The Mighty Logo

14 Signs a Relationship Is Toxic for Your Chronic Illness

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

After becoming sick, your relationships can change – sometimes for the better but unfortunately, sometimes for the worse. Some people aren’t sure how to be supportive and end up saying the wrong things, while others may make more deliberate assumptions or judgments about your illness. These people can truly become “toxic” as their words and actions leave you feeling stressed, dismissed, and even physically sicker. You don’t deserve to be treated that way, and it’s important to recognize how these people are affecting you and how to minimize their impact on your life.

If a relationship has slowly become more negative, it might not be easy to recognize that it’s toxic. So, we asked our Mighty community with chronic illness to share the signs that a relationship has become toxic and their advice for dealing with this person. It might require a conversation, or in extreme cases, removing them from your life. It’s OK to do what’s right for your health and rethink the relationships that aren’t bringing you support and peace.


Here’s what our community told us:

1. “[A relationship is toxic] when someone doesn’t believe your symptoms… [so] I don’t talk about it. I’ve also learned not to depend on that person for help when I need it.”

2. “[A relationship is toxic] when you start to feel sick all the time because you worry constantly about doing the right things, to the point where you’re in panic attack mode with shaking, sweating, a fast heart rate, vomiting or fainting. If you feel that uncomfortable, trust your gut and don’t put yourself through all that pain.”

3. “I was a victim of gaslighting in multiple relationships I had, romantic or otherwise. If something feels wrong, leave. Block them. Walk away. I know it’s hard, but the feeling of hopelessness isn’t love. Never feel like you’re not enough for someone. You’ll eventually be enough, I promise. You never know who’s waiting for you. Cutting ties with toxic relationships helped me find who I was waiting for.”

4. “[A relationship is toxic] when they expect more from you than you can give or they expect you to have the energy you had when you first got married 20+ years ago… I don’t want to be stuck in bed. I would much rather have a clean house, but I’m not capable of it right now. It made me feel like he believed I was just being lazy. There were a few rough years, but after explaining my side of things, he chose to educate himself.”

5. “[It’s] when someone gets mad at you for being sick… I think in these situations communication is extremely important. Tell them how you feel. It’s OK to put your foot down and let them know you won’t tolerate their behavior. I also believe in counseling. It’s hard on our partners, too. Being sick doesn’t just take a toll on us. It affects everyone around us.”

6. “Work relationships can become toxic when you have a chronic illness. In my personal experience, I lost several co-workers I considered my friends the moment I had [Family and Medical Leave] and started utilizing it for my bad days or mornings. I was harassed and now… none of them even speak to me. Yes, it hurts… a lot. But, now I know where not to turn to and who not to talk to about it.”

7. “Communication is the most important thing. My husband has bipolar disorder and I have chronic illnesses. It’s very easy to resent each other if you don’t keep communication open at all times.”

8. “[A toxic relationship is] anyone who pushes you physically, emotionally or mentally when you’ve explained that it aggravates your condition… You know your limits. If another person can’t respect that, they don’t care about you.”

9. “[The signs are] if they say things like they wish they had your illness (they see one “benefit” like weight loss or free time and think having that is better than all the bad things). Or, if they always talk about their problems and life but never want to hear about yours. To deal with it I would say look at the rest of your relationship with that person. If their behavior is limited to things pertaining to your illness, they may just be uncomfortable and not know how to respond. In that case maybe try to bring up some things you wish people around you understood. Just don’t do it when they are doing something you dislike — that is more likely to make them defensive and start an argument. Do it in random conversation. If, however, you see signs of trouble and abuse in all parts of your relationship with that person, it may be time to back off. That can be hard, especially since chronic illness tends to shrink your friend circle, but if you let things fester it will probably just bring more pain down the road.”

10. “Anyone who dares use the word ‘lazy’ — I will bite back with information and educate you real fast about my disease.”

11. “[It’s] when they call you a hypochondriac and refuse to believe there’s something wrong. Or when they say you’re faking it for attention. I just don’t talk about it around those people. I end up keeping a lot to myself because it’s easier that way.”

12. “In terms of friendship… when you feel lonelier and more hurt with them as your friend than you would without them in your life, time to end it.”

13. “People have a tendency to blame the chronically ill person. One person confronted me (after a rare appearance), ‘People need to see you.’ Then suggested over-simplified, ignorant ‘solutions’ to my chronic, painful illness. It would have in the past hurt my feelings. Now? It just angered me. I replied simply, ‘It is what it is,’ dismissed the person and ended the conversation to keep the peace. I found making peace in my life, and with my chronic illness, [can simplify my life]. Because having a chronic illness is complex. At a level most people can’t imagine. My priorities have simplified. That includes ending or limiting relationships with those who want to stay ignorant, fault finding, or toxic in any way.”

14. “You just know it. You feel it. You start getting more and more tired. Then you start aching and having random pains and hurting more and more. Before you know it you can’t function at all. But it’s never too late to leave and get help. My advice is the second you realize it, start fighting back immediately. Convince yourself of your strength to overcome. Get out as fast as you can. Get help and don’t stop searching and reaching out. Never give up.”

14 Signs a Relationship Is Toxic for Your Chronic Illness
Originally published: June 22, 2017
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home