Lily Collins Says Previous Toxic Relationship Made Her Feel "Small" and "Belittled"

Getty/Marc Piasecki
Getty/Marc Piasecki

Content warning: This post contains mentions of verbal and emotional abuse and an eating disorder.

In a conversation on the "We Can Do Hard Things" podcast, Lily Collins shared about experiencing verbal and emotional abuse in a previous relationship. The "Emily in Paris" star told host Glennon Doyle that her ex-partner, whom she does not name in the episode, made her feel "very small" and said that his comments may have contributed to her eating disorder.

"He would call me 'Little Lily,'" Collins remembered. "'You should be Little Lily.' And he'd use awful words about me in terms of what I was wearing and would call me a wh*re and all these things," she said.

These belittling words led her to feeling unlike herself. Collins told Doyle that she became "quite silent and comfortable in silence and feeling like I had to make myself small to feel super safe."

Following the end of that relationship, the 33-year-old actress sought therapy. There, she learned that by making herself "as small as possible," her eating disorder may have been used as a defense mechanism to protect herself from the abuse.

She described her experience as being similar to an animal's: when prey feel under attack, they refuse to eat — perhaps in part to make themselves look less enticing to predators. "That's where they feel the safest," Collins said.

Unfortunately, the experiences Collins described are all too familiar for many people who've been in an abusive or toxic relationship. Emotional abuse in particular can involve the use of "coercion, threats, insults, and other measures, which control the victim and result in loss of self-esteem and in the victim believing they deserve the abuse," the Mayo Clinic reports.

And according to information published in the National Library of Medicine, 40 percent of women reported having experience with "expressive aggression" in a relationship, and 41 percent of women had experience dealing with "coercive control."

Fortunately, Collins is happily married now, but she admits to still feeling triggered at times, despite being in a healthy relationship. "There can be a moment that happens throughout the day where history comes back like that. It's like a millisecond or shorter than a millisecond," she said. "And your gut reacts, your heart starts beating, and all of a sudden you're taken back to that moment where they said that thing to you 10 years ago, but you're not in that situation now and that's the trigger and it's f*cking hard. It's awful."

Despite still being reminded of her previous toxic relationship, the actress said she has "never felt more comfortable" in a relationship. "Now in my life, having my wonderful and supportive husband, we do communicate and talk about so much," she said. Healing isn't linear and it can take a lot of work, but Collins's experience shows: it is possible.

If you or a loved one are experiencing domestic abuse or are at risk, the National Domestic Violence Hotline has several resources and a 24/7 help line at 1-800-799-7233.