There is a direct correlation between the nature of our relationships and our physical, emotional, and mental well-being. Research into relationships and health has demonstrated repeatedly that supportive relationships can strengthen immunity, whereas toxic unions inhibit it. Loving connections are associated with longevity, quicker recovery from health challenges, a robust outlook on life, and even premature death.
Relationships and Health
Undoubtedly, healthy relationships are essential to our vitality, motivation, sense of self, and overall life experience. Here are 5 ways abuse from being in a toxic partnership will hijack your health, but first a few thoughts on the mind-body connection, and what it means when it comes to health.
The Mind-Body Connection
The mind-body connection is the belief that physical distress and illness can be caused by emotional, psychological, biological, and social factors. We are holistic beings, rather than separate systems. An illustration of this connection can be seen in how the body reacts to stress.
Constant worry, anxiety, and fear over relationships, money, and any other number of problems, can lead to muscle tension, insomnia, aches and pains, digestive problems, hormonal imbalances, weight gain or weight loss, high-blood pressure, headaches, and skin problems. The list goes on and on…
How often have you experienced firsthand, or heard about a person going to a doctor for a diagnosis of their “problem,” which is found to be idiopathic – meaning the cause is unknown? You have just witnessed the mind-body connection. It is very real and plays out in a variety of ways.
5 Ways Toxic Relationships Can Ruin Your Health
1. Immunity Will Be Compromised
Being in a constant state of fight or flight (the sympathetic stress response) reduces immune function, making you vulnerable to illness and disease that your body would otherwise being able to defend against. The body was designed to combat acute stress, not chronic stress.
Your susceptibility to coming down with an infection is heightened when you’re under unrelenting stress. The immune system’s ability to fend off antigens, due to a reduction in lymphocytes, is compromised when constantly confronted with stressful situations.
Elevated corticosteroids suppress immune function, inhibit digestion, and strain the circulatory system. This can lead to high blood pressure, which further compromises immunity. Stress also causes people to act in unhealthy ways in order to cope with the stress. Excessive alcohol consumption, drug addiction, smoking, poor eating habits, and lack of exercise are a few examples of poor coping strategies.
2. Your Hormones Will Take a Hit
Abuse, anger, and emotional stress go hand in hand. You’ll feel anger and distrust when you’re abused, especially in the beginning stages. Anger can do a number on your hormonal system via its effect on the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline.
Stress hormones initiate a response in the body that curtails the production of hormones in order to ramp up the production of cortisol. Elevated cortisol levels can cause blood sugar swings, weight gain, metabolic syndrome, decreased mental function and memory, poor sleep, accelerated aging, an increase in inflammation, disruptions in the menstrual cycle and infertility.
Imbalanced hormones can have far-reaching effects, impacting physical, mental, and emotional health. Ask any menopausal woman for clarification on this issue and you’ll hear more than you want to. The endocrine system, together with the nervous system, are the two systems in the body that most influence human emotion and behavior.
3. You’ll Have a A Vague Sense of Doom
An underlying sense of doom, caused by chronic abuse, can lead to a distrust in others, leading you to distance yourself from relationships that would otherwise bring comfort and much-needed support. Difficulty in trusting others is a natural outcome of a betrayal wound.
If the person, who should be protecting and valuing you the most, is instead your abuser, it can’t help but change your perception of how the world operates. When your resilience is weakened, you may become suspicious of others’ motives, even when these suspicions are unfounded.
You may also be hyper vigilant in situations where it’s not called for. Being constantly on guard can lead to anxiety, depression, and other mental health symptoms, including self-doubt and a mistrust in yourself. It’s difficult to consider your options – or to realize that you have options – when you’re in this foggy, chaotic frame of mind.
This is how people get stuck in abusive situations… for years. The toll abuse takes on their psychological and physiological health is profound. The fact that the person appears to be functioning well is not a reliable indicator of what is happening internally, nor does it convey the chronic trauma they’re experiencing daily.
4. Your World View Will Shift
Trauma informs how we view the world. If you’re in an abusive relationship, your worldview can’t help but shift, although it will be imperceptible and gradual. Abuse doesn’t happen overnight. It happens incrementally. If abuse happened suddenly and all at once, many people would be so appalled they would leave at the first occurrence.
Toxic relationships increase in their dysfunction over time. This phenomenon makes it easier for the abuser to continue to exert control and manipulation over their victim. It’s the frog in a simmering pot sort of thing. The water gradually gets hotter and hotter over time until the poor frog is stuck.
