Toxic Relationships: A Health Hazard

by Sherrie Bourg Carter, Psy.D.

Original Link

Health consciousness is becoming an increasingly important part of many people’s lives. More than ever before, we, as a society, are paying attention to nutrition labels, fitness, organic alternatives, safe and toxin-free environments, etc.

Yet, many health conscious people don’t realize that the quality of their relationships can be just as toxic to their health as fast food or a toxic environment. In fact, unhealthy relationships can turn into exactly that–a toxic internal environment that can lead to stressdepression, anxiety, and even medical problems. For example, in a long term study that followed more than 10,000 subjects for an average of 12.2 years, researchers discovered that subjects in negative relationships were at a greater risk for developing heart problems, including a fatal cardiac event, than their counterparts whose close relationships were not negative. 

Toxic relationships can take many forms: toxic partners, toxic friendships, toxic parent/child relationships, toxic coworkers (see Coworkers from Hell.) But how do you know if you’re in a toxic relationship? After all, no relationship is blissful and conflict-free all the time.


Toxic Relationship Indicators: The answers to these questions can help you determine if your relationship is healthy or toxic.

1) When you’re with [the person], do you usually feel content, even energized? Or do you often feel unfulfilled and drained?

2) After you spend time with him/her, do you usually feel better or worse about yourself?

3) Do you feel physically and/or emotionally safe with this person, or do you feel threatened or in danger?

4) Is there a fairly equal “give and take” in the relationship? Or do you feel like you’re always giving and he/she is always taking?

5) Is the relationship characterized by feelings of security and contentment, or drama and angst?

6) Do you feel like he/she is happy with who you are? Or do you feel like you have to change to make him/her happy?

Now compare your answers to the following characteristics of healthy versus toxic relationships.

Healthy relationships are characterized by compassion, security, safety, freedom of thinking, sharing, listening, mutual love/caring, healthy debate/disagreements, and respectfulness, especially when there are differences in opinions.

Toxic relationships are characterized by insecurity, abuse of power and control, demandingness, selfishness, insecurity, self-centeredness, criticism, negativity, dishonesty, distrust, demeaning comments/attitudes, and/or jealousy.

In short, healthy relationships tend to leave you feeling happy and energized whereas toxic relationships tend to leave you feeling depressed and depleted.

Changing Toxic Relationships

The first step to changing a toxic relationship is to recognize you’re in one. Many people in unhealthy relationships are in denial, even when friends or family members are seeing the danger signs and saying so.

The next step, equally as important, is to believe that you deserve to be treated with respect, love, and compassion. There are many reasons why people stay in unhealthy relationships, but one common reason is underlying low self-esteem that makes some people believe that they don’t deserve anything better. This kind of change in thinking, however, may not come easily and may require professional support from an objective third party, such as a counselor or a life coach.

Once you come to believe that you deserve to be treated differently, the next step is likely to come easier–addressing the toxic behavior when it occurs. When doing this, use “I” statements as much as possible to reduce the likelihood of a defensive reaction. For example, you may want to say something like, “I feel like you find fault in almost everything I do and it makes me feel [fill in the blank]. I (love, respect, care about, etc.) you, and I’d appreciate it if you would stop [fill in the blank].” However, you should only do this if it is safe. (If you are in a physically abusive relationship, this kind of confrontation may not be safe. Before doing anything that risks your safety, you should contact a professional with experience dealing with domestic violence or contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline for more information.)

Finally, if nothing you do or say changes the toxic behavior, you should consider separating yourself or at least distancing yourself from the source of the toxicity. For partners, this may mean separation (temporary or permanent). For parents and children, this may mean having less contact. For coworkers, this may mean distancing yourself as much as possible. But doing nothing will only expose you to the unhealthy physical and psychological effects of stress and ongoing conflict.

Positive relationships are an important part of the formula for a healthy, well-balanced life. So make sure as you’re planning your health-conscious lifestyle to not leave out this important ingredient.

