Signals of Unhealthy Love

Katie Hood’s TED talk addresses a social issue so uncomfortable and controversial that most people prefer to ignore it because, at some point, we all have to acknowledge being or having been in the projecting or receiving side of the problem. The problem is abuse.

Hood has served as Chief Executive Officer of One Love Foundation since 2014. One Love was founded in honor of Yeardley Love, a young woman who tragically lost her life at the hands of her ex-boyfriend at age 22. One Love Foundation’s mission is to prevent more tragedies like Yeardley’s by educating young generations in schools and colleges around the country about the signs, effects, and consequences of domestic abuse and violence.

Hood agrees with the universal truth that we often hurt those we love. Circumstances typical of parental, intimate, neighboring, and peer relationships put us sometimes on the receiving side of abuse and some other times on the projecting side of it.

It doesn’t matter how much we know about unhealthy behavior and its consequences; all of us end up doing hurtful things to others at some point and accepting harmful things from others at some other moment. Making mistakes is part of being human. It’s part of being in relationships.

Love is Love

Nobody teaches us how to love. We go through life practicing love how we learned it from family, friends, culture, and even trauma. Healthy or unhealthy, love is love for most people. The problem is that abuse disguises as love, says Hood. Abuse, subtle or forceful or both, affects one in three women and one in four men. Yet, we keep moving away from the problem even when we see unhealthy relationships all around us.

Hood offers in her talk five markers that expose unhealthy love.

The first marker: Intensity

There’s a rush of emotions and feelings at the beginning of relationships. It’s love-bombing time. But over time, the intensity of those emotions and feelings fades away to give room to healthy affection. When the initial excitement becomes overwhelming because one of the partners remains in that state of intensity, it’s time to question the relationship’s health and set firm personal boundaries.

The second marker: Isolation

There’s an understandable desire to be together most of any possible time at the beginning of a relationship. We want to learn more about our partner, as love is taking place in our hearts. After a while, our healthy sense of independence and self-agency is back in place, and the relationship has become part of it. If this isn’t the case, isolation has been creeping in while love grew in us. When we’re nicely but consistently pulled away from peers, friends, and even family to focus exclusively on our demanding partner, then it’s time to involve others to pull us out of that dangerous state.

The third marker: Jealousy

Trust is the cornerstone of relationships. In the right circumstances, some jealousy is normal and flattering. But too much jealousy is abnormal and dangerous. Pathological jealousy is a psychological condition that tends to see one’s partner as an object of exclusive possession. This condition is a constellation of maladaptive thoughts, beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors resulting from deep insecurities and poor self-concept. This strong sense of insecurity usually drives the jealous partner to sabotage the relationship. Worst, the idea of losing the object of their possession might lead to unpredictable vindictive behaviors and even violent actions against their partner, self, or others.

The fourth marker: Belittling

Words utilized as a weapon to demean a partner usually ushers in the cycle of abuse. Soon verbal abuse escalates to psychological abuse; if nothing is done to stop that behavior, physical abuse follows. This type of abusive behavior stops at nothing to accomplish the goal of humiliating the other person in the relationship. Thus, any story told in confidence, ambitions, dreams, fears, or guilt is weaponized. Usually, abusers tend to blame alcohol or other substances for their abusive words and behaviors. But substances are not the cause of abuse; they just enhance the potency of those harsh words and behaviors.

The fifth marker: Volatility

Volatility signals a concerning psychological state of a relationship. Frequent nasty breakups followed by emotional makeups create a hurtful and even harmful roller-coaster of high and low emotions that fosters anxiety, depression, and emotional dependency. The affected partner may become addicted to the highs, the good moments of the relationship. Always expecting, hoping for those highs, they endure the lows, the abuse, experiencing anxiety, depression, and an increasing sense of emotional dependency.

What to do

The unhealthier a relationship looks like in the light of these markers, the more abusive and dangerous it could turn to be. Experts in this field recommend acting cautiously when abuse is suspected. A sudden breakup could trigger a vindictive, violent response. Seek expert advice and ask for assistance in elaborating a safety plan or call The National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-7233) for support and information on local help in your area.

Awareness of the signs of unhealthy love helps us establish proper boundaries with others and ourselves to be safe in the company of healthy others.