Lily Collins Opens Up About 'Toxic' Past Relationship That Made Her 'Feel Very Small'

"He would call me 'Little Lily' ... he'd use awful words about me in terms of what I was wearing and would call me a w---- and all these things," the Emily in Paris star shared of her ex

US-British actress Lily Collins arrives for the 2nd Annual Academy Museum Gala at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles, October 15, 2022.
Photo: ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty

Lily Collins is looking back on a "toxic" relationship from her past.

On Wednesday's episode of the We Can Do Hard Things podcast, the Emily in Paris star, 33, recalled the abuse she endured from an ex-boyfriend in her "early 20s."

"For me, my romantic toxic relationship was verbal and emotional abuse and being made to feel very small," she told co-hosts Glennon Doyle, Amanda Doyle, and Abby Wambach.

The actress continued, "He would call me 'Little Lily.' 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 whore and all these things."

PARIS, FRANCE - DECEMBER 06: Lily Collins attends the "Emily In Paris" by Netflix - Season 3 World Premiere at Theatre Des Champs Elysees on December 06, 2022 in Paris, France. (Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)
Pascal Le Segretain/Getty

She added that her ex's "belittling words" made her become "quite silent and comfortable in silence and feeling like I had to make myself small to feel super safe."

The relationship led Collins — who previously opened up about overcoming eating disorders — to therapy, where she learned about how prey refused to eat when they felt under attack.

"When prey felt threatened, they made themselves as small as possible," she shared. "Possibly by not eating by making themselves look as least juicy and enticing as possible and that's where they felt the safest."

Collins said that her ex's actions would leave with her feelings of "panic" and "anxiety."

The To the Bone star also revealed that she can still be triggered today, despite now having a healthy marriage with husband Charlie McDowell.

"The situations are completely different 10 years ago to now… That panic is what I can still get triggered by," she explained. "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," she added. "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---ing hard. It's awful."

WEST HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - MARCH 11: (L-R) Charlie McDowell and Lily Collins attend the "Windfall" LA Special Screening on March 11, 2022 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Charley Gallay/Getty Images for Netflix)
Charley Gallay/Getty

Collins revealed she is more open with McDowell than her past relationships, sharing, "I've never had someone other than Charlie witness me in that state probably because I've never felt comfortable enough to be in that state knowing that person is going to leave."

She added, "Now in my life, having my wonderful and supportive husband, we do communicate and talk about so much."

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In October, Collins opened up about her marriage to McDowell, calling the filmmaker her "best friend."

"We can kind of conquer anything," she told E! News. "We've been through so many changes globally, personally, and to be able to have a partner next to you that makes you laugh in times when you need it the most and helps you emotionally get through things, like moving to a foreign country for four months."

"I just feel so grateful that I have someone next to me to be able to accomplish that and your best friend with you all the time," she added.

If you are experiencing domestic violence, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233, or go to All calls are toll-free and confidential. The hotline is available 24/7 in more than 170 languages.

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