Reese Witherspoon on finding the strength to escape her abusive partner

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Kayleigh Dray

Reese Witherspoon has revealed that leaving her abusive partner was the most difficult thing she’s ever had to do in her life.

There’s a growing awareness around the signs of coercive control. Just last year, Fearne Cotton penned a powerful open letter about an emotionally abusive ex-partner – and recalled an incident where he demanded that she never get tattoos without his permission.

“He wasn’t happy, and I couldn’t understand it because it was my body. Women have come way too far in the world for that sort of submission,” she wrote, before going on to reveal that she immediately rushed out to get a “massive [tattoo] inked on my back” as a form of rebellion.

And now, speaking in a no-holds-barred interview, Reese Witherspoon has opened up about her own experiences with an abusive partner, admitting that the toxic relationship ate away at her self-esteem.

“A line got drawn in the sand, and it got crossed, and my brain just switched,” she explains to O Magazine.

“I knew it was going to be very difficult but I just couldn’t go any further. But it was profound and I was young.”

Witherspoon added that the relationship “changed” her on a “cellular level”, saying: “I could never be the person I am today. It changed who I was on a cellular level, the fact that I stood up for myself.

“None of those leaving those situations … it’s wrought with self-doubt, particularly if someone damages, particularly if someone damages your self-esteem.”

Witherspoon – who is now happily married to Jim Toth – finished by saying: “People say to me that knew me then, ‘You’re a completely different person.’

“I didn’t have self-esteem. I’m a different person now and it’s part of why I can stand up and say, ‘’yes, I’m ambitious’ – because someone tried to take that from me before.”

It can be difficult for many people trapped in toxic and abusive relationships to spot the warning signs.

These can include (but are not limited to) the following:

  • Your partner constantly criticises, humiliates or belittles you
  • Your partner checks up on you or follows you
  • Your partner tries to keep you from seeing your friends or family
  • Your partner has prevented you or made it hard for you to continue studying or going to work
  • Your partner unjustly accuses you of flirting or having affairs with others
  • Your partner has forced you to do something that you really did not want to do
  • Your partner has deliberately destroyed any of your possessions
  • You have changed your behaviour because you are afraid of what your partner might do or say to you
  • Your partner controls your finances
  • Your partner talks down to you
  • Your partner has strong opinions on what you should wear and your appearance
  • Your partner has tried to prevent you from leaving your house
  • Your partner has forced you or harassed you into performing a sexual act
  • Your partner has threatened to reveal or publish private information
  • Your partner threatens to hurt him or herself if you leave them
  • Your partner witholds medication from you
  • Your partner makes you feel guilty all the time
  • Your partner blames you for their bad moods and outbursts
  • You are afraid of your partner

If you are worried that you might be the victim of emotional abuse, it’s quite likely that you are. If these signs of an abusive relationship sound all too familiar to you, then get out of that situation as soon as possible.

Visit or call 0808-2000 247 for more information about coercive control, domestic abuse, and the help available for those affected.

Images: Rex Features


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Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is editor of, where she chases after rogue apostrophes and specialises in films, comic books, feminism and television. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends. 

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