Are Toxic Relationships Making Your Adrenal Fatigue Worse?

By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH; Dorine Lam, RDN, MS, MPH


Adrenal Fatigue and Toxic Relationships are a bad mix The leading cause of Adrenal Fatigue is chronic stress. Stressors can be physical, financial, or emotional and can even come from toxic relationships. Those who are over-exerting themselves physically, such as serious athletes have a higher propensity of developing Adrenal Fatigue. Physical stress can usually be reversed once the body is allowed to rest and nurtured back to health. Other stressors like overwork, poor diet, and overexertion, usually act as underlying triggers of adrenal crashes. Financial distress in and of itself is seldom the root cause.

The most common stressor of Adrenal Fatigue is emotional and mental stress and distress. Some unresolved toxic relationships, which gradually wear our bodies down over time, usually cause such stress.

It is truly amazing how much your emotional health can influence your physical health. Adrenal Fatigue, along with dysautonomia, postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), and a host of emerging conditions, represents a new class of conditions in modern medicine linking the mind and the body. Adrenal Fatigue can be considered a mind-body disorder. A strong mind-body connection is a powerful healing force you can harness for better health. However, on the flip-side, as in Adrenal Fatigue, the mind-body connection can be a devastating negative force capable ruining your body.

Numerous studies support the belief that people with an upbeat and positive perspective tend to be healthier and enjoy longer lives than those who are generally gloomy and cynical about the future. Epigeneticism is now emerging as a primary influence factor. This centers on the notion that environmental factors such as diet and stress influence the expression of your genes. It is the expression of your genes–not the genes themselves–that dictates whether you develop certain diseases. For example, if you have constitutionally weak adrenal glands at birth, stress may cause this weakness to be expressed, leading to Adrenal Fatigue. The absence of stress, on the other hand, can delay the expression of this weakness for an indefinite period. As you age, your genes do not change, but your epigenome changes dramatically. It is influenced by physical and emotional stresses–how you respond to everything that happens in your environment, from climate change to marriage to final exams to childhood abuse–that will ultimately affect your epigenome. Toxic relationships can influence the expression of your genes, and directly impact your tendency to avoid or develop many unpleasant conditions, from heart palpitations, and Adrenal Fatigue to depression.

Studies have shown:

  • Heart surgery patients with strong spiritual and social support have a mortality rate 1/7th of those who do not.
  • Meditation for just 30 minutes a day can be as effective as the use of antidepressants.
  • Elderly people with positive attitudes have an over twenty percent reduction in risk of death from cardiovascular disease and over fifty percent lower risk from all other causes.

Toxic relationships and a positive attitudeClearly, the ability to have a positive mental attitude greatly affects your physical health. This is true in the case of Adrenal Fatigue. In fact, if emotional stressors are present but not resolved, they can act as a deterrent to Adrenal Fatigue recovery.

Being able to manifest positive emotions and happiness is perhaps one of the greatest characteristics you have as a human being. For some this can be a very liberating thought. You do not have to feel bad because you’re getting older or fatigued all the time, or because your life isn’t going exactly as you had planned. You actually do not have to feel bad for any reason at all, once you make your mind up to be happy.

Adrenal Fatigue may actually be one of the best things that happen to you if put in the right perspective. For many, it is a wake up call. Often, some area of life is out of balance or alignment. Addressing Adrenal Fatigue is often the starting point for a deeper exploration of self and of life at a deeper level. Most people live superficially. Correcting Adrenal Fatigue often causes a person to begin to live at a much deeper level and to understand the body and mind from a more spiritual perspective as well. It forces you to focus on what is really important in life-such as peace, love, forgiveness, contentment.

Adrenal Fatigue or any serious condition is not to be handled as quickly as possible with a quick fix. If you act this way, you may miss the greatest blessing of your life. Use this condition constructively as a way of really listening and getting to know your body; to let go of toxic and harmful relationships, and cultivate subtle changes in attitude and mental tendencies. Try to move away from a superficial life that focuses on victim and negative thinking into one that, no matter how painful, is far more peaceful and serene. Bear in mind that having a positive attitude is not about being happy all the time. Accepting that there will be times when you feel down is all part of being happy.

