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The Mirage of Love

Why do people stay in toxic relationships? Is it because of love? Is it for financial or social reasons? Are there other reasons that society does not acknowledge? Having a relationship with the person who you love is one of the best ways to overcome the hardships of life.

However, a few relationships intoxicate one's life rather than making it easier and simpler. "A healthy relationship is a safe relationship, a relationship where we can be ourselves without fear, a place where we feel comfortable and secure. A toxic relationship, on the other hand, is not a safe place. A toxic relationship is characterized by insecurity, self-centeredness, dominance, control"(Cory). It can be termed a healthy relationship when partners are comfortable with each other. It is a healthy relationship if they can be the most vulnerable with each other.

Healthy relationships rely on trust, acceptance, and understanding. However, it becomes a toxic relationship when one exploits their partner's emotions or thoughts. They deceive their partners so that they can have them under their control. In these relationships, the exploiter's needs and benefits are prioritized even if this hurts their significant other. These unhealthy relationships should end once one realizes how it negatively affects them, yet some partners choose to stay.

The Egyptian author Doaa Abd El-Rahman insights her readers with various examples of toxic relationships. Two of her Arabic romantic novels depict such relationships- I Understood My Husband at the Bus (Ektshft Zawgy Fel Otobys) (2015) and The Peacock's Heart (Kalb El Tawoos) (2021). The protagonist in I Understood My Husband at the Bus is a naive university student called Mona. She comes from a strict family. Her father is grumpy and controlling, whereas her mother portrays a submissive persona. She has two elder brothers - one of them is as firm and ill-tempered as her father. The other sibling is friendlier to her, but they barely communicate as he lives overseas. Mona falls in love with her best friend's brother, Sameh. Sameh deceives Mona into believing that he loves her whereas, he intended to have sex with her then dump her. Sameh is the only one to recognize and fulfill her emotional needs. As a result of this, she tolerates his toxicity for a short time.

In The Peacock's Heart, the plot revolves around Dareen, Khaled, and Khaled's wife along with other secondary characters. The novel exposes the impact of having a narcissist in one's life and how narcissistic individuals physically and psychologically abuse their intimate or work partners in cold  blood. Khaled, the narcissist, distorts Dareen's thoughts and feelings by playing the victim card. He also takes advantage of his wife's emotional needs and criticizes her so that he ensures her submission to him. Furthermore, in both books, the writer hints at the different reasons why partners tolerate these exploited relationships. Addressing these reasons is crucial as toxic relationships affect people negatively and, consequently, society.

In my opinion, most people believe that the reason behind the toleration of unhealthy relationships is love, finances, or fear of society. Nevertheless, there are deeper subconscious reasons such as exposure to emotional manipulation, ignorance of self-psychological needs, and the absence of standards for a healthy relationship.

One of the subconscious reasons for tolerating toxic romantic relationships is being exposed to emotional manipulation. According to Global News, Dr. Maryam Ahmed, a Toronto-based psychologist, defines emotional manipulation as a consistent act of trying to control another person's feelings and actions for one's benefit. Emotional manipulation could be carried out in different ways like gaslighting, withdrawal, and blame-shifting.

In I Understood My Husband at the Bus, Sameh shifts from one emotionally manipulating tactic to another depending on the scenario. He uses gaslighting and withdrawal to achieve intimacy. In the beginning, he gaslights her. "When you doubt your reality, it makes it easier for a manipulator to convince and persuade you to align with their vision,' Balestrieri continues.' The sole purpose of gaslighting is to separate someone from their reality and elicit doubt in their minds, or the minds of others, so that the person who is gaslighting can get away with something or retain the upper hand when it comes to the perceived control of others''(Alllen). Gaslighting is a mind game that manipulative individuals use to distort their victims' thoughts or beliefs to have control over them or to escape from their confrontation. Sameh gaslights Mona when she admits her confusion at his sister’s engagement party. She has an inner conflict between her beliefs and what Sameh tries convincing her with. He makes fun of Mona when she rejects his attempt of hugging her and tells him that they should not embrace each other or have any physical touch unless they are married.

Even though this attempt is not successful, he uses the same technique once more during an alternate occasion where she sees the unmarried hero and heroine of a movie act as intimately as Sameh keeps trying to convince her. For a moment, she thinks that since the hero marries the heroine at the end of the film and does not think differently of his beloved for hugging or kissing him, then Sameh will do the same. Sameh feels this momentary change in her thoughts and takes advantage of it by holding her hand. At first, she does not stop him, but when he tries to be more intimate with her, she refuses.

