Toxic Relationships: Literature’s Favorite Depiction

The most depicted relationships that I see sprinkled throughout television series; movies and literature are those that are heavily toxic: two people that do not work together, bringing out the worst in each other. The problem is that these are starting to be glorified in the eyes of young readers, deeming them to be the relationship that they sought out in the future. Behaviours that these characters portray are also being classified as normal, therefore when they are reflected in their own relationships, they consider it okay because this is how their favourite characters were shown as, in some of their favourite books.

This has been a discussion that had been brought up and looked into multiple times throughout countless blogs, news articles and YouTube videos and I thought I’d throw my own two cents in.

I guess we should start at the root of this discussion. What is the definition of a toxic relationship? From a definition from HealthScopeMag.com a toxic relationship is a relationship characterized by behaviors on the part of the toxic partner that are emotionally and not infrequently, physically damaging to their partner.

I’ll be clear here in stating that a toxic relationship is not just a romantic one, friends can be toxic too.

When you are in a toxic relationship, you find yourself emotionally tired, drained even, from the way in which you communicate or interact with the other person. I’ve been in an overly-controlling/possessive relationship as well as an emotionally damaging one where I became a shell of a human, constantly wanting to change every part of me to make the other person care more about me. It was shocking when I sat with my current partner and got told that he trusted me and never worried when I hung out with other male friends. It was something I wasn’t used to. But this is where my opinion with other people changes. Most of the time, I don’t believe it is the other person’s fault. I believe that two people with either very similar personalities, or very different personalities, can bring out the worst sides of each other. For example, (I’ll bring myself back into this), I am an extremely hotheaded character; I struggle with being told that I am wrong (in a personal environment not a professional one, normally I like getting told I’m doing something wrong at work so I can fix my mistake). So when I met a person who was very similar to me, we brought this side out in each other. We both couldn’t handle the other person being irrational, jealous or ‘difficult’ and, though we cared an extensive amount about each other, we couldn’t work as a romantic relationship. It became toxic; but not because he was malicious, or intentionally wanting to hurt me, but because we brought this side out of each other at that current point in our life. With someone else, he was a completely different person. Maybe at a different point in our life we would have worked better, after maturing and developing at an older stage in our life but it did not work. Currently the person I am with is very calm, and less prone to wanting conflict, balancing me out and bringing me down in anxious times when my anxiety is prone to flair up. It’s similar with my friendships. One of my friends is very similar to me. We are passive aggressive when annoyed; find it difficult to approach the other one when we need to talk or when hurt, resulting in an occasional toxic environment. We took a break from each other for a period of time because we could not continue and it was healthier. Now, we work harder at the friendship but we’ve also come to realisations about each other and how to get past difficult times. It changed our friendship, but not necessarily in a bad way.

Now, I know you’re probably thinking, “Antonia, how on earth does all of this relate at all to the actual topic of this post?” and I shall explain. In books, I find myself picking up on personality traits of the characters. I’ll use the classic example of Twilight by Stephanie Meyer (sorry not sorry). Bella is a young, introverted person who is self-conscious about…everything (which is normal considering her age and background). Edward is an older, more experienced yet introverted person. Both were only children, good students and came from difficult backgrounds (Bella from divorced parents and Edward having lost his parents due to Spanish Influenza). They both went through rebellious phases: Bella with her reserved, difficult reaction towards her parents and Edward with his diet of human blood against Carlisle’s wishes. When they met it was bound to develop into something toxic. Bella relied on the concept of being with a ‘mysterious, dangerous figure’ as an act of rebellion and Edward was searching for redemption or trying to find a place of peace. They ended up with each other, depending on each other. The second book, New Moon, where Bella goes into a state of depression was not a replication of a healthy relationship. It showed just how toxic and unhealthy it was. The codependency she had with him, triggered her into this zombie-like state. Yet when she was around a personality like Jacob Black, his calm and boyish like nature brought a sense of serenity to her life. He came from a different background, one where family (a big family) was normal and important. It balanced her out.
(Don’t take this as an opportunity to do an Edward vs. Jacob war; this isn’t what this post is about.)

I, for the longest time, thought someone being jealous of who you hung out with, or surrounded yourself with, was a sign of love (or at least that they cared). I realised this was heavily reliant on books like Twilight, which I read during my younger years. It wasn’t until now, like I mentioned before, that I realised jealousy isn’t a healthy emotion. Sure, it’s something that is unavoidable and probably present in small quantities during relationships, but it shouldn’t be something that makes the other person feel bad or ‘in the wrong’. But the point is, personalities that end up together can bring this out. Again, of course there is the exception to the rule and some people are just jealous and malicious and cruel, but it’s commonly not the case.

I see this in so many books that I read such as; Jace and Clary from The Mortal Instruments, Cassia and Ky in Matched, Tate and Miles from Ugly Love, Emma and Harriet from Emma, Elise, Vicky and Pippa from This song will save your life, Feyre and Tamlin from A Court of Thorns and Roses and Celaena and Dorian from Throne of Glass. These are relationships glorified and targeted to an audience of young adults. It’s understandable that these relationships are present in real life and its unavoidable to not write about these. But it’s also getting to the point where most of these end up in happy ending situations with young girls viewing this as being the ‘perfect friendship/relationship’.

Just a few thoughts.

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