Love Better

How Do You Avoid Going from Relationship Victim to Villain?

Why do hurt people hurt people- and how do we stop it? 
​Effy, an idol for relationship villains.
Effy, an idol for relationship villains. Credit: Skins E4

Love, romance, workplace: it’s exceptionally common for people who have been on the receiving end of bad treatment to emotionally shut down and become the perpetrator. 

Mirroring the toxicity you’ve been subject to in your past may feel empowering because it feels like you’re in control. But venomous behaviour towards a partner only ends in guilt and self-destructive behaviour. 

Whether it’s withholding a text back, vengefully throwing down every Friday night, or pathologically switching your snapmaps on and off, there are many ways people project their hurt onto new relationships. It’s all over social media, in videos captioned “How to be toxic” and “How to live in their head rent free”, begging you to implement a standardised 6-10 hour wait time before replying to a text. 

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While you can trick yourself into thinking these procedures are crafty, the emotional warfare you're subjecting your partner to can’t be worth it.

VICE spoke to two 18-year-olds about their first year in the casual sex scene of their new city and how they’ve been navigating the highs and lows of hook-up culture. 

Ella, an art student from Wellington, told VICE, “The rush I feel from scheming against the people I regularly sleep with feels good and even funny… but it’s only momentary. When one of them actually gets too drunk and confesses their issue with me my conscience comes back”. 

“I was cheated on a couple times in highschool and treated particularly badly by a spaghetti stick of a boy. I think matching a similar energy in my new city has made me feel in control, somehow, but I guess it’s just a bad case of main character syndrome.”

Transitioning from being cheated-on or hurt to becoming a full-blown emotionally unavailable man-eater doesn't benefit anyone in the end – so it is more important than ever to keep yourself accountable after heartbreak.

Casual sex is inherently part of life, but you don’t need to use up extra energy on calculated strikes towards the people you sleep with. Messing around with someone at a party and then making them cry a week later when you ignore them in a lecture doesn't need to be your routine. 

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Jacob, a barista from Wellington, told VICE he gave up on “any guy that has a dismissive attachment style.”

“It’s just immature and lowkey cringe,” he said. “It's not that deep. Just communicate like an adult”. 

And communicating in a clear way is hard. Hook-up culture predicates itself on hitting and dipping, but this isn’t how it needs to be. There's nothing wrong with a one-and-done as long as the one-and-doneness is communicated healthily and clearly, as well as with enthusiastic consent.

It's easy to sacrifice ethics for revenge. If you find yourself falling down the hole of toxicity, take a step back and reflect on what your past might have to do with it. 

The hurt we experience from being screwed over in our formative years sticks with us, but doesn’t need to manifest once we leave home. Processing that hurt may come out in the local Irish pub after too many student discount jugs and that’s okay. But don’t take it out on your friend-with-benefits.

Try writing down how your past relationships made you feel and what they did to conjure those emotions up. Try outlining how you feel about a sexual partner even if it’s just casual. Most importantly, open up to your friends – and even partners – about the behavioural patterns you're working on and how they correlate to how you’ve been treated. 

Take control of your relationships not with the intention of vengeance but with the intention of compassion. Dealing with your own shit matters, but there's ways to let it all out without being the villain in someone else's story.

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Own the Feels is brought to you by #LoveBetter, a campaign funded by the Ministry for Social Development.

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Lee Bradley is a photography student and freelance creative based in Pōneke.