Effect of depression on relationships

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  • SAMHSA’s National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders.

    Also visit the online treatment locator.

SAMHSA’s National Helpline, 1-800-662-HELP (4357) (also known as the Treatment Referral Routing Service), or TTY: 1-800-487-4889 is a confidential, free, 24-hour-a-day, 365-day-a-year, information service, in English and Spanish, for individuals and family members facing mental and/or substance use disorders. This service provides referrals to local treatment facilities, support groups, and community-based organizations.

Also visit the online treatment locator, or send your zip code via text message: 435748 (HELP4U) to find help near you. Read more about the HELP4U text messaging service.

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Last Updated: 08/30/2022

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What is a toxic relationship and is it possible to get out of them?

Headings : Latest articles, Psychology

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What is a toxic relationship? How does popular culture impose on us the image of relationships built according to the “executioner-victim” scheme, where love becomes a synonym for suffering, and family drama is presented as the norm? How to understand that you are in a psychological trap? Why is it impossible to express yourself as a person in a toxic relationship? Is it possible to change the person who is poisoning your life and how to protect yourself from unhealthy relationships? We understand.


Today, any interaction between people (spouses, friends, acquaintances, work colleagues) that brings emotional pain and complete depletion of the resources of one of the parties is called a toxic relationship. This is communication, as a result of which one person consciously or unconsciously "poisons" another, making him feel depressed, worthless, scared, used - there can be many options for negative feelings.

Unlike normal interactions, toxic relationships do not bring any benefit: instead of personal growth and positive emotions, the “target” runs the risk of earning a number of mental or even physical ailments over time. Feeling uncomfortable, sooner or later a person will experience all the “charms” of such conditions as apathy, continuous stress, depression, progressive lowering of self-esteem, panic attacks, nervous breakdown. Such a scenario is dangerous in that it can lead a person to a psychiatric couch at best, and at worst to suicide. nine0003

Understanding whether communication with a particular person is toxic is not difficult. The underlying symptom is your discomfort. If from time to time after a normal conversation, correspondence on social networks, gatherings in a cafe or a meeting, you feel completely empty, depressed or scared, then there is no doubt.

Paradoxically, it is not uncommon for psychologists to end up with people who endure this kind of connection for several months, or even years. At the same time, they need time not only to get out of a traumatic relationship, but also to simply understand that what is happening to them is not normal. nine0003

In his lectures, practicing psychologist Mikhail Labkovsky notes that the current situation is quite understandable. According to him, toxic relationships are one of the names of neurotic interaction, its synonym. At the same time, according to psychiatrists, today in Russia more than 70% of the population suffers from one form or another of neurosis. Residents of large cities are most at risk, the pace of life of which requires them to be maximally mobilized and make quick decisions. The medical publication "Doctor Peter" reports:

“Annually in the St. Petersburg Research Psychoneurological Institute named after I. V.M. Bekhterev, 10-14 thousand people seek advice, a quarter of them for neurotic disorders.”

In the case when a pattern of neurotic relationships accompanies a person from childhood, in the future it is difficult for him to believe that there are other, non-traumatic patterns of behavior. In addition to the negative childhood experience, mass culture adds its contribution to the formation of future neurotics who voluntarily enter into toxic relationships. Every day we come across a huge number of films and books, the interaction of the characters of which is built according to the “executioner-victim” scheme, where love becomes a synonym for suffering, and most family dramas are presented as the norm. As a result, looking back at parental relationships and messages from the big screens, we get used to sacrificing ourselves and our interests, enduring tyranny at home or at work, and trying for years to correct abusers (from the English abuse - violence). nine0003

According to Labkovsky, healthy individuals do not enter into toxic relationships. All participants in the process are traumatized, since a balanced and harmonious personality will never act as a tyrant or a victim.

