Britney Spears’s recent testimony on her experience under conservatorship sheds light on the pop legend’s harrowing 13-year long ordeal and has sparked conversations about mental health, autonomy, and abuse carried out in the name of concern from loved ones.
Human beings are social creatures by nature. Our lives are built on our relationships with people all around us—be it family, friends, or a romantic partner. While we might need these connections to sustain us, often, such relationships can become detrimental to our emotional well-being. Red flags can go unnoticed when they happen in a close personal relationship, and that fosters a pattern of toxicity hard to break out of.
Speaking about toxic relationships primarily brings a spousal dynamic to our minds, as, for many people, a romantic partner is the closest relationship. Negativity in a romantic context is abetted in large part by romanticisation of toxic traits in popular media depiction of ideal couples, which paints harmful tropes as desirable. This can condition people to accept damaging behaviour from a young age.
Unhealthy associations can, however, exist with any close individual in someone’s life, including family members and friends. Spears’s conservatorship battle is a prime instance of that, the abuse perpetuated by her own father and her management.
Mental health is not the only thing that suffers from such relationships. Research shows that negative relationships can seriously affect physical health as well. The Whitehall II study which began in 1985 and occurred over 12 years with more than 10,000 participants, showed that people with negative personal relationships have a higher risk of poor heart health, and even cardiac fatality. It is, therefore, crucial to identify if any relationship in your life falls into this category.
What are some common signs of a toxic relationship?
According to Dr Shreya Chakravarty, Psychologist, Apollo Health City, Hyderabad, it is necessary to identify toxic behaviors such as showing conditional affection or withholding affection, passive-aggressive attitude, ‘testing’ a partner’s feelings, and emotional manipulation in the form of guilt-tripping and humiliation. Other red flags to watch out for are listed below.
1. Controlling behaviour (such as dictating what to wear, where to go, who to be friends with, and so on) is a major indication of a dysfunctional relationship. If someone is overly possessive, jealous, and does not respect your boundaries, it is unhealthy.
2. If a relationship is emotionally draining and makes you feel worthless, it is time to rethink your attachment. Gaslighting, a form of psychological abuse, is a tactic used by toxic individuals that undermines a person’s sense of reality, sanity and self-worth.
3. Communication is key to healthy relationships. A lack of proper communication can lead to deeper problems.
4. Functional close relationships should be a place of support. Watch for red flags like feeling alienated, emotionally uneasy and anxious in the company of someone close to you. It is not healthy if a person is self-centred and makes you feel like you need to live according to their expectations constantly.
5. Abuse, whether it is physical, sexual, emotional or psychological, is the most glaring red flag.
Some tips for handling a toxic relationship
1. Recognise the signs and acknowledge the truth of the situation. Many people in toxic relationships live in denial, so the first step is understanding that your relationship is unhealthy.
2. Assess if the relationship is worth saving. If not, be prepared to let go of the relationship.
3. Opt for an expert’s help. A mental health professional’s guidance in a therapeutic setting can be extremely useful.
4. Try to establish honest communication and set healthy boundaries.
5. Online support groups can be of great help, as can podcasts hosted by experts.
6. In Dr. Chakravarty’s opinion, developing empathy and compassion for each other, and accepting and shouldering responsibilities are important in the process of working on healing a toxic relationship.