As these songs show, more than a struggle with someone else, leaving a toxic love is a struggle with yourself.
From an outside perspective, toxic relationships don't make any sense. Why would anyone stay with someone who lessens, abuses, and makes them suffer? Well, it's not that simple: most of the time, our feelings aren't logical. When we’re in love, our brain releases hormones such as dopamine (the hormone of pleasure) and serotonin (the “mood stabilizer” par excellence), so being in a toxic relationship is like being addicted to a drug: you know the “side effects” can destroy you, but you remain dependent because of the few benefits. There are also other personal factors that can determine whether someone stays in a toxic relationship or not. For instance, some of the thoughts that can make someone stay are that they won’t find anyone better, that they can work things out, that they can “change” them. Or sometimes it's just the fear of being alone.
That’s what makes toxic relationships so difficult to walk away from. More than a struggle with someone else, it's a struggle with yourself, as well as your beliefs, feelings, and even fears. Because when one person is about to leave the relationship, the toxic person might become even worse in an attempt to keep their partner by their side. This is when you need to gather the strength to cross that line between the “comfort zone”– if we may call it that– and a new life.
Many artists, no matter what genre, have described the many sides of this struggle, as well as the main fear behind the addiction: is it possible to live without that person?
“Love On the Brain,” Rihanna
Oh, and baby I'm fist fighting with fire
Just to get close to you
Can we burn something, babe?
And I run for miles just to get a taste
Must be love on the brain
That's got me feeling this way (feeling this way)
It beats me black and blue but it fucks me so good
And I can't get enough
Must be love on the brain yeah
And it keeps cursing my name (cursing my name)
No matter what I do, I'm no good without you
And I can't get enough
Must be love on the brain
In this song, RiRi takes a look at the roots of toxic love, tracing addiction to them. The soulful tone and melody of the song goes hand in hand with the realization of toxic love. It messes up with your life, your integrity, your emotions, and yet, how can you struggle against it when your brain, the one that practically controls your every action, is addicted to suffering?
“Back to Black,” Amy Winehouse
He left no time to regret
Kept his dick wet
With his same old safe bet
Me and my head high
And my tears dry
Get on without my guy
You went back to what you knew
So far removed from all that we went through
And I tread a troubled track
My odds are stacked
I'll go back to black
We only said goodbye with words
I died a hundred times
You go back to her
And I go back to
I go back to us
Of course, we can't forget Amy Winehouse, who explored the many faces of love in her songs, including the addiction to a smothering relationship. In “Back to Black,” Amy talks about the inequality in a toxic relationship. While the other person doesn’t really care about you, your fixation on them raises your hopes that the relationship will work. You end up becoming a weaker and smaller version of yourself, the one they can take for granted.
“I Miss the Misery,” Halestorm
I miss the bad things,
The way you hate me,
I miss the screaming,
The way that you blame me!
Miss the phone calls,
When it's your fault,
I miss the late nights,
Don't miss you at all!
I like the kick in the face,
And the things you do to me!
I love the way that it hurts!
I don't miss you, I miss the misery!
This song by Halestorm explores another variation of toxic love: masochism. We’re not talking about masochism as a philia, but rather the need to suffer in your relationships because you believe fighting is another way of communicating or literally fighting for the love of the other person. In this sense, the addiction is not to the partner but to the suffering, the fights, and even the abuse, because think it makes the relationship seem even more passionate.
“Bleeding Love,” Leona Lewis
Trying hard not to hear, but they talk so loud
Their piercing sounds fill my ears, try to fill me with doubt
Yet I know that their goal is to keep me from falling
But nothing's greater than the risk that comes with your embrace
And in this world of loneliness, I see your face
Yet everyone around me thinks that I'm going crazy
But I don't care what they say, I'm in love with you
They try to pull me away, but they don't know the truth
My heart's crippled by the vein that I keep on closing
You cut me open and I
Keep, keep bleeding love
This song by Leona Lewis deals with another issue in toxic loves that is not talked about that often: other people. As I mentioned previously, from an outside perspective it’s easy to criticize the person in an abusive relationship or simply tell them to end it because you see problems that they might not be seeing. If they do see the problems, you point out how they’re dealing with them in an unhealthy way. In this last case, no matter what other people say and how a toxic love messes up their life, the addiction is so strong, that they’d rather suffer only to get that small dose of affection they call love.
“Please Don’t Leave Me,” Pink
I don't know if I can yell any louder
How many time I've kicked you outta here?
Or said something insulting?
I can be so mean when I wanna be
I am capable of really anything
I can cut you into pieces
When my heart is broken
Please don't leave me
Please don't leave me
I'm always saying how I don't need you
But it's always gonna come right back to this
Please, don't leave me
This song by Pink shows another side of the toxic love: when you’re the one ruining the relationship. In this song, she apparently blames the other person for making her act in a toxic way. When you have a toxic attitude, you feel a need to keep your partner close. In fact, many times, the abusive person is just afraid that their partner will leave them, so they’ll do anything they can to keep them close, even if it’s hurting them.
“S.O.S. (Anything but Love),” Apocalyptica ft. Cristina Scabbia
Bound to your side and trapped in silence
Just a possession
Is the sex or only violence
That feeds your obsession?
You send me to a broken state
Where I can take the pain
Just long enough
That I am numb
That I just disappear
So go on and fight me
Go on and scare me to death
Tell me I asked for it
Tell me I'll never forget
You could give me anything but love
Anything but love
This song by Finnish band Apocalyptica is about another important reason that stops people from leaving abusive relationships: fear. This song shows how you know the relationship is dangerous, but you're so hurt and so broken from the abuse, that you can't leave, to the point that you can’t think of a life without that person. This is rock bottom, but at the same time, it's also the time to make a change, gather the strength to face your abuser, and leave.
Music has expressed how difficult this kind of relationship is through many heartbreaking songs. However, as many of these songs imply, part of the real change comes from realizing you're in a toxic relationship. Once that happens, all you need is to do is gather the courage and be brave enough to continue a life free from that addiction. It might be really scary at first, but things will be so much better in the end.
Here are other songs about the many faces of love you can check out:
Cover image by Jesse Herzog