There are many unhealthy relationship tropes in literature and storytelling. Some are intentional, giving voice to those unfortunate experiences that people suffer from every day. They are written with intention and purpose, and even if it a plot arch, it’s used to develop an emotional journey for the character or characters. Then there are the stories that have unintentional toxic and unhealthy relationships. These stories usually romanticize emotional abuse and you usually find this type of dynamic in YA fiction.
This is not a new development in literature or storytelling. It’s always been there in books and movies, which gives girls at a very young age, a lack of understanding what is unhealthy, toxic, and emotional/physical abuse in relationships. We see girls and women being treated a certain way in media and it’s not a dark evil story with a horrible outcome, it’s always twisted into being the girl’s fault, or just needing to be the one to change him, or making excuses for him… like he comes from a bad family or he’s just misunderstood. These are warning signs, but we are not given the education to see them as just that. These stories bleed into reality. We tell girls that if the boy is making fun of them on the playground, that he likes her. It took living through a couple of emotional abusive relationships and then many years of educating myself on what I had been through & why I didn’t register them as toxic when I was in them, to be able to point out these toxic traits in the books I read. I still find myself sometimes falling into the spell and become wrapped up in the romance of a relationship that is actually toxic, but was not written with the intention of it being so.
It’s truly sad and quite scary that some of the most successful (measuring success by attention, movie rights, and a lot of money in this regard) books in our modern society have some form of emotional abuse that is romanticized. Even more troubling is the fact that most of these successful books are YA with the target audience being the young and impressionable. We’re all ones to follow trends on some levels, but we know from experience, that as a child and teenager, trends make up a majority of your life. I was totally lost in Twilight when it first came out. I was going through a breakup and clinged on to the romance as a reality I wish I lived in, unaware of the psychological issues it creates.
I think there has been a surge in romanticizing emotional abuse in literature since Twilight. Not that it hasn’t always been there, some of the classics you are forced to read in school at a young age, are filled with it, but I think it’s definitely moved into something that can only be classified as a trend. Why? Well…it’s been proven to sell & that’s an unfortunate huge motivator for writers & publishers, but the other side of that is that perhaps the writer doesn’t know that what they are writing is toxic. Are we to believe that the editor, the publisher, no one, saw the trouble with the dynamic? It’s hard to say. So many of us don’t see it until it’s pointed out by someone else, until we’ve experienced it ourselves, or witnessed it by close friends or family.
We need to educate girls and boys on the dangers of these unhealthy romantic tropes but we also need to educate ourselves and the people in our communities. I have learned so much by reading/listening to others viewpoints and dissecting what I read. I suggest we all do this more often. If you’d like to talk about books and movies/tv, I would love to hear from you : )
Here are some links to great reads I found when doing my own research on unhealthy and toxic relationships in literature.
Emotional Abuse in Intimate Relationships on NCBI