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Four Causes of Unhealthy Interpersonal Relationships

This is a guest post by Darius Cikanavicius of Self-Archeology.

Interpersonal relationships can be difficult. Whether romantic, intimate, friendly, or work-related, it is common for most people to experience some sort of a problem in their relationships.

In this article, we will explore the more important reasons behind failure in interpersonal relationships and look at how it can be different.

Four causes unhealthy interpersonal relationships:

1. Ignorance

People often don’t have healthy interpersonal relationships because they don’t know what that looks like. Plenty of us have been raised in an environment where we were controlled, invalidated, punished, disrespected, ignored, neglected, ridiculed, and hurt in many other ways.

As a result, such a person in their adulthood may not know how to interact in a mature, respectful, self-respecting, and reciprocal manner.

Moreover, many people with whom you interact are also experiencing their own problems and shortcomings, so it’s not like everyone has good boundaries and perfect skills and you are the only one feeling confused.

Social and personal dysfunction is highly normalized in society and that makes it that much more complicated for someone who wants to grow, thrive, and be healthier. This brings us to reason number two….


interpersonal relationships bad advice2. Bad examples

Most of us not only lacked understanding about what a healthy relationship looks like but also witnessed many poor examples without even knowing it.

But that’s how everyone interacts! Your parents are always right because they are your parents. Spouses sometimes fight, lie, and yell at each other. People relate and react just like we see on TV. Friends sometimes lie to you, betray you or use you. People drink and do drugs to have fun.

You sacrifice yourself for others—or you get what you want at the expense of others. You only bond over superficial things or ideologies and avoid being vulnerable or empathizing with another. Most of the time you simply feel lonely, even surrounded by people. That’s how people interact, right?

When we learn what relationships are, we actually learn from the people around us. Therefore, if these examples are unhealthy, then it is natural for us to learn unhealthy ways of interacting. But, it is not true that these bad examples are the best way, the most decent way, or the only way to interact.

interpersonal relationships conflict3. Self-doubt

When we start realizing that maybe our interpersonal skills are not healthy or fulfilling, we may feel doubtful of our perceptions. Sometimes the other party uses certain manipulation tactics to keep us trapped and confused.

Gaslighting, projection, invalidation, triangulation, denial, distraction, control, guilt-tripping, shaming, appeal to emotion, playing the victim, fake promises and apologies, making it about them, and so on are all forms of manipulation that create self-doubt.

This can make your sense of self-doubt stronger. You may feel responsible for the other person, even though they are an adult and responsible for their own well-being.

You may think that you are acting “selfishly” in wanting to set healthier boundaries or leave the relationship. You may feel guilt and shame and think that you are being morally “bad” or that you are “hurting” the other person. You may also feel scared of the other person’s response in general.

4. Learned dependency

People who have been raised in a controlling and wanting environment carry their relationship dynamics into their adulthood. As a result, they are mentally, or even economically dependent on others because their boundaries are overly enmeshed with the other person.

The thoughts such a person may have are:

•    “I’m bad.” That’s learned shame and guilt.
•    “That’s all I am worth.” That’s learned self-devaluation, low self-esteem.
•    “I have to fix it.” That’s learned over-responsibility.
•    “I deserve it.” That’s learned rationalization and self-loathing.
•    “I’m at fault here / I’m hurting them / I’m selfish / I’m cruel.” That’s learned self-blame.
•    “It’s not that bad.” That’s learned minimization and compliance.
•    “I will be alone forever.” That’s learned fear of loneliness and catastrophizing.
•    “I can’t do anything about it.” That’s learned helplessness and powerlessness.
•    “I can’t live without them.” That’s learned dependency. This one is fundamental.

A lack of self and individuality creates a skewed perspective on what are healthy and acceptable behaviors in a relationship. You may also feel that it is absolutely vital that the other person’s perception of you is positive, or that something terrible will happen if you were to set better boundaries or even end the relationship for good.


Not having a more balanced perspective of what a healthy relationship looks like, not having good role models, and being raised in an abusive, stressful, wanting, dysfunctional environment conditions a person to be involved—or even seek—toxic, dramatic, problematic, unfulfilling relationships.

finding out who you areHowever, it doesn’t mean it has to be like this forever. It may take some time and a lot of practice and self-reflection, but over time you will become increasingly better at setting healthier boundaries and having more fulfilling relationships.

When you start seriously examining your past and your relationships, when you learn more about boundaries, when you gain more life experience, when you become more self-actualized and independent, you begin noticing how sad, toxic, and unnecessary all these social mechanisms around you are. You also notice or come up with better ways to engage in relationships and social situations.

You realize that it is possible to resolve a conflict in a win-win way or in a more productive manner. Or that it is possible to have a disagreement without shouting or power play. Or that you can base your relationships on healthy mutual values and true human connection. Or that you are strong enough to leave a toxic or empty relationship and build a new one. Or that you feel more and more content when you are alone because you like your own company and you don’t desperately seek for others to validate your existence anymore. Or that you set a standard where abusive and disrespectful behavior is unacceptable.

You start noticing a few other people who know how to interact in such a manner and you feel more drawn toward them. You notice that the familiar patterns of dysfunction, which were consciously or unconsciously more appealing in the past, now appear damaging and uninviting. You accept that you are not responsible for others because you are an adult now, and so are they.

You don’t feel “bad” or “selfish” for wanting a healthier and more fulfilling social environment. You stop using and accepting manipulation and practice mutual respect and reciprocation. You feel more empathy and compassion for your fellow human beings, especially for children. You are kind and helpful to others, without sacrificing your own well-being. You have healthier personal boundaries.

You live a happier and more fulfilling life.

About the Author

Darius is the founder of and content creator for Self‑Archeology. He is a writer, educator, helper, mental health advocate, and traveler.

Darius has worked professionally with people from all over the world as a psychological consultant and a certified life coach.

Get the free Self-Archeology Self-Work Starter Kit, and deepen your self-understanding. This starter kit makes self-growth simpler by giving you several areas to develop and breaking the process down into simple steps.

Four Causes of Unhealthy Interpersonal Relationships

Mike Bundrant

Mike Bundrant is the author of Your Achilles Eel: Discover and Overcome the Hidden Cause of Negative Emotions, Bad Decisions and Self-Sabotage and co-founder at The iNLP Center which offers online certification in Neuro-Linguistic Programming and life coaching.

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APA Reference
Bundrant, M. (2017). Four Causes of Unhealthy Interpersonal Relationships. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 29, 2020, from


Last updated: 10 May 2017
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