This incident results in Sameh using the withdrawal method as an immediate punishment for her. Withdrawal is holding back what one provides their partner with, whether it is ensuring a sense of security, safety, and love or acknowledging their existence so that the other partner remains under their control. After what happened at the cinema, Sameh gives Mona a cold shoulder, and it continues for a few more days despite her attempts to talk to him. Furthermore, he admits to his sister using the silent treatment approach on purpose so that Mona would, as he says, "regret not believing what I tell her and be nothing but obedient to me henceforth to prevent this from happening again" (Abd El-Rahman 91-92). None of his manipulation approaches worked for him in his relationship.

In The Peacock's Heart, Khaled manipulates Dareen by blame-shifting. As stated in WebMD about blame-shifting, "many people are highly susceptible to guilt and will even go so far as to punish themselves in response to perceived sins. Emotionally manipulative people prey on this vulnerability. They are apt to play the victim or remind you of past favors, instilling a sense of obligation or sympathy that makes them more likely to get what they want". Some manipulators utilize the shifting of guilt to victimize themselves to either gain their partner's empathy or make them feel sorry about something they did. Whenever Khaled and Dareen fight, he plays the victim card and blames her for every dispute to avoid being confronted. He acts as if he is the one who should be annoyed or frustrated because of her reactions. This leads her to end up apologizing and asking for forgiveness.

“Crying, she wasn't able to continue justifying her actions. She isn't and wouldn't be like his wife. It seems like she is saying all the wrong things, so she will stop talking and even breathing if needed. She will be his darling just like she was before all of this happened. He is the one who called her, so why would she doubt him? Why did she become like that?” (Abd El-Rahman 81). Dareen is emotionally drained as she voices her thoughts about him lying to her. Although they agreed to talk on the phone that night, Khaled does not answer any of her call attempts. When he calls back, he justifies not answering the phone by being asleep. Dareen recognizes that his voice does not sound the same as when he wakes up and confronts him. Khaled becomes upset and blames her for becoming as awful as his wife, which leads her to reprimand herself as depicted in the quote.

Victims of manipulation would not usually expect this kind of betrayal from their loved ones. That is why, even if they experience unsettling feelings on some occasions, they tolerate the relationship.

Another subliminal reason for staying in a toxic relationship might be having unacknowledged or unmet self-psychological needs. According to Ehsanfar," Glasser maintains that people have four basic psychological needs apart from survival. These are the need for love and sense of belonging, the need for power, the need for freedom, and the need for fun." These needs control human behavior; therefore, their fulfillment is crucial to act and make decisions depending on logic, not emotions. If these needs are not satisfied by one’s self or their significant other, it could lead one to accept any source of fulfillment despite how toxic this source is. Various harmful outcomes of having dissatisfied intimacy and self- management necessities are evident in I Understood My Husband at the Bus, and some of the consequences of having unmet self-assertion needs are depicted in The Peacock's Heart.

The need for belongingness is defined by doctor Mcleod as a" need for interpersonal relationships, affiliating, connectedness, and being part of a group." In I Understood My Husband at the Bus, Mona's father is nearly non-existent in her life, and her relationship with her mother is limited to taking permission from her when needed. Even her elder brother, the one who lives in the same country as her, maltreats her, doubts her actions, and keeps following her, secretly, to check if she ever misbehaves. The absence of a strong bond between Mona and her family members leads her to seek relatedness to the different individuals in her life until this need becomes fulfilled, temporarily, through her relationship with Sameh.

Another need that humans would aim to satisfy is the need to be free to control and lead their own lives depending on their own beliefs, thoughts, and previous experience. In the novel, I Understood My Husband at the Bus, Mona's life is controlled by her family; she is not allowed to make life-changing choices. This over-control leads her to tolerate her relationship with Sameh. Moreover, ignorant that she is escaping a controlling relationship to be in a similar relationship, she asks him to marry her as soon as possible.

