Unhealthy relationships

How and when do people make us feel bad?

Sometimes we get stuck in unhealthy relationships. Whether they’re with a lover, family member, friend or co-worker, the common denominator is that they make us feel bad about ourselves and resentful towards the other person. Every interaction seems to reinforce these feelings and the problem can be exacerbated until all our headspace is taken up by negative thoughts about the other person and ourselves.

There is no single ingredient for an unhealthy relationship. Sometimes, the other person has a negative or spiteful energy which they project on us. Sometimes, we have our own insecurities which the other person (either inadvertently or not) seems to bring out.

Whatever the reason, there is no point playing the blame game. Maybe they’re in the wrong or maybe we’re a bit sensitive (or maybe a mix of both), but the point is that these relationships can leave us feeling angry, sad, guilty worthless and much more, and they can also bring out the worst in us. They can ruin other relationships and, in the longer term, our mental wellbeing.

What can you do about it?

Regardless of whose fault it is, there are things that you can do to relieve some of the pain caused to you by unhealthy relationships. Sometimes, the answer is to just walk away but this may not always be possible (e.g. with a colleague). Try out our tips!

Dig a little deeper

Do this when you’re feeling bad about the relationship

  • We are more likely to feel negative about something if it resonates with some insecurity or self-belief
  • Even if the person we are dealing with is highly toxic, the fact that they’re getting to us so much means that they are connecting with something within us. So what is it?
  • Rather than placing the blame on the other person immediately, ask yourself: “What is this really about?”
  • Once you know what the problem is, you can start doing something about it!
  • It may be that the other person is completely in the wrong, but realising what they’re resonating with is the first step to making you feel better

Let it go

Do this when you’re feeling bad about the relationship

  • We sometimes feel like we need to hold on to anger or negative feelings about the other person to punish them
  • However, this only ends up making us feel worse about ourselves, while the other person has no idea what’s going on
  • So, try letting your thoughts go: when a negative thought comes up, picture placing it on a little boat and letting it float away on the water
  • Remind yourself that you are doing this for you, not the other person
  • This will not only make you feel better, but it will also give you more clarity on what to do about the relationship

Take a step back

Do this when you are feeling negative about the relationship

  • We sometimes enter a negative spiral of thinking about and talking about the relationship all the time and with everyone
  • Far from solving the issue, this only gets us more and more fired up, and perpetuates the negative spiral that is going on in our head
  • Try to take a step back from talking about it obsessively – similarly to “letting go”, this will make you feel better and give you more clarity on what to do

Ground yourself

Do this when you’re feeling negative about the relationship

  • Sit comfortably with your feet firmly planted on the floor
  • Push your feet against the floor as hard as possible and notice the physical feeling of this
  • Touch something – a pet, a set of keys, a phone, whatever! – and notice the feeling of the object against your fingertips
  • This really helps to distract you from your negative thoughts and focus on the present – try to do this as often as possible

Set boundaries

Do this when you’re feeling bad about the relationship

  • Regardless of what is causing the problem, an unhealthy relationship makes you feel negative, and you should try to minimise that
  • It’s not always possible (or necessary) to walk away from a relationship, but it might be a good idea to get some space
  • If it’s a friend or lover, try seeing them a bit less frequently for a period of time – this will give both of you the time you need to figure things out and will give you more clarity on what to do

Talk about it with the other person

Do this when you’re feeling bad about the relationship

  • Misunderstandings are sometimes (but not always) at the root of unhealthy relationships
  • In these cases, it helps to share our thoughts and feelings with the other person and to try to see their point of view
  • However, make sure that you do not blame the other person but rather use it as a conversation to collaboratively try to find a solution
  • This may not improve matters, but if it doesn’t at least you know you will have tried!

Walk away

Do this if you feel like there is no repairing the relationship

  • Sometimes relationships are broken beyond repair, or sometimes you feel like they are making you feel so bad that they are affecting other areas of your life
  • In that case, it may be time to walk away
  • For whatever reason, a relationship that might at one point have made you feel good is now eliciting negative feelings, and walking away is the best thing for you and your other relationships
  • This can be sad and disappointing, so make sure you have the support that you need from other friends and family

Speak to a therapist

Do this if you feel like you are having trouble with these feelings

  • Unhealthy relationships can leave us feeling vulnerable, sad, guilty and worthless, and we sometimes need help from a professional to move past these feelings
  • Speaking to a therapist sounds scary, but it really isn’t! In fact, studies have shown that individual therapy is a highly effective way to change thought patterns and negative spirals

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