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Yes, Being in a Toxic Relationship Affects Your Mental Health—Here’s What to Do

Updated: June 28, 2024

5 min.

The impact that toxic relationships have on mental health and strategies for recognizing and healing from them.

By: Charlie Health Editorial Team

Clinically Reviewed By: Dr. Don Gasparini

Learn more about our Clinical Review Process


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Table of Contents

A toxic relationship is any relationship that is damaging to your mental health, self-esteem, and overall well-being — whether that’s with a friend, romantic partner, family member, or someone else. Toxic relationships can be emotionally, physically, and mentally draining. They can leave people feeling helpless, insecure, and traumatized. However, it can be difficult to recognize when a relationship is toxic, since people often become desensitized to toxic behaviors over time. Below we delve into toxic relationships, how they affect mental health, and how to handle them. 

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What is a toxic relationship?

A toxic relationship is an unhealthy relationship in which one or both people involved exhibit controlling, manipulative, or abusive behaviors. These behaviors can manifest in various ways. Some signs of a toxic relationship include:

  • Constant criticism and belittling
  • Explosive anger and outbursts
  • Isolation from friends and family
  • Gaslighting and denial of reality
  • Blaming and shaming
  • Passive-aggressive behavior
  • Withholding affection and attention
  • Jealousy and possessiveness

Is there a difference between a toxic relationship and an abusive relationship?

In short, yes — there is a distinction between a toxic relationship and an abusive relationship. Both kinds of relationships involve harmful behaviors, but abusive relationships involve a deliberate pattern of control and harm, whereas toxic relationships generally involve unhealthy dynamics that may not always escalate to abuse but still impact well-being negatively.

More specifically, abusive relationships involve behaviors intended to exert power and control over another person. This can include physical violence, emotional abuse, verbal abuse, sexual assault or abuse, or financial abuse. Abuse is characterized by a pattern of behavior aimed at maintaining dominance and often escalates over time, causing significant harm to the victim’s physical and mental health.

Toxic relationships, on the other hand, typically refer to a dynamic where there is consistent negativity, manipulation, or dysfunction that drains emotional energy and causes distress. Toxic behaviors can include excessive criticism, lack of support, emotional volatility, or control issues. While toxic relationships can be damaging to one’s well-being and self-esteem, they may not always involve deliberate harm or intent to control.

Toxic relationships

Abusive relationship

  • Involve unhealthy dynamics that negatively impact well-being
  • Drain emotional energy and cause distress
  • May not always escalate to abuse
  • Involve a deliberate pattern of control and harm
  • Cause significant harm to the victim’s physical and mental health
  • Characterized by behaviors intended to exert power and control over another person

Are toxic relationships limited to romantic relationships?

No — toxic relationships can be found in all areas of life, including friendships, family relationships, and workplace relationships. While romantic relationships are often the first type of relationship that comes to mind when discussing toxic relationships, it is important to recognize that toxicity can manifest in any relationship.

As outlined above, in a romantic relationship, toxic behavior may include controlling behavior, manipulation, jealousy, and physical or verbal abuse. However, toxic behavior can also occur in non-romantic relationships. For example, a toxic friendship may involve a friend who constantly puts you down, spreads rumors about you, or uses you for their own benefit. In a toxic family relationship, a family member may use emotional manipulation or guilt to control you. 

Toxic relationships can have a significant impact on an individual’s mental health. The harmful behavior in a toxic relationship can cause emotional distress, leading to mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem.

In a toxic relationship, the person being subjected to the harmful behavior may start to doubt their own self-worth and abilities. They may feel like they are constantly walking on eggshells and be in a state of heightened anxiety or fear. Over time, these feelings can become overwhelming and lead to chronic stress, which can harm the physical and mental health of the person.

Toxic relationships can also affect an individual’s social and emotional well-being. The person may feel isolated and cut off from their support system, as the toxic partner may isolate them from friends and family. This isolation can lead to a lack of social support, which is essential for maintaining good mental health.

The effects of toxic relationships can persist long after the relationship has ended. Individuals may struggle with feelings of low self-esteem and anxiety, which can impact their ability to form healthy relationships in the future. Seeking help from a mental health professional can be beneficial in addressing the impact of toxic relationships and building healthy coping mechanisms.

How to heal from a toxic relationship

Healing from a toxic relationship is a process that requires time, self-care, and support. Remember, healing from a toxic relationship is a personal journey, and it’s important to move at your own pace and seek help when needed. Here are steps that can help in the healing journey:

Acknowledge the impact

Recognize and validate the emotional and psychological impact the toxic relationship has had on you. Accepting your feelings is the first step towards healing.

Seek support

Reach out to trusted friends, family members, or support groups. Sharing your experiences with others who understand can provide comfort and perspective. It’s also important to consider seeking therapy or counseling. A mental health professional can help you process your emotions, develop coping strategies, and rebuild your self-esteem.

Set boundaries

Establish and maintain boundaries to protect yourself from further harm. In some cases, it is possible to repair a toxic relationship. However, not all toxic relationships can be fixed, and in some cases setting boundaries might include limiting or cutting off contact with the toxic individual. These are topics you can discuss with a therapist. 

Practice self-care 

Focus on self-care activities that promote your well-being, such as exercise, healthy eating, adequate sleep, and engaging in hobbies you enjoy.  You can also work on rebuilding your self-esteem by practicing self-compassion and positive self-talk. Celebrate your strengths and accomplishments.

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How Charlie Health can help

If you or a loved one is struggling with a toxic relationship, Charlie Health is here to help with the healing process. Charlie Health’s virtual Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) provides more than once-weekly mental health treatment for people and families dealing with serious mental health conditions. Our expert clinicians incorporate evidence-based therapies into individual counseling, family therapy, and group sessions. With this kind of holistic online therapy, managing your mental health is possible. Fill out the form below or give us a call to start healing today.

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