Advice

People Share The Coping Mechanisms They Had To Un-Learn After Leaving A Toxic Relationship

Toxic relationships can have an affect on a person for ages - even after they are no longer in that situation. People learn survival techniques based on what's likely to earn them the smallest amount of scorn or abuse possible. Those coping mechanisms may be what we have to do in toxic situations, but when it's time to enter the world of healthy relationships those same coping mechanisms can be the proverbial iceberg to our Titanic.


Some of us learn to lie to avoid the fight, or we learn to hide things about ourselves so we don't have to be judged. I, personally, learned to give explicit and overly detailed accounts for every moment of my time and every dollar I earned. I would fret every single moment that I wasn't at home because I knew I needed to know every single detail for questioning later. Otherwise, I would be accused of lying or cheating or whatever else. Even if I drove to do errands my partner sent me on, I would need to remember exactly which route I took, note times and names of everyone I spoke to, remember the colors of the cars around me and what people were wearing etc. Any and/or all of it could be on the "test" later and I had no way of knowing what the punishment for failure to answer his random questions quickly and to his satisfaction would be.

One Reddit user asked:

What survival tactics did you have to unlearn once leaving an abusive/toxic situation? How?

So it turns out I'm not the only one who has learned to be unhealthy in response to a situation that was unhealthy. I mean... it makes sense when you think about it. Toxic water is what gave us the three-eyed Simpsons fish, after all.


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Happily, quite a few people can attest that yes - it gets better; but it takes work and time. Here are some of the most popular responses, edited for language when needed.

Sorry/Not Sorry

I had to learn to stop saying sorry for things that were not my fault. I had been conditioned to kind of feel guilt for every bad thing that happened to people around me even when it literally had nothing to do with me. I had to not only learn to stop that, but also stop finding insane ways to justify how it was my fault. I was refusing to let my non-abusive partner take any responsibility just because my abusive one never wanted to accept any and convinced me to go along with it. For example, let's say my husband leaves the oven on. I apologize and insist that I must have distracted him so that's why he forgot and I'm so so sorry. Meanwhile my non-abusive husband is like "ooooooookaaaaaaaay" and doesn't understand how I could possibly think it was my fault.

- effietea


This.

Luckily, later in life I met someone who helped me stop, take a breath, and think before apologizing. I don't think he had any idea how that helped me. I think he was more annoyed or confused by the constant apologies, but he helped me recognize when it was actually appropriate, and even when to choose not to apologize.

- skoolaces


Finances and Rationing

My abuser used to control me with finances; I'm disabled and don't have much income so he was the one who handled much of our money. He volunteered to do so, of course, and I didn't realize it was a method of control until I was eventually freed of his manipulation. If I asked to go grocery shopping, for example, I got yelled at for costing him money. It was only "safe" if the shopping was his idea. I got out of that relationship in 2016.

Earlier this year I moved in with my current boyfriend and found myself rationing my half of the groceries (I'm vegetarian and he isn't so we tend to each buy our own stuff for meals). When we got low, I'd go into "survival mode" and only eat one or two meals a day, hoping he would notice we were low on food and suggest shopping soon. He works all day and didn't notice immediately.

When he found out, he was horrified. He sat me down and explained that since he didn't cook much, he didn't tend to notice what our food supplies were like. He assured me, while I was crying HARD from both shame and fear, that if I was ever close to running out of food, it was safe to talk to him about it.

We've since set up a "food fund" so that if we're ever low and he's not around and I'm out of spending money, I have the ability to buy more.

Honestly most of the healing I've done has been because I've noticed a strange behavior in myself and eventually opened up to him about it. We address it together and find a solution.

- CrazyCatLushie

Don't Fret

I call it fretting, and I had to learn to stop doing it to my husband. When I would get home from work before him, I would get so worried and freaked out about him thinking I was lazy or getting pissed if some random chore wasn't done. So I would like quietly follow him around the house fidgeting with my hands, waiting for him to figure out what he was going to be mad about, so I could fix it before he got too mad. Like if he went in the kitchen to put his lunch box down and if he tried to move a coffee cup off the counter I'd rush over and take the cup from him. Extra bonus freaking out points if he had a long day at work and was quiet.

To be clear, he has never once said or done anything to warrant my fretting. Thanks mom!

It took a while, and mainly it came down to him asking me what the hell I was doing, and us having a lot of long conversations. Hes a good man. Imma go hug him now.

