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Katie Hood: When Does Unhealthy Love Turn Into Abuse?

Nov 22, 2019

Part 4 of the TED Radio Hour episode In & Out Of Love.

About Katie Hood's TED Talk

Unhealthy relationships don't start out unhealthy. But Katie Hood says you have to pay attention to some critical signs at that early stage, and learn the skills for healthy love.

About Katie Hood

Katie Hood is the CEO of the One Love Foundation, which works to end relationship abuse by educating young people about healthy and unhealthy relationships.

Prior to joining One Love, Hood was CEO at the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research for nine years. She's also worked as a philanthropic consultant and served as a Visiting Lecturer at Duke University's Sanford School of Public Policy. Before discovering her passion for philanthropy, she held positions at both Goldman Sachs and Bain & Company. Hood has served on the Advisory Board of the National Institutes of Neurological Disease and Stroke (NINDS) at the NIH, and as an advisor to the Institute of Medicine at the National Academies in Washington DC.

Hood received her bachelor's degree in Public Policy from Duke University, and MBA from Harvard Business School.

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GUY RAZ, HOST:

It's the TED Radio Hour from NPR. I'm Guy Raz, and on the show today, In And Out Of Love. And we just heard about falling out of unhealthy love, but what about love that's dangerous and abusive?

KATIE HOOD: Everybody knows a punch is wrong, but if somebody punched you on the first date, that would be the last date, right? That's not what happens. What happens is you start out adored, and you think, this is it. But you miss some of the signs that it's not really love. It's more about control and possession. And being whisked off your feet is not such a good thing if you're being tethered to this new person and you're being pulled away from everyone else that loves you.

RAZ: This is Katie Hood.

HOOD: And I am the CEO of the One Love Foundation.

RAZ: And Katie spends a lot of time teaching young people how to create healthy relationships and to notice the warning signs of abusive ones.

HOOD: One Love was started in 2010 to honor the memory of a young woman named Yeardley Love who was beaten to death by her ex-boyfriend that year. Her family was as in shock as anybody could be that this had happened, and they really hadn't understood that she'd been in an abusive relationship. As time passed, they realized that, had a domestic violence expert been in the room, they would have understood the signs that she was in an unhealthy and increasingly dangerous relationship.

RAZ: Katie Hood explains some of these signs from the TED stage.

(SOUNDBITE OF TED TALK)

HOOD: Maybe it's when your new boyfriend or girlfriend says, I love you, faster than you were ready for, or starts showing up everywhere, texting and calling a lot. Maybe they're impatient when you're slow to respond, even though they know you had other things going on that day. It's important to remember that it's not how our relationship starts that matters. It's how it evolves. Are you comfortable with the pace of intimacy? Do you feel like you have space and room to breathe? Are your requests respected? A second marker is isolation.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

HOOD: We talk a lot about isolation. In my opinion, this is, like, the most missed sign, and it's missed because it's coded in things like, you guys just like each other so much; you want to spend all of your time together, or, I just don't want you to be with other people 'cause I just want to be with you. I think about you all the time.

RAZ: Right.

HOOD: And some of these are normal feelings in a new relationship, but again, a lot of what we're trying to teach is, you really have to be listening to your gut and thinking about, are you comfortable with that? Do you feel pulled away from your support networks? Because, you know, when I think about characteristics of people who become abusive, I think this need for sort of control and possession and having you tethered to them as opposed to others is really at the center of it. So we're really trying to teach that the normal instinct to want to spend all your time with this new person - but pay attention to when it doesn't feel comfortable anymore.

(SOUNDBITE OF TED TALK)

HOOD: As the honeymoon period begins to fade, extreme jealousy can creep in. Conversations that used to be fun and lighthearted turn mean and embarrassing. Maybe your partner makes fun of you in a way that hurts, or maybe they tell stories and jokes for laughs at your expense. When you try to explain that your feelings have been hurt, they shut you down and accuse you of overreacting.

As tension rises, so does volatility - tearful, frustrated fights followed by emotional makeups, hateful and hurtful comments like, you're worthless; I'm not even sure why I'm with you, followed quickly by apologies and promises it will never happen again. By this point, you've been so conditioned to this relationship roller coaster that you may not realize how unhealthy, and maybe even dangerous, your relationship has become.

RAZ: I think for most of us, when we have a friend or somebody we care about who is in this kind of relationship that we can - we sort of think we can identify from the outside, our instinct is to be like, get out. Like, what are you doing? This person is so bad for you. And I think oftentimes, the person who is the - on the receiving end of much of the abuse knows that. They understand that intellectually that this is not healthy, but something prevents it from ending.

HOOD: I think it's a few things. We've educated, you know, almost 750,000 kids over the last five years through in-person workshops, and the No. 1 question is always, how do I help a friend? And the first answer is, you know, a person who's in an abusive relationship spends a lot of time listening to this other person belittle them, berate them, tell them what to do. If you mimic that person's behavior, you're not helping. So you may not think you're belittling them when you go, are you crazy? This guy is crazy, right? You're not being supportive. It comes across as sort of the same sort of dictatorial statement.

RAZ: Right.

HOOD: And I would say frequently, you're definitely not sharing how bad it really is with people on the outside. So sometimes friends miss the signs. I just - I think in general, what happens in an abusive relationship - and I frequently refer to it as a rabbit hole. You lose your footing.

RAZ: Yeah.

HOOD: You sort of feel paralyzed. I've talked to more people than I know who just feel like they can't take the next step. And so you may be telling them and offering support, but on average, it takes seven times for a person to leave an abusive relationship. It's not easy, which is why our focus on teaching the signs ahead of time so that people avoid the rabbit hole, so that they have clear sight coming in - because once you're down the rabbit hole, there's no doubt it's much harder.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

HOOD: The biggest thing in my work that I'm continually surprised by is just - we have so much stigma around this issue. I think about, like, Maslow's hierarchy of needs a lot. You know, Safety is such an important part of it.

RAZ: Yeah.

HOOD: I think the idea that someone we love could hurt us or abuse us - it's impossible for us to think about.

RAZ: It doesn't make sense. Yeah.

HOOD: And if you've survived it - no, it makes no sense. And if that's true, then it sort of threatens everything, right? I mean, everything in life feels a little unstable if that's true. And so it's easier to think it happens to someone else somewhere else than to think it could happen to us or someone we love.

And by the way, if you've survived abuse, many times, you've survived by putting it in a box, putting it on the shelf, walking away and never talking about it again because it's deeply harming. But what we're optimistic about is if this is an issue that affects so many of us - abuse - and if the level above that - unhealthy relationships - affects all of us, then it seems like there is the possibility to make some major impact and drive change.

RAZ: That's Katie Hood. She's the CEO of the One Love Foundation. You can see her full talk at ted.com. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.