Understanding that communication with a person (especially close ones) poisons us often brings great pain. Experiencing stress, a person tries to justify his environment to the last. But endless patience and adjustment to a partner turns into only fatigue, loss of your Self, a feeling that you are trapped. Over time, a person may begin to fear his partner. nine0003

Going deeper:

— What is Andrey Zvyagintsev's film "Dislike" about? The view of a psychoanalyst

- Narcissism and fear of intimacy: what is emotional unavailability

Usually we are poisoned by those who see in us not a person, but a function. Unfortunately, not only colleagues at work do this, but also the closest people. But if a partner constantly forgets to keep promises, ignores your desires and needs, assures you that you are the closest person to him, but, in fact, wipes his feet on you with his actions, manipulates, controls, constantly criticizes and condemns your every step, forces jealous, disappears and appears without warning, projects its complexes on you, forces you to do what you don’t want (from processing to intimacy), imposes its value system and ignores your rhythm of life, you should immediately say goodbye to it. nine0003

Psychologist Anna Iotka notes that in order not to end up in the role of a victim, one cannot “... give comfort without receiving it. Still, partners should mutually strive for comfort and understand the value of each other.

At the same time, the degree of understanding of comfort is different for everyone. And sometimes it happens that the point is not in the person himself, but in the fact that his lifestyle and his values ​​\u200b\u200bare simply not suitable for you. Trying to adapt to an objectively “good”, but absolutely not your person is the first step towards a neurotic relationship with the loss of one’s Self.

Mikhail Labkovsky remarks:

“It's simple: he is, the way he is. And there you are, just the way you are. You either feel good together, or you need to break up. Better yet, before you took out a mortgage and had three kids.”

The psychologist is sure that an attempt to change a person whose treatment hurts you is doomed to failure. In his speeches, he gives only one piece of advice: tell your partner what you don't like. In the event that the person continues to poison you with their behavior, there are two options left - to protect yourself and let the person go, or to accept the role of the victim and live, fantasizing that someday something will change. nine0003

It is very difficult to end a traumatic relationship, that is, to protect your nervous system by saying a firm “no” and physically moving away, when someone really close is a toxic person for us: parents, loved one, friends. Many are afraid to stop suffocating communication, leading them to nervous breakdowns, because of the fear of loneliness.

But it's important to understand that your future and your ability to interact with the world is at stake, and saying no today will make you stronger as a person and open doors to a whole new level of interaction with other people. nine0003

Cover: Edvard Munch, The Vampire, 1895 / Wikimedia Commons.

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Similar Article

We asked young people, what is to meet anxiety and depression

to meet with mental disorder, permanent be really badass. There are a lot of negative stereotypes, and they often ruin otherwise rosy prospects. nine0003

Guy A. Boysen, Professor of Psychology at Mackendry University, recently reviewed two studies that unfortunately confirm these stereotypes. In the first, participants rated the prospects of people with mental disorders like depression and schizophrenia in short- and long-term relationships as below average. In the second study, participants rated people's physical attractiveness based solely on personalized ads that mentioned their disorder. People with mental illness were again widely perceived as having below-average prospects in terms of building long-term relationships. nine0003


We talked to a few single young people about what it's like to date while suffering from a mental disorder and about the challenges they still face.

Matt, 23, Manhattan, NY

“I've always had generalized anxiety and hypochondria. In high school, I went to the doctor a million times and said, “I have a brain tumor!” At university, I started having panic attacks. After uni, I thought, “Okay, I need medication.” So I now take Lexapro and Ativan as needed." nine0003

Could you give me an example of a situation in which you felt judged?
I went on a date with a random Tinder partner or something, and we went out for lunch. Around this time, I usually take Lexapro, and when I took the medicine, he asked what it was. I said, "Oh, it's just a Lexapro," and I immediately noticed that it sort of closed when I said that. It was obvious that he knew absolutely nothing about mental health. We never saw each other again, but I still didn't want to go on a date with this man again. nine0003

How has your personal life developed since then?

