The best way to spot a toxic relationship and avoid one is, unfortunately, to be in one yourself. This is going to be more personal, but I hope that it can reach someone who needs it more than pretty pictures.
I am fresh out of a toxic relationship, and I don't want to hear people say things like, "why didn't you just leave?" or, "why did you ever date that person?" No one asks to be in a damaging friendship, relationship, or situation, ever. And frankly, I did leave that relationship, so I clearly found a way out, right?
Wrong. 75% of people are killed when they try to leave an abusive relationship or when the relationship has already ended. I can can say with clear certainty that I felt most vulnerable and attacked after I chose to break things off. No matter how strong I thought I was, I was always seeing myself how he saw me and how he treated me, and it was the worst time of my life despite how great and happy the relationship was at first.
I did exactly what you're "supposed to do." I blocked phone calls, he changed his numbers. I stopped seeing him, he came to me. I moved away, he contacted my family and friends. I had changed everything about my former identity, just to be constantly looking over my shoulder whenever I did a grocery run or got coffee with friends.
"Why did you ever date him?" They ask, incredulously, as if anyone else saw the signs and stopped me. He was charming, he held doors, he visited my family and we spent quality time having deep talks—that he would later use to pit my deepest anxieties against me. When you're this deep in a relationship with someone you're emotionally attached to, you keep going back to the notion that they'll be the same person you loved at first, but it doesn't happen. You think that since people love them, they won't believe you when you say they hurt you. You crave that little bit of happiness that comes from walking on eggshells and broken glass and each time that happiness comes less and less, all while they make you feel like they're the only person who could ever love you.
People in this situation don't need words and phrases thrown at them from people who have never experienced firsthand what it's like to be emotionally manipulated. At the end of the day, it is never over, no matter if they leave the relationship or not. The worst part is some people overlook the signs because they just don't know what they are.
I implore you, stop reminding people of the same questions they ask themselves every time they think about their past, or even escaping.
It took me a long time to leave, but I leave you with this, so those who know aren't alone and those who don't might exercise better caution in the future.
It took me even longer to love myself again.
Here's a gallery of photos showcased at Keller Art Gallery at Point Loma Nazarene University that became my first steps to confronting myself in a healthy way.