This entry was posted in covert abuse, emotional abuse, marriage, passive aggressive, passive aggressive behavior, relationships and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Toxic Relationships: A Health Hazard

  1. mixedemotions says:

    This is so so very true. I can’t even count how many times I’ve been physically ill because of my relationship with my PA. I remember in the beginning, I would throw up everytime we had a fight, I felt so ashamed of myself for not being able to handle it, I don’t throw up anymore but I have severe anxiety issues which affects my stomach everytime I get stressed… it sucks. And I go through little bouts of depression as well and I beat myself up quite a lot. Oh yeah, totally agree with the whole article. Thanks for posting it.

  2. Teresa says:

    I know this. And it bothers me daily how much this relationship is draining me so emotionally and now physically. I don’t sleep well at all….I just feel so tired all the time. I make plans with friends, then cancel them….probably a little depressed also. I’m just so thankful for my kids….especially my older boys and DIL…they are there for me, they are seeing their dad in his PA mode now more than ever. And that’s a relief for me, because it confirms to me that I am NOT crazy!

  3. OneDayAtaTime says:

    I believe your getting it! When I really learned how to do this…. it steered something in me every single time! The more you do what you wrote the more you become acquainted with your feelings, what you want and realized “when they don’t take you serious, take serious the time you put into asking, organizing the way you say it to them, it is time to get serious and this is where I am with this and the only reason I am writing this is to affirm what you said does work with my experience. I also want to say it takes time because at first your asking basically for a change. Next you will probable beg because basically you will think “hello, won’t this be easier.” Can’t we have a “win’ “win” situation here? I will give you whatever you want if you could please do this… even trade? (And after you’ll probable pray to whoever you pray to a lot) Then you soon see…. hopefully not! But with me….. I didn’t get that lucky with my God to cast something anything in my husband head that would be easier, the win, win thing that I was hoping for.. So yes after 30x of asking, begging some would think (my friends) and so much time invested in figuring out away that was attractive enough for him to see my point, take what I was feeling serious and to know what I wanted for myself was serious. It’s been and up hill battle to say the least. Here is me:

    The first time: The first time when I realized about a month ago when I went to my husband and mentioned that I feel when I come to you and ask you to stop using the divorce word to me I want you to know that scares me, makes me feel insecure and leaves me disturbed, nervous and screwed up about our relationship. I feel when you do that you do not have respect for our marriage the relationship we have and I would prefer you not to do that, Because I want you to know it hurts me to much and when I am hurt I can not function, give my attention to my children, my grandchild, and you because I am thinking about how I can make things better with you and get what I want too because having you be here for me like I am for you is extremely important to me too. I feel like I am tired of your tactics of ignoring me whenever you feel I have brought up the fact that I know you ignore me and I know you do that “on purpose too”
    I feel I do not want you to
    •Resort to denial and distortion of facts (Leaving things out when I should be told then denying you didn’t or denying that you said something when I know you didn’t tell me. I Know you do this to me either because you want to punish me, because you didn’t like a subject of something. Regardless what you do to me….. I know I either let you get by with it or I sense it but either way I feel I let you do this to me because I want our relationship to work, I feel we do have love for one another but I feel and sense when you are doing this and I am letting you know that I know. I feel you can keep on doing this if you want to be I know and sense when you are and I do not want this for myself and I hope and pray you clearly are understanding this because I am very serious. Do you understand? He said yes, wow right. I feel there is going to be some accountability and I feel I will be the judge of how I feel you are treating me instead of you telling me. I feel it is time that I am the judge of if I am being controlled or abused. emotionally-and-verbally-abusive-passive-aggressive-men-2
    •Refuse to accept or even recognize their own feelings, actions or responsibilities in a relationship. Hun, I love you but I feel I am owning what I have done in the relationship but I feel you need to start owning yours. I feel your a good guy but at times I know your not being a good guy to me and I have to say I feel that our relationship is on the rocks and it is totally up to you where our relationship of 23 years goes, I already told you I love you but I am tired, very tired of tactics that are used to control me rather than help me. I know. I feel I know ecatly what you are doing, I even know you with-hold-sex-from me and it doesn’t matter how damn cute I am… I am not going to get it.
    •Are negativistic. Hun, I know.
    •Blame others for anything wrong in their lives, including consequences of their own actions and decisions. Hun, I know.
    •Complain of not being appreciated, understood or valued. Hun, I know and I feel I show you how much I love you and I feel I want better so hun, it’s like the movie “Grease” I feel you better shape up.
    •Exaggerate their misfortunes. Baby, I love you but I feel I know this too. Hun, I feel I don’t want this either. Like “Grease” I feel you better shape up.
    •Do not consider, take in account or care about other people’s feelings even though they profess to. Hun, I feel I know you have trouble with this, I feel we can work on this. I feel if I am more lovable, understanding and care. I feel you can too and if you don’t your telling me you don’t care from your actions.