Jennifer Freyd initially introduced the concept of betrayal trauma in 1991. She described how the betrayed person needs the protection and support of the betrayer to maintain the relationship.
This type of trauma, and violation of trust, takes place within attachment relationships, such as marriages and between parents and children. The deep wounding involved can cause lasting, lifetime trauma.
5. You May Feel A Disconnection From God
Lastly, abuse can affect your relationship to God, especially if your abuser is using your faith against you. A salient aspect of toxic relationships is the ability of the abuser to use the things that are most meaningful to you as a weapon to control and manipulate. For instance, twisting God’s word to support their actions, while undermining you.
Abuse of any kind, but particularly emotional abuse, can skew your identity of who you are in Christ – at the very moment when you need to rely on that identity the most. Abusers are notorious for using mechanisms, such as denial, blaming, manipulation, and gaslighting to control their victims. Lack of identity can lead to a lack of faith and a sense of insecurity, making you an unwitting target for more abuse.
Strategies To Protect Your Health
Toxic people are everywhere, but the biggest drain on your health will come from toxic people within your own family, and particularly your marriage. The most damage is incurred by abusive spouses or caregivers. Abuse within these intimate relationships equates to betrayal and trauma.
It’s not always feasible to entirely cut ties with an abusive partner. Fortunately, you can put in place techniques that can minimize the damage to your body and psyche. Don’t underestimate the following tactics. Regular implementation can do much damage control if separation is not an option:
- Practice self-care regularly and without guilt: When no one else is saying “Yes” to you, it’s important that you say “Yes” to yourself AND and often. Self-care sends a loving message to yourself that you matter. You do matter! Stress-reducing activities will lower cortisol levels, help to balance hormones, promote good sleep and regulate appetite.
- Implement stress-reduction techniques daily: Self-care and stress-reduction go hand in hand. Both will have a profound effect on your health, both physically, mentally, and emotionally. Did you used to love to paint? Or sing? Or play an instrument. Resurrect these activities. They’ll nourish and enrich your life.
- Have a regular spiritual practice: Cultivate a relationship with God. Partner with Him. He’s the one that has the answers, and who will provide provision and comfort. Read uplifting scriptures daily, listen to worship music, pray, listen, and seek like-minded individuals who will support your spiritual walk.
- Nourish supportive social ties: Ideally, we want our close family members to be our greatest allies. When this doesn’t happen, we must seek support from other connections. Reach out to others that you enjoy and trust, but have lost contact with. Resuscitate relationships that you’ve let slide. They’ll be a lifeline to you.
- See the big picture: What can you learn from this trial? How is it strengthening you? Reflection and awareness are powerful tools. It always helps to see the big picture, and what you’re going through in context, although it’s not easy. For every mess there is a message, for every prison, a promotion. Remember: “this too shall pass….”
- Put into place strategies to extract yourself from the situation: Begin getting your ducks in a row when it comes to logistics since as finances and living arrangements. Do this gradually and undercover so what you’re doing will remain undetected. Being proactive will restore your sense of power and self-esteem. You do have the power and ability to change your life. Will it be easy? No, but it will be worth it once you’re on the other side.
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The repercussions of toxic relationships are cumulative. The impact worsens over time. This is why it’s so crucial to devise a plan to remove yourself from the situation IF your significant other refuses to acknowledge the dysfunction, work on the relationship or get help.
It takes two to right a sinking ship. Don’t waste your precious time and energy trying to fix something that isn’t fixable, due to a lack of cooperation, compromise, or concern. It’s not worth the toll it will surely take on your health – both in the short-term and the long-term. You are worth so much more…
Value your worth by putting into place strategies that will separate you from ANY form of abuse or toxicity. Adopt a “No-Abuse” mentality. Erect strong boundaries to protect yourself. YOU can recover your sanity and health.
Could an abusive relationship be the foundational missing piece to why you’re stuck in regard to your health?! It’s an important question and one worth asking. Hit reply and let me know your thoughts in the comments:)
(1) NIH National Library of Medicine | National Center for Biotechnology Information: Betrayal trauma: relationship to physical health, psychological distress, and a written disclosure intervention
(2) healthline: Why Betrayal Can Cause Trauma and How to Start Healing
(3) Harvard Health Publishing | Harvard Medical School: The Health Benefits of Strong Relationships
(4) Johns Hopkins Healthcare Solutions: The Mind – Body Connection
(5) SimplyPsychology: Stress, Illness and the Immune System
(6) Introduction To Psychology: 4.4 Putting It All Together: The Nervous System and the Endocrine System
Disclaimer: This article is strictly for informational purposes only and is not intended to be medical advice.