I've noticed a very big change in terms of who I'm willing to confide in or even date. It seems to me that even if I am slightly attracted to a person who does not really understand mental health problems or does not understand what drugs are, then he is a dead number: we simply will not succeed. Also, my lexapro sometimes affects my libido. So I try to take Lexapro at night after my current partner and I have had sex. This is a difficult matter - he understands everything, but he seems unable to put himself in my place, because he did not take drugs that affect sexual desire. nine0003


Emily, 23, San Francisco, CA

“I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety and depression only about six months ago. I take Prozac, which is an antidepressant and an anti-anxiety drug. I also take klonopin - it helps me with panic disorder.

How has this affected your personal life?
I dated a man named Michael* for about a year. I had not taken any medication yet, so my anxiety showed itself in all its glory. If he didn't want to go to the concert I was expecting, I felt like he didn't like me or wasn't interested in me, and he didn't understand where that came from. Besides, when I'm anxious, I pick my nails. When I did it next to Michael, he just said: “Stop it!” - and beat me on the hands. He could not understand that I had no power over this; my brain does it in a way that I don't even realize. In January he broke up with me. Said I was too dependent on him; I got so depressed that I ended up going to the doctor. nine0003

How does your personal life look like now?

I recently started dating a man named Charlie*. While he was doing well for the most part, I still think about things like drinking when I'm on Klonopin so I don't have to knock myself out of my wits anymore. He also caused me anxiety attacks, so I realized that I needed to break up with him. I need to be alone and sort out my affairs on my own before dating. nine0003


Nicholas, 29, Brooklyn, NY

“My mother had schizophrenia. She was constantly in and out of mental hospitals; she had breakdowns, she tried to commit suicide, she was treated with electric shock. As I started to grow up, I realized that I myself had some problems. I am currently battling depression and anxiety."

When did you feel like someone didn't understand your situation?
I was going home to my ex after work, and that's when sometimes I get anxious and it becomes difficult to be on the same wavelength with everyone. There was also a group of friends there, but I did not expect this. One person talked about what a cool mom he had. He didn't stop talking, listing examples, and this particular topic really hurts me, given the kind of PTSD I have. nine0003

I tried to calmly explain that this is why I don't participate in communication, but I really don't want to blame this person, because he may not understand this. He began to cry and hysteria, and then said that I came out of nowhere, ruined the evening and pulled the blanket over myself. It was hard to explain that I was not in control, and at the same time I felt guilty and reproached myself. I didn't want to be the center of attention; I don't want to be bad in social interactions. nine0003

Alessandra, age 24, Atlanta, Georgia

“I was diagnosed with severe depression and anxiety six years ago during my freshman year at university. I began to feel a strong apathy and cried for no reason. I realized that something was wrong and took a sick leave from the university.”


How did this affect your relationship?

Well, when I was 20, I had my first boyfriend. I was then finishing my second year, and I was sitting in his car, and I kept antidepressants in such a small bag in my backpack. I kind of drank two different drugs, and there was also a little advil and midol. They fell to the floor, and he completely went off the rails. First of all, he asked if I was a drug dealer, and I was surprised: why? I have five pills in this purse. I decided to open up to him because, well, I lost my virginity to him and I thought I could trust him. After that, he became very strange. He thought I would cut my wrists no matter what he did or said. I didn’t even get upset, but he still felt very uncomfortable next to me. We broke up the same week—for different reasons—but the catalyst was definitely when he found out about my depression. Our relationship lasted three weeks. nine0003

Stephenie, 24, Queens, NY

“I have borderline personality disorder (BPD), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and panic disorder. My BPD is the root cause of my relationship failure; it is the worst. People understand what OCD is - some even consider it a highlight - but BPD? Nobody understands. Everything just seems like the end of the world to me, and I just feel everything much more subtle.

When did this affect any of your relationships? nine0033
My first love's best friend somehow felt like I was threatening her. At my girlfriend's birthday party, this friend tried to throw away my stuff—including my laptop—and I grabbed her wrist to stop her. My girlfriend came in and immediately called me cruel without even asking what was going on. I started to panic and started crying, and my girlfriend started listing textbook symptoms of BPD. She called me a tyrant, a manipulator and a lunatic. She did not understand the complexities of my mental disorder. Then she kicked me out without anything - not even a jacket and shoes, and it was winter. I kept knocking on the door, because I needed at least a phone and things to get home, and her mom called the police. They didn't know what it was, but at least they gave me a quarter to call my best friend for a ride. nine0003


What happened after this ?