There is also the need for power when one focuses on acquiring self-enhancement and being perceived as a confident, trustworthy, successful person. Otherwise, one could suffer from low self-esteem, which would lead them to condone toxic relationships thinking that this is what they deserve. Furthermore, low self-respect might lead one to become co-dependent. As stated in Merriam Webster dictionary, co-dependency is "a psychological condition or a relationship in which a person manifesting low self-esteem and a strong desire for approval have an unhealthy attachment to another often controlling or manipulative person." A co-dependent is a caregiver who prioritizes the benefits of their intimate partners over their own needs believing that their own needs are not vital. In addition, even though most co-dependents might not be aware of their emotional and psychological necessities, they usually choose to have a romantic relationship with someone who needs help with their life as they want to always feel needed. They provide their partners with the assistance these partners need with the hope to be rewarded with feelings like appreciation, affection, acceptance, and love. As a result, co-dependents reach emotional stability as long as their lovers' emotional state is stable.

In The Peacock's Heart, Khaled's wife is keen to gain Khaled's approval and contentment with her actions, appearance, and words. She is agitated when he criticizes how her hair is turning white. She could not see that lock of white hair even in the brightest light in her house. This leads to his sarcastic comment "aren't you as blind as a bat!!" (Abd El-Rahman 54). When he tells her that it is all a joke, she relaxes, and a wide, appreciative smile becomes plastered on her face. In conclusion, one's emotional needs make them turn a blind eye to how toxic their partner is to meet their needs.

Some individuals might also tolerate toxic partners because they do not have standards for what they want in their relationship. This absence of merits could result from having no role model of a healthy relationship to help them know how a relationship should be. This role model should be represented by the parents, for, as Stanger says, "Your parents are, more likely than not, the first people you ever interact with in your life. They set your standard for everything — ranging from what values you develop to what your interests are — especially, what your relationships with others look like (both romantically and platonically)". Parents play a significant role in helping their daughter or son identify what attributes they should look for in a relationship to ensure a healthy one. Sometimes one might be mature enough to recognize that their parent's relationship is not ideal and set their standards as the opposite of what contributes in making their parents' relationship unhealthy. However, most times individuals either tend to have a relationship similar to the one between their parents as that is the only form of relationship they know, or they, unintentionally, end up in it despite any attempts to avoid that.

For example, in I Understood My Husband at the Bus, the relationship between Mona’s parents is unhealthy; Mona’s mother is extremely passive and submissive, she would not even discuss daily matters with her husband. Mona’s naivety, in addition to the model her parents' relationship represents, makes her believe that all relationships are this way. It also makes her find it strange that it was normal for Samah's mother to say “no” to her husband's requests. Furthermore, these also resulted in her accepting Sameh's ill-treatment and even attempting to please him whenever he acts as if he is disappointed in her. That ensures how crucial it is to have a set of values for one's partner to meet.

The reason behind tolerating toxic partners might at a surface level be financial or social, but if we conduct deep analysis, many psychological reasons too would be responsible. These psychological reasons might be manipulation, unsatiated emotional needs, and lack of relationship merits. Some movies, series, drawings, and books might have negative impacts if one is a victim of these psychological issues. That is evident in the previously mentioned example of how Mona, in I Understood My Husband at the Bus, is affected when she watches the movie Shorts, Undershirt, and Cap with Sameh. However, other works of art, such as the two novels I Understood My Husband at the Bus and The Peacock's Heart, reflect these hidden reasons indirectly by exposing the thoughts, feelings, and events that a character experiences. In my opinion, that indicates that artworks can help one understand themselves better when they compare their life story to the ones presented in these works of art. In addition, they can widen society's awareness of the different types of personalities, of how to identify each of them, and of how to interact with them without being affected by their harmful traits.

In The Peacock's Heart, Dareen is freed from Khaled's claws when she realizes, after reading a book about narcissists how he has been manipulating her all the time. Artworks can also encourage individuals to determine what they should and should not accept in their intimate partner and not to renounce their standards under any condition. That would be possible if these works of art present various examples of healthy and toxic relationships.

Moreover, therapists could play a significant role in dealing with the issue of tolerating unhealthy romantic relationships. They can educate societies about human psychology, its needs, and the vitality of fulfilling them. Furthermore, psychologists should form campaigns for psychological and mental health as the one launched by the Egyptian government for physical health, 100,000,000 Health. That would promote seeking therapy to help fulfill one's emotional needs by themselves and taking relationship advice. If these solutions are applied, there would be fewer victims of toxic intimacy.

Consequently, the rate of divorce and the percentage of psychologically unstable children and adults will exponentially decay. Consequently, society will have more effective individuals to make it prosperous and powerful.

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Tags: #relationships #toxicLove #gaslighting #narcissists #psychologicalneeds #codependency

1 comment

6 months, 1 week ago by Emma

Amazing ♥️

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