- sallyface

Liar Liar

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Keeping secrets. Useless, stupid secrets about things that don't even matter.

- ph33randloathing


Yep me too on this one. I would tell small lies purely because it was easier than dealing with a controlling psycho argument.

- stubborneuropean


Yes. I lie about the dumbest stuff and don't know how to stop. There's times where I actually believe whatever I've made up in my head and I have to investigate whether or not it actually happened.

- liviapng


You don't have to lie about a situation -- making it either completely your fault or completely someone else's -- anymore so they don't hit you. It's a rough road, unlearning lying for survival, lemme tell you that lol

- thestoryofhowwedied

How To Argue

I needed to learn that talking about my feelings was healthy - or even an option. I was taught to bottle up most of my problems growing up because my mom didn't want to hear about them, then as I became an adult I would lash out in anger and get somewhat the results I wanted. So the only arguing skills I have are anger and shutting down. My wife is a saint for understanding but I feel so bad that I don't know how to convey emotions like an adult. It's like pulling teeth trying to express myself.

- Cmmajor

Don't Flinch

Flinching. What got me out of that was realizing that I'm taller and stronger than most people. I couldn't tell you how to avoid it if you're less "physically gifted" than me, though.

- Cinnacism


I hate it when people laugh when I flinch

"Haha you were hit as a child and it still scars you as an adult"

Last week my boss was 'play scolding' me, but he kept swinging a roll of wrapping paper around as he did, any time the roll went over his head I would flinch, I flinched like 3/4 times in a few minutes, only one co-worker took notice and laughed

I try very hard not to flinch, it hurts my boyfriend's feelings when I do, but if someone is mad at me they really need to keep their hands to their sides

- Jesteress


Dodging and flinching are very hard to unlearn. Even now a decade after the fact I tense if someone is behind me and become flinchy if people are angry. It just takes time. Sometimes I hold myself as still as possible so that when people are angry I can observe them instead of waiting for a blow. Even with repressed memories my body knows.

- Panties4Pandas

Get Out Of Your Head

Still trying to unlearn it, but shutting down. If a conflict arises or we're trying to discuss an issue I shut down. I was 100% used to my ex exploding, yelling, sobbing, and having those emotions get worse if I tried comforting him or saying anything really, so I just withdrew into myself for awhile. My current SO is very good at communicating and doesn't explode or get upset at me when I instinctively shut down. He's always telling me to get out of my head. It helps, that's one of the things that makes him great.

- MonsteraLeaf

Food Issues

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Not hoarding food away. Mostly I've stopped that by having small amounts of nonperishable, sealed high-calorie food that I know where it is (like protein bars) so that the urge not to waste ANYTHING isn't nearly as strong, I can remind myself that I'm set.

- viridian152


I just now these past couple of years stopped having stress dreams about trying to pack as much high calorie, nutrient-dense, non-perishable food into a bag as possible.

- shitshiner69


I had a similar discussion with my girlfriend (now ex). I tried really hard to eat healthy and fresh food, but she constantly liked buying boxed items and frozen food. It grew to arguments because I didn't like the temptation of boxed Mac N Cheese.

It wasn't until she thought about it and we talked - she grew up without a lot of food and an uncaring mother. She was terrified of running out of food.

The next day, we bought a box and filled it full of non perishables and stored it in our closet. Her favorite canned food, Boxes of Mac N Cheese, etc. It didn't cost us much, it gave her peace of mind, and we started to eat a lot healthier.

- Shepsus



Responsibility And Expectations

Closing myself off emotionally. I still struggle to form close relationships or even take interest in other people. One thing I did unlearn (mostly) is making other people take responsibility for my feelings. I don't know how exactly I did it, but after having a hissy fit with my therapist for telling me I can't rely on other people to comfort me all the time (I was angry because I didn't know how to comfort myself), and then having a talk with my best friend about this, I somehow slowly learned not to blame other people for me feeling bad.

I also had to learn not to expect of them to make me feel better. It also helped understanding that my expectations could not always be met and to appreciate the fact that people at least try. They don't have to and I need to do my own emotional weight-lifting.

- jinniji

It's Okay To Be Criticized

Sometimes it's okay to be criticized. It doesn't mean you're in for a verbal whooping, it doesn't mean that the boss hates your guts, and it doesn't mean you're a worthless POS. It just means you're human, and you made a mistake. People tell you you're doing it wrong so you can do it better, not to laugh at you.

