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"Where the hell have you been?" Toxic relationships - do they have a future

16 March 2020
Hug yourself project/Lera Polska
Hug yourself project/Lera Polska

About half of Ukrainians do not recognize psychological violence in relationships while it is often a wake-up call warning us that physical abuse is just around the corner.

In Ukraine, it is common to discuss domestic violence on the quiet. Like it is something awkward, embarrassing, and shameful. What about psychological violence? The victim may not notice it or even identify it as violence. Some are used to the constant rebukes and criticism of a partner, and some put up with his or her over-extending control and care which are allegedly signs of great love and concern. However, if you are constantly under the domination and psychological pressure, it is not about love. It's about the trap of toxic relationships.

Poisoning relationships

In a healthy relationship, both partners respect and support each other. They acknowledge each other’s right to life choices and development opportunities. These relationships are conducive, while toxic ones are obstructive. They poison lives with insecurity, fears, and guilt. A simple example: the husband always pretends that the wife is guilty of everything. She said or did something wrong, or gave a wrong reaction to his joke. While she, in turn, does not understand her fault. Yet she feels guilty and doesn't know how to fix it. “If there are no adequate reasons to feel guilty, it means that you are being emotionally abused,”- comments Olga Avramenko, a psychologist, expert of the online-project "Vpershe".

What is the offender's typical behaviour? Everyone has their own methods. One may use raised voice for rebukes, the other resorts to a so-called “silent treatment” that can last from hours to days. The third one makes jokes about your abilities or appearance. However, the joke is not a joke anymore if it is repeated a dozen times. And when you ask to drop it because it is unpleasant for you, the offender accuses you of being humourless.

In addition to constant invisible pressure, toxic relationships may result in fewer contacts with the outside world. The victim begins to communicate less with friends, relatives, and colleagues. In fact, the victims become fixed on their partner who compels them to be around. And if it's not the case, they should report on their whereabouts and company. This reporting request can be justified by concerns of care and safety. Yet when it comes to dozens of unnecessary calls and messages, it's worth suggesting your partner might have passed all bounds of care.

Another striking example of psychological abuse is reading SMS of the beloved person and asking for access to his or her social networks. As a result, the latter but again reduces the number of contacts with the outside world knowing about the constant control. “Toxic relationships destroy self-esteem. Gradually, the victim of such a relationship will lose him or herself, the pleasure of life”, says Olga Avramenko.

Psychological abuse = physical?

It is crucial to recognize psychological abuse and stop it in the early stages so as not to drive it to physical violence. Psychological pressure and control do not necessarily result in assault, but they often precede it. "If the offender is aggressive, resorts to screaming and throwing things, then this is likely to escalate to physical abuse very soon," says the psychologist.

To prevent physical violence and put an end to psychological abuse, the United Nations Population Fund launched a “(Not) Trivia in Relations” campaign. In fact, it is the first organization in Ukraine to attend to the risks of toxic relationships. During the campaign, the Foundation held live discussions on the issue in Kyiv, Lviv and Odesa. It also launched videos showing typical examples of psychological abuse in relationships.

If you are a victim

The first thing to do is to leave through and speak out emotions. This will give you a clearer picture of what is really going on in your relationship. To do so, choose a person you trust. A person who will never tell you "it's your fault" or "didn't you see who you were married to". If there is no such person next to you, then you should consider contacting a specialist. Consulting a psychologist does not imply condemnation and remarks that can often be heard from relatives in such cases.

“Then ask yourself if you really need this particular relationship”, - advises the psychologist. If not, then don't hesitate to break them. If you do, then be ready to talk to your partner about your feelings. It's important to use "I", not "you" messages. That is, instead of "your control annoys me" or "you've got under my skin with your criticism", say: "I am uncomfortable with constant control" or "I feel degraded". It happens that people over-control or make others feel guilty without realizing it themselves. They grew up in such an environment, so it seems normal to them. In this case, your frankness with your partner and request to check their behavior can really put an end to the psychological abuse. The partner will understand the need to build a different relationship with you in order to preserve it. However, there are partners who are well aware that psychological abuse is not the normal thing. Nonetheless, they persist in behaving the same way. This is their tool for developing a victim-offender dependency. In a healthy relationship, this would not be possible. So, if, in response to your sincerity, your partner denies everything and faults you for "taking everything too seriously", it is a sign that the person is not going to change. An open conversation with a partner is, according to Olga Avramenko, “a good litmus test for whether or not this relationship has a chance to become healthy".

If the toxic relationship has lasted for years, it can be very difficult for a person to regain their self-esteem and build a new and healthy relationship. “After quitting a violent relationship, people very often find themselves in the same situation. It is important to prevent this by restoring the victim's self-esteem and confidence. And this often involves professional help”, says the psychologist.

Such help is available free of charge on the “Break the Circle” information resource created by the UNFPA. The resource focuses on combating all forms of domestic violence. Here you can find useful contacts, take a test for relationship toxicity and learn about help centres in your city.