Lily Collins
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – OCTOBER 15: Lily Collins attends 2nd Annual Academy Museum Gala at Academy Museum of Motion Pictures on October 15, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images)

I can count many occasions where my friends have stayed in relationships even when their partners have belittled and insulted them. Consequentially, I‘ve seen them reduced to quieter, less vivacious versions of themselves.

From an outsider looking in, it’s an easy call to make: ‘Run. Get out of there’. But for the person in it, it’s much more layered than simply walking away. I should know, I have also been in one of these toxic relationships in the past. The worst part about them is, once out and even moved on, the penetrable trauma lived can follow you about for years.

This article is about how Lily Collins has experienced the exact same thing – and it’s a good one to tell that friend who might be struggling.

The 33-year-old Emily In Paris star told Glennon Doyle, the host of the We Can Do Hard Things podcast that she frequently suffered panic attacks and severe anxiety when she was in her 20s and in a relationship with her ex-boyfriend.

“My romantic toxic relationship was a lot of verbal and emotional abuse and being made to feel very small,” Collins says, before mimicking her ex. “‘You should be Little Lily.’ He’d use awful words about me in terms of what I was wearing and would call me a whore.”

“I leaned into what it was that he wanted me to be like. Wanted me to say or not say. Wear, not wear. Do, not do. There was a lot of control. A lot of emotional abuse.”

“There were awful words and then there were belittling words,” Collins continues. “I became quite silent and comfortable in silence and feeling like I had to make myself small to feel super safe.”

What Collins didn’t realise at the time was that her severe anxiety was also causing her body to respond physically.

“My skin was breaking out,” she recalls to Doyle. “I was having these panic attacks and kidney infections … but I didn’t, at that time of my life, put two and two together. As your body is telling you, ‘This is not something you’re supposed to be in.’”

It was only when the relationship ended and Collins went into therapy that she began to repair, this action giving the actress the best possible chance at feeling OK.


Lily Collins
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – OCTOBER 15: Lily Collins, Charlie McDowell arrives at the 2nd Annual Academy Museum Gala at Academy Museum of Motion Pictures on October 15, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Steve Granitz/FilmMagic)
Lily Collins
NEW YORK, NEW YORK – DECEMBER 12: Lily Collins (L) and Charlie McDowell are seen in SoHo on December 12, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Gotham/GC Images)

Now happily married to filmmaker Charlie McDowell (the beautiful couple tied the knot in 2021), Collins did admit to Doyle that the trauma of the past “comes back” every now and then. McDowell is right with her when it does.

“That panic is what I can still get triggered by,” she says. “Even if I’m in the most 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, 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–king hard. It’s awful.”

“When I’m in one of those moments, it is so clear to Charlie, who can read me like a book, and he calls it out in a moment,” said Collins. “This is what healthy … communication can feel like. When someone can lovingly … help you … it may feel uncomfortable but it’s for the best.”


Lily Collins
Credit: Instagram / @lilycollins
Lily Collins
Credit: Instagram / @lilycollins


Collins went on to reference something she learnt in therapy about an aspect of evolution relevant to her response to the abuse at the time.

“When prey felt threatened they made themselves as small as possible, possibly by not eating, by making themselves look as least juicy and enticing as possible and that’s where they felt the safest,” Collins says, who has opened up in the past about her struggles with an eating disorder while working on 2017 film To The Bone.

Take a listen to the episode here. For anyone who follows Doyle on Instagram, you will know she’s an excellent communicator of feelings and with Collins being super open, it’s a great chat. A great chat about how the actress transitioned from the smallest, quietest version of herself to her biggest and brightest self. It also answers the question: Is it possible to avoid bringing old triggers and wounds into new relationships?

If this article is triggering to you in anyway, help is available. Counsellors from The National Domestic Family And Sexual Violence Counselling Service are free to talk 24/7, even if, like Lily, it is emotional and verbal abuse. Call 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732).