When I started working, if I didn't know how to do something I had a really hard time asking for help. Usually I would just wing it, and I would usually get it wrong, leaving others having to finish it for me when they found out.

I have had to learn that it's okay to say: "Excuse me, I haven't seen it done like this before, can you please walk me through it?". It's okay the second time to go: "Oh okay, so I do A first, then B, then C?".

It might take you longer to do it the first couple of times, but at least you'll learn, and the others can trust that you know your shit.

Winging it is what will get you in trouble.

- tailfeather87

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The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood's searing novel, was written at the height of the Reagan administration and satirized political, social, and religious trends of the 1980s. It's also a hit television series on Hulu that returns on June 5.

While we still have a long way to go before we can find out what's next for June/Offred in the Republic of Gilead, we can, at the very least, regale you with some cool facts about one of the most enduring stories of the last three decades.

The Trailer for Season 3 Plays Off a Slogan from the Reagan Era

Perhaps the best thing that came out of the Super Bowl––aside from the memes haggling Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine, that is––was the trailer for the third season of the Hulu series.

The trailer lampoons former President Ronald Regan's 1984 "Morning in America" political campaign television commercial.

"It's morning again in America," you hear over a soundtrack and images that resound with boundless optimism. Things turn dark from there. Soon the camera freezes on Elisabeth Moss's face: "Wake up, America," she says.

Margaret Atwood's Follow-Up Will Be Released Later This Year

Margaret Atwood will release a sequel to The Handmaid's Tale titled The Testaments in September 2019. The Testaments is unconnected to Hulu's adaptation and will feature the testimonials of three female narrators from Gilead.

This literary device keeps with the metafictional epilogue that follows Offred's story in the original novel. The novel ends much in the way Season 1 ends: with Offred entering the van at Nick's insistence. The epilogue explains how the events of the novel were recorded onto cassette tapes after the beginning of what scholars have come to describe as "The Gilead Period." An interview with a noted academic implies that a more equitable society, one with full rights for women and freedom of religion restored, emerged following the collapse of the Republic of Gilead.

Serena Joy Waterford Is Likely Based On A Noted Conservative Activist

As the series goes on, we learn more about Serena Joy Waterford (Yvonne Strahovski) and her beginnings.

Serena was a conservative activist who, along with her husband Fred, spearheaded the Puritan movement that ultimately gave rise to Gilead. Inspired by women whom she perceives to have "abandoned" their families in the name of female autonomy, Serena Joy delivers impassioned speeches at venues around the nation calling for policies that would place women back in the home. She even wrote a bestselling book, A Woman's Place, that served as the vessel for much of her conservative dogma and inspired many of the Commander's Wives who become her friends and neighbors.

Serena was likely based on conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly, who established herself over many years as one of the fiercest antifeminist and anti-abortion advocates in the United States. Schlafly was also a vociferous opponent of the Equal Rights Amendment, which she considered an attack against traditional gender roles.

The 1990 Film Adaptation Had a Messy Production

A film version of The Handmaid's Tale was released in 1990. It starred Natasha Richardson as Offred, Faye Dunaway as Serena Joy, Robert Duvall as Commander Waterford, Aidan Quinn as Nick, Victoria Tennant as Aunt Lydia, and Elizabeth McGovern as Moira.

The film was not well received and had a messy production. Director Volker Schlöndorff replaced original director Karel Reisz amid internal bickering over a screenplay by Harold Pinter. Schlöndorff asked for rewrites, and Pinter, who was reluctant to do them, directed him to author Margaret Atwood, who was one of several who ended up making changes to Pinter's screenplay.

Pinter told his biographer years later [as quoted in Harold Printer, p. 304] that:

It became … a hotchpotch. The whole thing fell between several shoots. I worked with Karel Reisz on it for about a year. There are big public scenes in the story and Karel wanted to do them with thousands of people. The film company wouldn't sanction that so he withdrew. At which point Volker Schlondorff came into it as director. He wanted to work with me on the script, but I said I was absolutely exhausted. I more or less said, 'Do what you like. There's the script. Why not go back to the original author if you want to fiddle about?' He did go to the original author. And then the actors came into it. I left my name on the film because there was enough there to warrant it—just about. But it's not mine'.

