If you are in an unhealthy or dysfunctional relationship then chances are you don’t need this post to know it. You may feel sad, confused, helpless or chaotic on a daily basis. You may feel all of those things. You may avoid going home as much as possible and take on extra tasks at work or volunteer opportunities just to stay away.
What you might not know is what is wrong with the relationship or why this is happening. You may be confused as to whether the problem is you or the other person or some combination thereof. You may not know that problematic relationships usually begin when you choose that significant other to share your life. You may not know that these relationships have characteristics with names and definitions beyond the basic ones of abusive or unhealthy.
When you are carrying around your own emotional baggage and dysfunctional thinking patterns (or cognitive distortions as they are clinically known), you see the world through a particular lens. This lens is typically developed through your life experiences and relationships with people in the past. So for example, if you were emotionally abandoned at some time in your life, your lens may be geared to see and deal with abandonment.
The crazy thing is, because it feels familiar, your brain will say, “I know that experience, I am familiar with that and familiar is good”. In this instance obviously familiar is not good. It may be easy to recognize and file or compartmentalize in the brain but it is definitely not going to be good. Our brains like things they understand and have a compartment for. They like knowing they have a “schema” for how to behave already. It can be a weird dynamic to understand.
So when these relationships begin to go south it is natural to feel upset. Your life is being upset and you no longer know what to do with this other person. You definitely are not enjoying them even though you are dancing the unhealthy dance with them. What starts as a little upset cannot be ignored as it can take a downturn into true depression and anxiety.
When we feel helpless to change our situation we can become very depressed and anxious. When we feel emotionally bullied and put down our self esteem takes a beating and we suffer symptoms of anxiety and depression. When our lives become so chaotic we cant stand to be home our mood can spiral downward.
The Four Types of Relationships That Can Cause Depression and Anxiety Are:
- Abusive-Physically or verbally, these speak for themselves. If you are in a physically abusive situation you should seek help immediately. I have never seen an emotionally abused client who was not suffering also from depression and anxiety.
- Abandoning-These relationships are characterized by explicit or implicit threats of abandonment that are used to control you. You may find yourself living in a fearful state of impending doom that can affect your wellbeing, children and finances. You feel helpless to change things as the other person is dictating the terms. Those terms are never rational and are typically built in to your partner’s own fears.
- Narcissistic-If you are in a relationship with a narcissist you are probably depressed. These relationships are characterized by you being invisible and your partner on a pedestal, at least in their own minds. You probably feel very alone and others may not see the negative traits you see in the person. Narcissists can be very manipulative and cunning when it comes to public appearance. Your life, accomplishments and contributions go unnoticed and you may actually receive insults designed to quash any pride you may have in them. You may be ridiculed in public or in front of friends for a laugh. Their need for complete control dictates your life.
- Chaotic -These relationships feel out of control, yours and theirs. They can be characterized by drug or alcohol abuse at one end or just bad judgement at the other. Infidelity and gambling problems can fit here as well as pornography addiction and overspending. You may find yourself involved with the legal system. The problem for you is that if things don’t change you can develop depression and anxiety that won’t lift until the chaos subsides. Our brains do not like to feel out of control and the stress hormones that run rampant will overtake your good hormones at some point and shut you down.
If your current relationship fits into one or more of these categories, don’t despair. Take comfort in knowing that you are not alone, many many people are in this boat with you. It happens. Just because you have a bad relationship doesn’t mean you have to have a bad life. It may mean you will be alone for a while if you choose to end the relationship but it can be fixed. It may mean you just have to focus your efforts elsewhere and not on the relationship if corrective measures like therapy have failed and you cannot leave right now.
It is very important that you understand this type of depression and anxiety for what they are. When they occur due to feelings of helplessness and fear they are not a product of something wrong in your brain. They are messengers telling you there is something very wrong in your life.
Sadly, I have seen many clients who have turned against themselves, believing that they are defective somehow for having a depression like this. They believe they have a brain disorder and have slid downwards due to this belief. They think the anxieties they feel must mean something is wrong with them. They take medications that don’t work for them as you cannot medicate another person away. They believe if something like this is wrong with them then the abusive/abandoning/chaotic/narcissist must be right!
You can see the vicious cycle.
The important thing for you to focus on is working on yourself. Work on developing your strengths, building your self esteem and ridding yourself of dysfunctional thoughts and behaviors that keep you stuck and unhappy and making making bad choices for your life. Do this by any and all means possible. Work with a therapist or coach, do self help if you prefer but the key is to keep going with it till it kicks in. If you try one thing or one therapist and you don’t like them or it just keep trying. Something will click. When you take control of yourself and your destiny in this way you will feel better immediately. Just the choice of not letting the other person suck the life out of you will make you feel better.