5 ways a toxic relationship damages your mental health

toxic relationship

I watched my best friend cry. She had finally realised that she needed to let him go, how unhealthy being in a toxic relationship was. 18 months later, I was in her same position. I always associated the term ‘toxic relationship’ with verbal or physical abuse, never thinking it could just be an emotionally damaging relationship.

Many of us have had the unsettling experience of watching someone we care about stay in an obviously unhealthy relationship. It is even harder sometimes to see when we ourselves are in a toxic relationship. It’s not always easy to remember who we are and what we deserve. We can start to lose ourselves and the importance of making happiness a priority.

Our society is more health conscious than ever before, and we are having conversations about mental illness triggers on a daily basis. However, many don’t realise the impact a toxic relationship can have on mental health. A toxic environment in fact can lead to anxiety, stress, depression and overall health problems.

One of the most critical choices a person can make is with whom to be in a relationship; the second most critical is with whom not to be in a relationship.

If you are asking yourself if you are in a toxic relationship, consider the following:

Toxic relationships are characterised by insecurity, control, abuse of power, disrespect, criticism, dishonesty, negativity, demeaning comments, selfishness and jealously. The symptoms are not only subject to a romantic relationship either. You might find yourself feeling the above from a parent, friend, colleague or relative. I break down exactly how to identify a toxic relationship and explain how it is impacting your mental wellbeing.

It destroys your confidence

If a toxic relationship is questioning your self-worth, it can take years to repair. Never settle for feeling as though you are worthless. If you are being blamed for someone else’s actions or decisions, you will eventually start believing them. You need to remove yourself from a relationship making you feel like this. It can have a snowball effect and will soon have an impact on your education/work and social life.

Distorted view of respect

Mutual respect is a necessity for a healthy relationship. Disrespect doesn’t always appear in the form of harsh words, it could be something as simple as your partner ignoring you and/or cancelling arrangements at the last minute. Relationships don’t start as toxic, they morph into it. If you stay in a relationship full of disrespect then soon enough, you will start allowing other people to disrespect you too.

You are responsible for someone who should care for themselves 

I put my hand up, this was me. If your relationship has you foregoing self-care to take care of an adult who should be independent, you’re in trouble. It can happen slowly or suddenly. As women, we tend to want to help everyone we can and believe that we can change someone, help them reach a better version of themselves. You need to learn how much responsibility to adopt though. I didn’t have time to care for myself, my career or my overall wellbeing because I was being drained by all the extra emotional responsibilities.

Excessive stress  

Stress is our body’s response to pressures from a situation or life event. Our society values stress management. Yet a lot of us can’t see when a relationship has taken toll of our stress levels. Stress can have a physical effect, for instance weight gain, obesity and other dangerous symptoms. You need to measure how stressed you are on a daily basis.


Stress can disrupt your immune system, so if you are the ongoing victim, you might come down with colds or chronic insomnia. We all instinctually have the fight-or-flight-or-freeze response to protect us from dangerous situations.  If you feel it too much of the time though then high cortisol levels are probably taking their toll on you and your immune system, causing you sleep issues.

Toxic relationships are never easy to define, and they can manifest overtime. Every relationship is about giving and receiving, there has to be a balance. Assessing the relationships in your life on a regular basis can help you identify which rapports are healthy, which need work and what are best left behind.

My relationship started as the perfect relationship but overtime I was noticing what a damaging effect it was having on my overall wellbeing. I dedicated a portion of my life afterwards to stabilising myself again, through meditation, journaling and taking up new hobbies. Nobody should settle for a destructive relationship, and I promise you- happiness is on the other side.


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