Star Natasha Richardson reportedly felt "cast adrift" when much of Offred's interior monologue was sacrificed as a result of cuts made to the screenplay.

The Film and TV Series Aren't The Only Adaptations of This Seminal Work

There are several different adaptations of Atwood's seminal work, including, but not limited to:

  • an audiobook read by Homeland actress Claire Danes that won the 2013 Audie Award for Fiction
  • a concept album by Canadian band Lakes of Canada
  • a radio adaptation produced in 2000 for BBC Radio 4
  • an operatic adaptation that premiered in 2000 and was the opening production of the 2004–2005 season of the Canadian Opera Company.

Elisabeth Moss, the Star of the Hulu Series, is a Scientologist

Between The West Wing, Mad Men, Top of the Lake, and The Handmaid's Tale, Elisabeth Moss has a reputation for starring in critically acclaimed television shows.

Much has been made, however, of her casting as Offred. Moss was born into the Scientologist belief system, which the German government has classified as an "anti-constitutional sect," the French government has classified as a cult, and the American government has allowed individuals to practice freely though not without considerable contention. Moss also identifies as a feminist.

Asked by a fan about the parallels between Gilead and Scientology (namely the belief that "outside forces" are inherently "evil") Moss responded:

"That's actually not true at all about Scientology. Religious freedom and tolerance and understanding the truth and equal rights for every race, religion and creed are extremely important to me. The most important things to me probably. And so Gilead and THT hit me on a very personal level."

An Episode During Season 2 Highlighted President Donald Trump's Border Crisis

Last summer, President Donald Trump and his administration created a crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border when he and Jeff Sessions, his former attorney general, announced their "zero tolerance" family separations policy. The president blamed Democrats for the policy, imploring them to "start thinking about the people devastated by Crime coming from illegal immigration."

As images and stories of children ripped away from their parents at the border began to circulate, the Season 2 episode "The Last Ceremony" showed just how timely the show really is: After Offred is raped by the Waterfords, Commander Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) allows June/Offred (Elisabeth Moss) to visit her daughter, Hannah, in an undisclosed location. June is given 10 minutes with her daughter before a guard forcibly separates them again.

The episode, written well before the crisis was initiated, premiered just as Homeland Security admitted that more than 2,300 children had been separated from their parents.

Another Episode During Season 2 Appeared to Predict Canada-U.S. Relations

The fallout between the United States and Canada during the G7 summit appeared to have reached its peak once President Donald Trump refused to sign a joint statement with America's allies and threatened to escalate a trade war between America's neighbors. He also referred to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as "weak."

The Season 2 episode "Smart Power"––in which Canadian diplomats ban Gilead's representatives from the country and choose to stand with the women imprisoned in the totalitarian nation in a nod to the #MeToo movement––was written and premiered before the G7 blowup, but is no less prophetic.

In Season 2, Kate Bush's "This Woman's Work" Becomes an Ode to Female Resilience

"This Woman's Work," a ballad written by singer Kate Bush that is also one of the tracks on her 1989 album The Sensual World, serves as an ode to female power and resistance in the horrifying Season 2 opener, where June and the other handmaids realize they're about to be executed. The women are forced to summon strength at a moment of debilitating weakness. As the camera pans over the bleak environs of Fenway Stadium, Bush starts to sing:

Pray God you can cope
I'll stand outside
This woman's work
This woman's world
Ooooh it's hard on a man
Now his part is over
Now starts the craft of the FatherI
know you've got a little life in you left
I know you've got a lot of strength left
I know you've got a little life in you yet
I know you've got a lot of strength left
I should be crying but I just can't let it show
I should be hoping but I can't stop thinking
All the things we should've said that I never said
All the things we should have done that we never did
All the things we should have given but I didn't
Oh darling make it go
Make it go away
















"It was shattering and perfect," said Bruce Miller, who created the Hulu Handmaid's Tale adaptation. "One of the things I really like about the song is that on its face, there's a bit of very interesting lyrical play. It's nice that that's going on while you're watching."

"The Handmaid's Tale" Was the First Streamed Series to Win the Best Drama Series Emmy

Hulu beat out Netflix and Amazon to become the first streaming service to win an Emmy for Best Drama. Unfortunately, because the third season doesn't premiere until June 5, it's ineligible for the 2019 Emmys. Guess we'll see the show back onstage in 2020!

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