sleep. I denied to myself that anything was wrong with the relationship we had. Instead I blamed the way I was feeling on being so far away from my hometown for the first time.
The relationship became very difficult to manage, I was purposely working over 50 hours a week so that I could avoid being in the house. I knew that by working so many hours, by the time I had got home, cooked food for us both, eaten, carried out the housework and bathed that it would be time for bed. The routine was very draining both physically and mentally. Yet I was expected to clean the house and cook the meals because I was a female.
Eventually, I sat down with him an asked what had happened to the supportive relationship we once had. His answer was that nothing was wrong with the relationship, if I thought the relationship wasn’t “normal” I needed to change my expectation or leave. Having no where I could go to, I battled through for another few months.
The moment that made me realise this relationship that I had was far from “normal” was when I came across a letter one evening when I returned from work. The letter was laid on the stairs and was addressed to him. I unfolded the letter to see that it was a court appearance. He was being charged for having sexual intercourse with a minor. Without consent.
I could not believe what I had read.
I questioned him about the letter once he returned home. He denied anything ever happening but after the way he had made me feel over the past month, I didn’t believe a word that was coming out of his mouth. He acted like he was the victim. He acted like I was the one who had been making him feel worthless for months. Like I was the one who should be guilty for the situation. I took a few deep breaths before telling him that I would not be continuing with the relationship and that I would be moving out.
I packed a bag with enough things for a couple of days and left the house, explaining that I would return for the rest of my things. I went to work and ended up in tears in the office, I explained to my supervisor at the time what was going on. She offered me to use the guest bedroom at work for the night whilst I worked something else out.
I then stayed with one of the girls who I worked with for a few days whilst I decided what I was going to do about my accommodation. I wanted to return back to my hometown, where I was comfortable, but I also wanted to stay in Nottingham and develop my career.
After a few days of weighing up my options, I decided to find a place to rent in Nottingham. I quickly found a terraced house to rent. Whilst I was waiting for the keys to be delivered to my workplace I spent a little time with my Dad. It only took a couple of days for the keys to be delivered to my workplace, so I went to collect them, then with the assistance of my dad, I collected my belongings from my Ex boyfriends.
I found it very lonely living in a 3-bedroomed house, alone. At times I was grateful to have a space of my own, where I could ball my eyes out without anyone around to see my tears or hear my cries.
I had very few friends in Nottingham, mainly only the girls from work. One male friend I had outside of work was going through some relationship troubles of his own. I had developed the close friendship with him whilst I was with my EX. (They used to work together)
I would spend time consoling him on an evening when I wasn’t at work, providing advice where I was able to and when his relationship took a turn for the worse, I was there to provide a shoulder for him to cry on. He was in a similar situation to me, in which his family lived away, so I offered for him to stay in the guest room whilst he got settled. This way he would be able to have support from me, whilst also having a space of his own. I knew how valuable individual space was.
Within a week or two of him ending the relationship and coming to stay with me, he confessed to me that he was in love with me. I was flattered. I felt wanted. I felt needed. I felt that there was a connection. However, I was also scared.
A relationship soon became established between us. We would spend hours chatting to each other whilst also both being creative. He would cross stitch whilst I would knit, draw, paint, sew… pretty much anything to keep my mind busy.
I enjoyed his company, and even though he was always asking for me to explain where I had been and who I was talking to, I didn’t care. Right from the very start he openly admitted that he had BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder). I researched BPD for weeks on end. Many articles said that it could make people become aggressive, depressed, anxious. Online articles said those with BPD could self-harm or have suicidal thoughts. The articles described relationships with someone who has BPD to be intense, never calm and even like an emotional roller coaster. I didn’t care. I felt like we had a connection and so I blamed any negative attitudes which he showed towards me on his BPD.
He would often shout and become aggressive over me messaging family and friends. I blamed it on the BPD. He became very paranoid about me working with any male. I blamed this on the BPD making him anxious. I ended up changing career because I got fed up of him shouting at me every time I walked in the door. I blamed it on the BPD. I would often feel like nothing I was doing to assist him, to support him or to show my love to him wasn’t ever good enough. Again, I blamed this on his BPD for making him depressed.
