5 Reasons Toxic Relationships Are Literally Bad for Your Health

The mind-body connection, in all its interconnected glory, explains why the stress of toxic relationships is so detrimental to our overall wellness. Basically, toxic relationships don't just feel like getting punched in the face; they pose physical risks, too.

Shahida Arabi, MSW, best-selling author of Power: Surviving and Thriving After Narcissistic Abuse, explains, "It is common for toxic relationships to not only affect the mind and spirit but also the body. Not only can we become biochemically addicted to the chronic highs and lows of a toxic relationship; trauma takes its toll on our physical well-being."

As Arabi explains, there are numerous physical manifestations commonly seen in survivors of toxic relationships. She continues, "So many people have told me that they have struggled with health issues in the aftermath of a [toxic] relationship. They might gain or lose a significant amount of weight, struggle with sleep issues, or even develop chronic health conditions as a result of the stress. They are also likely to struggle with depression and anxiety, as these relationships can affect our mental health. Our immune system and psyche both take a hit from the impact of the toxicity."

We all encounter toxic people, but not all will remain trapped within the unhealthy dynamic. The term "toxic relationship" probably makes you think of a narcissistic ex or a high-maintenance friend. But bullies, whose power comes from hijacking your emotions, exist everywhere—within families, social groups, the workplace, and out in the world. All too often, it is the sensitive, empathetic personality type that gets pulled into the drama.

Take it from me. When I told my friend Alisha the news that I am an estranged aunt at 30, she burst out laughing. I don't blame her. I never expected to be estranged from anyone, let alone my long-term boyfriend's newborn nephew. But after enduring five-plus years with the baby's parents (think emotional sinkhole versus meeting of the minds), I'll take it. All the snubs, slander, and ostracism later, I truly DGAF by now—but only because I set firm boundaries and emotionally separated from them completely. Their response? I am not welcome in their child's life unless I am a constant fixture in theirs. Hard no.

Before going "no-contact"—a tactic championed by Arabi—I felt drained but never knew what to do. We moved cities twice, explicitly to avoid drama, and once kept our relationship secret for close to a year. The turning point came following a visit to my naturopath when I revealed how physically burdened I had been feeling. Her response was that your brain doesn't know the difference between physical and emotional trauma, the understanding of which straight-up changed my life. For the first time, I experientially understood that taking part in the strained relationships was causing actual strain to my body.

Whether you are covertly guilt-tripped into attendance with no consideration for other demands on your time or you are overtly called names, belittled, or verbally abused, their boundary violations are out of line. At the core of their behavior lies a fundamental disrespect for your autonomy, a failure to grasp others' rights to self-determination.

As a colleague used to say, "You can't rationalize crazy." However, to figure out if a relationship is toxic or not, ask yourself, "Am I harming me to help you?" If the answer is yes, it's time to get serious about the consequences. Any time you subject yourself to harm to appease someone else is unhealthy. And FTR, no one should ask you to sacrifice your wellness.

The most effective way to limit your exposure to pathologically overbearing personality types is to set enforceable boundaries that minimize their access to you. It's better safe than sorry, as long-term emotional abuse is linked to mental health symptoms including panic attacks, anxiety, and depression.

If you are struggling with toxic relationships in your life, know that the emotional war you are waging inside is taking a very real toll on your body. To give you a sense of how serious toxic relationships are for your health, Josh Axe, DC, DNM, CNS, founder of Ancient Nutrition and DrAxe.com, breaks it down for us.

Here are five ways toxic relationships are literally bad for your health, according to an expert.