Her mother gave me my things a few days later, and I was also fired from my job - we were employees. They told their side of the story, and our boss saw me as a threat. Her friend started gesturing like she was cutting her neck and wrist and laughing, implying that I should just kill myself. When another employee told her to stop (smiling), the friend said that I would kill myself anyway because I was "nutty" and had nothing to live for. nine0003

My ex didn't talk to me after that for two months, and I had to think it over again for the rest of my life. I was dumped by the girl I loved because of something I didn't do, and I was also attacked, judged, and mistreated. I hated myself and really thought about suicide because I had been dumped in every relationship before because I was clingy and crazy, so I blamed myself. I went through therapy and it took me a very long time to realize that I am not what she said. After that, it took me another three years to even start dating again. nine0003

Ula, 28, Brooklyn, NY

“I have depression and severe anxiety, panic attacks, stuff like that. I also have Asperger's Syndrome; I am on the autism spectrum. I'm on medication now, but I still experience anxiety attacks. I just have to deal with it; it's a daily struggle. I am also demisexual, meaning I only feel desire for people with whom I have an emotional connection.”


How did your personal life develop?
When I was 23, I met my ex. Before that, I kind of thought that I would never date anyone. I thought that it was just not for me and that no one would ever understand me. I don't like sex, I don't like it, I don't even like the thought of it, that's all. But he said that was fine with him; He likes me the way I am. I fell in love very hard and fast. After about two and a half years together, everything fell apart, and he broke up with me. Later I realized that he was prone to emotional abuse. nine0003

Was the emotional abuse related to your mental health problems?

Yes, I would say yes. Even when we broke up, he would say things like, "I can't deal with your depression, I'm not your therapist. " And also with my disability and my sexuality. Even before I got my diagnosis, he was like, "You're such an aspie, you're such a cutie." Kind of infantilized me and looked at it from a very ableist point of view. Despite the fact that there are people around me who love me and are interested in me, this feeling comes back again and again, because such is depression - a feeling of abandonment and despair. I want it to be visible. I don't want to hide it. nine0003

Alex, 21, Manhattan, New York

“I have a history of depression and anxiety. I went to psychiatrists, but never decided to start taking medication. I, in my opinion, can manage it very well with coping mechanisms, wellness strategies and the like.”


Could you tell me about your negative experience with one of your partners?
There was an evening a couple of years ago when anxiety and depression hit me hard. My usual reaction is to shut down, dig in my own head and not react to other people at all. My partner stepped back and gave me space, and I needed the opposite. He had good intentions, but I think he handled it the way he did because of the thought that when people close, there are need to leave alone. This greatly worsened the situation; I tried to show him that I really need to be taken care of, but he didn't get it. There just wasn't a direct line of communication.

How has your experience changed the way you view dating?

People seem to think that those who have mental health problems are incurable and only they can fix themselves. I understand where this comes from in people, because of the division of emotional labor and things like that. But I realized that in the case of intimate relationships, you need to work with each other to find out the needs, desires and problems of each other. We need to create a system of accountability. I think the most important thing here is to build better relationships through radical honesty and transparency. And here you need not just to show empathy - you also need to be incredibly sympathetic and sensitive. nine0003

Ying-Ying, 22, Queens, NY

“I've been struggling with depression for a very long time, since I was 15 years old. I couldn't deal with it because I didn't know how. I couldn’t understand what the hell was happening to me and my body sometimes, so I started going to a counselor at school.”

How did your feelings affect your approach to dating?
I usually feel such a mess in my head that I convince myself that I cannot open up to people, because there is definitely a negative stereotype around this. There is also the fear that people will not be able to cope with the problems that you are working on. nine0003

What was your last relationship like?
The last guy I dated was quite depressed and projected his fears onto me. I realized that I had done this before too. I think it's actually very common.

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