When my Nana passed away, he was more bothered about sending argumentative messages to a member of my family, than offering any form of support towards me. Again, I blamed this on his BPD. Even though he physically hurt me this night by puling my hair and pushing me away from him when I tried to get my phone from him. I became very angry at him this night for the way he treated me, but I was also angry at myself. I went to work the following day, like nothing had happened.
After about a week of faking a smile, I ended up going to the doctors for a routine check-up, and I was signed off with depression. I was also referred to go to counselling to help with the loss of my Nana. When my boyfriend found out I was signed off with depression, he became angry and aggressive, questioning what I had told the doctors. I hadn’t told the doctors anything to do with our relationship, but he didn’t believe me. Things got worse, he became more aggressive and on other occasions he strangled me, held a knife to my neck and threatened to kill me. Yet still, I blamed this on his BPD.
Throughout this whole relationship, which developed out of loneliness, I was made to feel like I was his puppet. I didn’t feel like anything I thought mattered. I couldn’t talk to him openly and honestly. I became the girl he wanted to be, not the women I wanted to be. I lost all sense of who I was, what I wanted to achieve in life and the things I wanted to do.
I didn’t want to leave him, because I didn’t want to be judged as weak, or as the girl who gave up. I didn’t want my friends or family to think that I couldn’t cope with living away from home. Instead, I continued to be his puppet. Whatever he wanted happened; Sex included.
Eventually after almost 18 months of physical, emotional and sexual abuse…. I gained the courage to leave. This night was absolute hell for me, looking back I am thankful that it happened. We had both gone to bed after an argument in which I had ended up dressing his arm after him self harming. He wanted sex, I didn’t. He must have been trying for sex for over an hour, and each time I denied. The night was an extremely stuffy summers' night. No matter how I laid, I was not comfortable, so I was tossing and turning… At least for a while until he said: “If you move one more time, I’m going to fuck you whether you like it or not”.
My heart was racing, my palms were sweating. I had a single strand of hair tickling my face. Yet I wouldn’t even dare to move a single muscle. I laid as still as a stone until I heard my alarm the following morning. I hadn’t had any sleep, but I got up, dressed and headed out of the house to work as usual. Except, I didn’t go to work. I got off the tram, in the city centre and walked around the shopping centre for a while. Once he sent the routine message stating that he had gone to work, followed by a Snapchat of his car in the carpark, I headed back to the house.
I quickly packed my things, with tears streaming down my face. I packed as much as I could physically carry, including a large suitcase full. I then got a taxi to the train station. Once I was at the train station, I sent my best friend a photo of my belongings and asked her if she would be able to pick me up from Scarborough station that evening.
My boyfriend didn’t know that I had left until he returned home from work, although he was messaging me throughout the day apologizing, I sent him a message saying that I had finished playing games.
How I recovered:
Once I was back in Scarborough, with my family and closest friends, I spent a lot of time around them. I never told any of them the true reasons for me ending the relationship, other than how he was jealous and controlling. I finally began to accept that I had been in denial, and that all the romantic relationships I had been in were indeed toxic.
I settled into living with my Mum and brothers. I spent a lot of time taking care of myself and building myself. I began keeping a journal where I was able to express my deepest thoughts and feelings. I was spending a lot of time on my crafts, which I found extremely relaxing.
I put myself first. For the first time I could remember.
I enrolled in University and began focusing on ways I would be able to ensure that I would be able to support myself in the future. I gained a job in a local company, which paid well. I surrounded myself with positive people, who would support me, encourage me and motivate me.
The top 5 things I learnt about relationships:
1. Communication is key – be in a relationship where you can openly communicate with each other, where you can talk about your dreams, your fears, your hopes, your goals. In a relationship you should be able to be yourself and should feel comfortable in talking about who you are.
2. Relationships should be supportive – you shouldn’t ever be repeatedly made to feel negatively about yourself. A healthy relationship should provide support and encouragement.
3. You shouldn’t ever be made to feel worthless – no person should be made to feel like they are worthless and like they shouldn’t exist, regardless as to what type of relationship it is.
4. It is okay to terminate relationships that are not right for you – you shouldn’t ever be made to feel guilty for terminating a relationship, regardless as to your reasons.
5. Take care of yourself first – always remember that in any relationship, you must take care of yourself, especially if you want to help someone else. Take time to do things that make you happy and healthy.
Written by Lucy Hepworth
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