Let’s Talk Bookish: Toxic Relationships in Literature

Let’s Talk Bookish is a weekly meme hosted by Rukky @ Eternity Books and Dani @ Literary Lion. This week’s topic was suggested by Mikaela @ Mikaela Reads and is Tackling Toxic Relationships in Literature.

When it comes to fiction how should toxic relationships be handled? Is it okay to portray toxic relationships?

This is a really complex topic and I’m really interested to see what others opinions are for this subject. Personally, I think it’s okay to portray toxic relationships in literature. Books mimic real life and unfortunately there’s probably not a single person who hasn’t experienced a toxic relationship themselves. Comfort can be found in characters and plots that a reader can relate to and sometimes all we really need is to know we’re not alone in things we’ve dealt with. I know many people who choose to read their traumatic experiences in fiction as a coping mechanism and a way to heal. I also think portraying them could be helpful for readers who have been gaslighted so much that they don’t realize something they’re experiencing is wrong until they see it happening to someone else. It’s incredibly common for us to accept toxic behavior from people ourselves but when we see the same thing happen to our friend or loved one, we immediately seek to protect them and stop it from happening.

How can we avoid glorifying Teacher x Student or other toxic dynamics, and is it important to try to avoid that?

I definitely think that toxic dynamics should not be glorified in their portrayal. Showing that these relationships are not a good thing is important. Consequences should be shown. Repercussions should be discussed. The ugly sides should not be downplayed for the sake of the storyline. If possible, the surviving character should show what it takes to overcome what’s happened to them and heal.

How do you feel about abusive relationships in fiction? What about in adult dark romance?

I personally don’t really read books that contain abusive relationships nor do I read adult dark romances but I don’t necessarily think either should be censored. Among the other points I already mentioned above, being able to show these kinds of relationships in fiction helps to open more discussion and bring more awareness to their real-life counterparts. This is especially true nowadays when reviewers and social media are very quick to note triggers and write content warnings. I also think that being able to read books like this can also help those who have never experienced these kinds of relationships to be able to empathize better with those who have without pushing the survivors to speak of things that hurt them. Too often people expect those who have suffered to educate them instead of seeking the education themselves from trustworthy sources.


How do you feel about potentially triggering content being included in books? Do you think books should come with content warnings? Let me know down below and happy reading!

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14 thoughts on “Let’s Talk Bookish: Toxic Relationships in Literature

  1. “The ugly sides should not be downplayed for the sake of the storyline.” This. I think it’s so important when writing stories that focus on toxic relationships and abuse that you show how much damage it can cause even long after the relationship has ended, and that you show the long journey to healing.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. These are such good answers! I love your point about how portraying toxic relationships can help readers heal or recognize the fact that they’ve been gaslighted. And how you said that people who haven’t experienced these relationships can learn to empathize by reading about them. Great post! 💞

    Liked by 1 person

  3. i love this post so much! i think it’s so important to include content warnings so that no one gets harmed. i don’t like toxic relationships at all, and i 100% agree with you that toxic relationships shouldn’t be glorified, and we should see the consequences! love this post 💓💓

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Ahaana! I’ve seen quite a few bloggers start to include a link to content warnings for the books they review and I think it’s a great step in the right direction and something I’m going to try to include in mine too from now on. I think this was such an important topic to speak about and I’m so happy to read everyone’s different thoughts about it. 💕

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I completely agree with you that toxic relationships should be portrayed in books because, like you mentioned, they’re part of real life and seeing them represented can both serve as comfort for people who have experienced being in one and it’s also a way for others to educate themselves. Toxic relationships shouldn’t be glorified, but a lot of times, you see that not being in case like in books such as After :/
    Great discussion post!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Susana! I really think it’s important to consider those who use these books for comfort when speaking on the topic. I’ve had way too many friends shamed because they use it as a coping mechanism which really breaks my heart because they already have had enough bad things dealt to them in life, shaming them for it is even worse. 😔 Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on it as well! I’ve really loved reading everyone’s posts and comments on this. 💕

      Liked by 1 person

  5. A particular point I don’t like is sometimes how quickly the abused gets better for the sake of the timeline. At least if some time has passed the author should note that because it does add another layer of pressure to “getting better”.

    I think when it comes to toxic relationships there is a difference between talking about it and endorsing it. Under any circumstances toxic relationships and abuse should not be endorsed no matter what guise it hides under.

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