How un­healthy re­la­tions can dam­age men­tal health

The Irish Times - Tuesday - Health - - Health | Lifestyle - Ni­amh Del­mar

It could be your par­ent, a sib­ling, a son or daugh­ter or in-law that is mak­ing you ill. Or per­haps a friend, neigh­bour, per­son at work or part­ner is in­trud­ing on your psy­cho­log­i­cal ter­ri­tory.

Re­search has shown that peo­ple who have pos­i­tive and sup­port­ive re­la­tion­ships are health­ier and live longer. In a re­view of 148 stud­ies, it was found the in­flu­ence of so­cial re­la­tions on the risk of death are com­pa­ra­ble to smok­ing and al­co­hol con­sump­tion. Healthy re­la­tion­ships buf­fer against stress and boost emo­tional well-be­ing.

So­cial con­nect­ed­ness can also fos­ter a health­ier life­style by be­ing en­cour­aged to ex­er­cise, eat health­ier and em­u­late good habits. A pos­i­tive sup­port net­work helps ease the pain of sig­nif­i­cant life events such as loss, ill­ness and trau­matic ex­pe­ri­ences. Screen in­ter­ac­tions do not pro­vide the same ben­e­fits and, in fact, con­trib­ute to anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion.

So what char­ac­terises a healthy re­la­tion­ship?

It in­volves two peo­ple in an au­then­tic dy­namic who emo­tion­ally sup­port each other and pro­vide prac­ti­cal help, as needed. They com­mu­ni­cate well, trust each other, are thought­ful and share healthy ac­tiv­i­ties. On a ba­sic level, you feel emo­tion­ally and phys­i­cally safe. Each party is there for the joy, but also the suf­fer­ing. There is mu­tual re­spect, trust and a “give-and-take” ethos. The best of you is brought out in a vi­brant dy­namic and you can be your­self, warts and all.

Bound­aries have been set­tled into that suit each per­son’s need for time spent to­gether and apart. Good friends may not be able to see each other for a while, but it picks up with ease. Hav­ing a laugh, shar­ing a zany sense of hu­mour and en­joy­ing ban­ter are other pos­i­tive in­di­ca­tors of close bonds. Each per­son cuts some slack if the other is in tur­moil or just off form.

In the work­place, re­search shows that hav­ing a good friend there in­creases job-sat­is­fac­tion and stay­ing power. Pos­i­tive work­ing re­la­tions in­flu­ence well-be­ing, per­for­mance and eases work-re­lated stress.

On the other hand, re­la­tional stress can trig­ger psy­cho­log­i­cal ill health and ag­gra­vate ex­ist­ing men­tal-health con­di­tions. Each per­son brings a unique, his­tory, per­son­al­ity, set of val­ues and com­mu­ni­ca­tion style to the table. An un­healthy re­la­tion­ship can wreck your head, sap your en­ergy and con­sume you so much you miss out on all the pos­i­tive re­la­tions you have. An­other se­ri­ous side-ef­fect is that pro­longed ex­po­sure can chip away at your sense of worth.

So what are the symp­toms of a dodgy dy­namic?

A lack of re­spect is char­ac­terised by name call­ing, be­ing overly crit­i­cal of and putting down the other per­son. Breaches of trust, false prom­ises, lack of com­mu­ni­ca­tion and over-de­pen­dence are other in­di­ca­tors. Jeal­ousy, pos­ses­sive­ness, con­trol­ling be­hav­iours and ma­nip­u­la­tion may fea­ture. Ar­gu­ing not only im­pacts the duo, but those around them and high lev­els of con­flict are linked to de­pres­sion and low self-es­teem.

Be­ing bul­lied is a con­trib­u­tory fac­tor to a plethora of phys­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal dam­age. Con­stantly be­ing let down by the other per­son, re­peated neg­a­tive be­hav­iours or too much drama is emo­tion­ally drain­ing. Neg­a­tiv­ity and moan­ing can have an ad­verse ef­fect on your own mood.

So how can you get out of an un­healthy re­la­tion­ship?

The first step to ex­it­ing and get­ting into bet­ter dy­nam­ics is to work on your­self. Take stock and un­cover what your vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties are. Per­haps you need to be more assertive and work on your self-es­teem. Iden­tify what are your is­sues and what are not?

As­sess if the re­la­tion­ship is good for you, what are you get­ting from it and are there any of the above symp­toms present. Ask for feed­back from oth­ers and ex­plore what you are hang­ing on for. So many peo­ple stay in re­la­tion­ships that are not good for them be­cause there is a his­tory, or it is fam­ily, or be­cause they fear con­fronta­tion and change.

Peo­ple may en­dure tox­i­c­ity for what they per­ceive is best for the chil­dren, fi­nan­cial rea­sons or the fear of be­ing alone. Oth­ers live in the shadow hop­ing for change. Sadly, some peo­ple may be so worn down, their re­sources have di­min­ished. It takes strength to leave, so ac­cess­ing sup­port, ther­apy and pos­i­tive out­lets can help.

Healthy bound­aries in­volve ver­bal, phys­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal lay­ers and help keep a healthy dis­tance and not get sucked in. Don’t fake it. If talk­ing hasn’t worked or is not an op­tion, step right back. You can con­nect with peo­ple on dif­fer­ent lev­els from your in­ner cir­cle out­wards and main­tain easy con­nec­tions with twice-a year-lunch bud­dies.

At wed­dings, funer­als and Christ­mas, peo­ple of­ten feel obliged to spend time with that tricky “other”. De­velop pro­tec­tive strate­gies such as sit­ting apart, stay­ing for a short pe­riod or spend­ing that pe­riod abroad.

Step out of the ring and un­hook your­self from con­stant ar­gu­ing. You could write out your piece, talk it through in an adult way, then let it go calmly. Go­ing in cir­cles does nei­ther party any good. Me­di­a­tion or re­la­tion­ship coun­selling may work to sal­vage or exit in a healthy way.

While talk­ing helps, ob­sess­ing about the other per­son is men­tally ex­haust­ing. Ex­plore op­tions and chart an ac­tion plan in­stead. You don’t want to take your boss or col­league home to bed with you (emo­tion­ally).

No man is an is­land but if peo­ple are weigh­ing you down, you may feel like go­ing to one. The peo­ple in your life of­ten re­flect your self-es­teem, so look closely at your­self, then at those sur­round­ing you.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.