    The first time: The first time for him, he listened, had excesses and blamed the car to the kids to I expect to much to you are so miserable, never happy with anything. Lets see he said I complain to much, nitpick, think of things to complain about and point every single little thing I do!!! He totally hated the fact that I…….. did a out right bust on him and I feel it was empowering to me. I started feeling like I cared about myself. I DID. Around the house, this man has been helpful I have to say. He still get angry, very angry at times when I remind him that I feel the XXXXXXXXXXXXX things he has done, is thinking about doing is done. I care about myself!

    I feel you have to play checkers at this, I feel I picked a right time to talk to him so I guess my God was with me. It wasn’t pretty but it wasn’t ugly either. At the end I asked him to read this to me and he did, he read everything. Then we was silent for awhile, we was I bet 30 seconds but it felt like 30 minutes I swear. He said babe I do love you, I said yea I love you but I know. And we smiled at one another. Very weird that we did but we did. It was like a relief I feel. I don’t know but maybe.

    So I can say yes in a month after a out right bust he is doing a little better, I feel for some at the right time it is a good thing, I am happier.


  4. frogstale says:

    Hi there. It never ceases to amaze me how similar some of our stories are. Passive aggressive, personality disorder, abuse, sex addiction – all stories of my life. Unfortunately all stories of other people’s lives too. Sometimes I wonder if we were all married to the same man – the things they do are so similar. It makes me know over and over again that I am not imagining it. It is true, he is sick and I shouldn’t have been, nor continue to be treated this way. Blogging gives us a chance to get it out and heal and learn and support each other. Glad to have found you. Will follow your blog.

    Be thankful that you didn’t have kids with him (I don’t think you did, but I have only had a quick look around your blog). I was with mine for 21 years and have two children with him. He continues to torture and abuse me through the kids.


    • Hi! Yes, it is chilling to think that so many women go through what we experience or even parts of what we experience. I actually feel I have it “mild” compared to what I hear and read from others. It’s all so sad and there is so much pain.
      Actually, I have two daughters with him. They don’t have anything at all to do with him. Of course, he really hasn’t had much to do with them either. I admire that they have been able to set up boundaries that I haven’t been able to yet. My daughters are both in college though one still lives at home.

      • frogstale says:

        Sorry, didn’t get the chance to check it out thoroughly. Wish I had more time. Your daughters are older, that must be a relief. I wait for the day that I no longer legally have to be in contact with him. Mine are still teenagers, 13 and 16. My ex wants to play ‘dad of the year’ so appears really interested in them and their lives, but I know that it is just so he can feel good about himself. It isn’t really love or concern. If it was he wouldn’t use them as pawns to get at me. I believe my ex has a personality disorder which is another thing to throw in the mix. Although, I also think that most abusive, passive aggressive men probably have personality disorders – it explains a lot.

        I will follow your blog with interest.


  5. ina says:

    Yes, toxic relationships affect our health. I had breast cancer after being so depressed, I wanted to die. I could not leave because of our young children and I did not know anything about passive aggressive behavior. All I knew was there was something very wrong with my marriage, a mama’s boy and a passive aggressive. It was only when he threatened to punch me on the face that I searched for answers to his bad behaviors and his constantly “agitated” “angry” disposition. It was a different “spirit”, left me so drained and so unhappy. I was blaming myself. I used to be confident now I realized I was being systematically crushed emotionally and psychologically and
    physical abuse is the last straw. I drew the line. “I did not break it, I could not fix it.” I take care of myself.

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