While in reality we already have the full potential to be happy and are in full control of our capacity for happiness, most of us find it extremely difficult. In fact, statistics have shown that the majority of society is unhappy with one thing or another-job, finance, or relationship. Out of all these, relationship remains the most difficult to overcome.

In Adrenal Fatigue, the healing of the mind has to occur before healing of the physical body, because the mind controls the body. Emotional baggage has to be discarded if present, as it is toxic to the healing process. Toxic relationships therefore must be minimized for the mind and body to heal.

The Effects of Toxic Relationships

Toxic relationships in the circleAll important, long-term relationships go through problems at some point in time. Whether it is family, marriage, or friendships, there will always be some type of conflict, disagreement and disappointment. A hallmark of emotional maturity is to bond with the significant other during difficult times and grow through the experience. However, some relationships are just plain toxic. No matter how they try to work through troubles, the conflicts and friction are so serious as to continually hurt one or more of the people in the relationship. This type of relationship singles out at least one person in an emotional desert.

Toxic relationships do not necessarily mean that the people concerned are bad. It is more about the people not fitting well with one another. Goodness or badness might not have anything to do with it. One person’s style just clashes with the other person, creating a toxic relationship. There was good chemistry at one point, but with time, the people have grown and changed, thus altering the relationship. This is all part of human nature, and there is no one to blame. However, it can still be toxic all the same.

There are also toxic people who are a risk for emotional health. They usually have short tempers, mood swings, inconsistencies, denial and impulsive behavior. They might admit that behavior is wrong, but never try to correct their ways. They contradict the other as they say something, but do something else. Behavior might be quite abusive with only shallow feelings for their partners, shown through threats of leaving or holding back their love. A toxic person does not care about his/her partner and can even accuse him/her of self-centeredness. These people manipulate their companions and situations to keep their partner dependent on them even though they look down on them with shame, insult, and sarcasm.

Being in toxic relationships can make you chronically tired, angry, and frightened. You worry about when is a safe time to talk to your partner or if you have the right to express yourself. Any abusive relationship can be considered toxic. Many people stay in relationships because they do not understand that they have rights and options. Their low self-esteem can come from depression, fear of loneliness, or harmful threats from an abusive partner. They might not see that life can be better without the toxic relationship.

Danger Signs

  • Your partner separates you from your family, friends, and children.
  • Your partner keeps watch over you.
  • Your partner verbally abuses you either in private or in public.
  • You lose your self-identity as you depend more on you partner, not knowing how to survive without him/her.
  • Your partner dominates you, not leaving any space for your preferences.
  • You are afraid of telling the truth for fear of upsetting your partner.
  • Your self-esteem is always at a low level as your partner makes you feel worthless and unattractive.
  • Your partner blames you for ruining the relationship and tries to make you change to make things work.
  • Your thoughts, words, opinions, and accomplishments have no value.
  • Your partner is overly possessive and overpowering.

Feelings that Define the Characteristics of a Toxic Relationship
Toxic relationships and the signs

  • Unsupported
  • Dis-satisfied
  • Fearful
  • Exasperated
  • Depleted
  • Drained
  • Unaccepted
  • Unrewarded
  • Judged
  • Guilt
  • Tired
  • Angry
  • Untrusting
  • Unequal
  • Stifled
  • Shame
  • Stressed

Recognizing the Cycle of Toxic Relationships

Though most of us want to find love and intimacy, we also find ourselves fearful of being hurt, worrying about commitment, and dreading abandonment—also known as anxiety. Our relationship comfort zone is flanked by behavior patterns that are neither too close to trigger fusion anxiety, nor too distant to trigger separation anxiety. These boundaries have been formed in our childhood and seldom change without conscious awareness. They also create patterns that can lead to a cycle of toxic relationships.

In the cycle of toxic relationships, power struggles arise many times without finding solutions. Intimacy turns to conflicts, which lead to anxiety. These anxieties then lead to arguments, hurt feelings, and withdrawal. Though withdrawals might bring temporary relief, they ultimately become feelings of isolation and loneliness, thus setting off anxieties about abandonment. This separation anxiety leads to new proposals and renewed intimacy as the couple goes through a honeymoon period. However, this closeness will soon trigger fusion anxiety and trouble starts all over again, repeating the cycle. Each time the cycle occurs, the adrenals take a beating. With each stress, the adrenal glands demand for cortisol is increased. With time, this output eventually declines, and symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue surfaces.

Couples who do not understand the cycles they are going through might eventually forget the positive elements in their relationship. Many of the problems in relationships are the product of varying comfort zone settings. When one person hits one side of the comfort zone boundary and is already experiencing fusion anxiety, the other person might just be following his/her desirable depth of intimacy. As the first person reverses direction and comes back into the comfort zone, the partner might feel abandoned; their mutual anxiety explodes and accusations are thrown at each other. For many of us, not understanding about the role of anxiety in relationships condemns us to be hurt constantly. However, if we try to face our anxiety, we can change the comfort zone relationship into a healthy, relationship characterized by a mutually reinforcing growth process. Not only will our selfhood grow, but also the sense of couple-hood will deepen.

In order to change a static comfort zone relationship into an actively growing relationship, we must train ourselves to stop in the middle of a conflict and engage in self-awareness. Ask questions like, “How did this fight start?” and “What am I anxious about?” or “How am I feeling threatened?” Using these questions might allow us to figure out a path to self-knowledge and deeper peace in our relationships. Intimate relationships awaken our deepest anxieties, and therefore can help us to grow personally and emotionally when used intelligently.

Getting Out of Toxic Relationships

Toxic relationships and forgivenessBeing around a toxic person for a long time might greatly decrease your sense of self-worth and capability. It is very important to stop the harm that people cause you. If your life is distressing, you are the only one who can change it. Here are some tips on how to live a better life by nullifying the negative influence of toxic relationships:

  • Take Responsibility. Understand that some part of you is contributing to the behaviors. Ask yourself why you are willing to allow the behaviors to continue. What can you learn from this?
  • Set Boundaries. Let your partner know that they cannot go around you. Describe what you are looking for and what your expectations are for the future.
  • Forgive. People are not usually toxic at birth. The environment and circumstances over time mold us in to who we are. Learn to see the good in a person beneath the toxicity on the surface. Learn to forgive and return love, which is our primary purpose on earth. Use love to heal one another.
  • List the positive characteristics of the person. This will help you alter your focus. If you continually focus on negative aspects, the person will be negative whenever they are around you.
  • Get a new perspective from a neutral party, who has no bias against your relationship—for example a counselor, coach, neighbor, or co-worker. The key is not to vent to the person or create someone to pity you. The point is for the other person to help you focus on the situation, the part you have played, and what you are willing to do to move forward.
  • End the Relationship. If nothing changes after you have tried all of the above, walk away from your relationship with your head held high.

Unless you remove the negative toxic relationships from your life, the constant negative energy flow needed to sustain the toxicity prevents Adrenal Fatigue healing. To channel the toxic negative energy into positive constructive energy is key to the healing process.


Toxic relationships

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1 Comment

  • adrenal recovery about to begin finally says:

    yes my adrenals have felt the brunt of verbal abuse and an unloving toxic relationships for many years, too many years. I have just realized I blamed everything else for my adrenal fatigue but, not the relationships I was in. I know there was much damage done to my adrenals from this and therefore, my body and that can’t be reversed, but, I refuse to allow it to do any more damage or kill me earlier. I can put a stop to it by not allowing the abuse anymore.