Escaping Toxic Relationships
Escaping Toxic Relationships
I was having dinner with a dear friend of mine. It was so lovely to reconnect and both of us cognizant of how much we cherish one another began to share about the relationships we each have in our lives. Thinking about whom we surround ourselves with can impact how we can be fulfilled in our lives. We came to the conclusion that we must surround ourselves with people who not only love and support us, but also provide unconditional love by making the effort to share with us all that life brings to us: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Whether they are friends or family members, these relationships are absolutely golden.
Later, I began to think about the relationships with family and friends that in fact are quite the opposite or somehow do not measure up in the way we expect them too. Feelings of sadness, anger, and disappointment are all too common, while some relationships leave us feeling taken advantage of, disrespected, abused and worthless? We all know we should not be in relationships that make us feel so negative and often feel trapped by familial necessity when family members impact our lives this way. Family members are sometimes the ultimate ball and chain, and when they behave badly it can have an incredibly damaging effect on our psyche.
Why continue unhealthy relationships?
I asked myself the very questions we have all asked ourselves: Why do we continue to maintain relationships with our family members that not only offer very little, but in fact carry a lot of heavy baggage? Why do we continue to listen to our mother’s put downs and feel hurt? Why do we continue to listen to our brother’s talk about how much more successful he is, making us feel worthless? Why does our cousin’s opinionated rumors about how we run our lives enrage us? Why do we let our alcoholic parent’s inability to be there for us continue to hurt us at every important event they miss: graduation, wedding, birth of a child?
We continue to hurt from the inability of these family members to meet our needs because we believe and hope that these people will miraculously change. One day you will be enough for them to change and you will get what you always desired; love, support, and understanding. Yes, Hope can be powerful but also detrimental in keeping you from living the best life you can.
Besides hope why else do we stay in these difficulty relationships? Is it possible that we stay because we have expectations of our family and the responsibility ascribed to their role in our lives? For example a newborn child cries for her father to meet her physical and emotional needs: holding, bonding, and soothing. In a healthy situation these needs would be met. If these needs are not met the baby will begin to lose weight and will eventually not meet normal developmental milestones such as crawling and making eye contact. This phenomenon is known as failure to thrive. As children these expectations of family members continue. Ultimately, we maintain these expectations for family members to behave in a positive way in our lives. We expect family members to soothe our anxieties, to pick us up when we fall, to be present and to not leave us alone in a difficult situation, and to encourage us when we really want to give up. After all aren’t they suppose to, “That is his father, her mother, or sister?”
Expectations and emotions play a role
Exploring many common relationships we have outside of the family and the expectations we carry as parameters for these relationships provides helpful insight. With our boss or supervisor, there is an expectation that this person might not always be our boss. He or she might get promoted and change roles within the company or leave for another job. We are usually okay with this because it is the expectation of the role. Let’s look at a roommate situation in a transient town, Hoboken. We might be sad when our roommate moves out to get married but there is an expectation that this will eventually happen. Also it is easier to handle because there is less of an emotional connection in these relationships then between your immediate family, generally speaking.
Let’s look at more emotionally involved relationships. We expect that our spouses will decide to spend more time with the family after it is voiced that the other spouse feels they should. The expectation of a married couple is that they will work through the difficulties in the marriage because they promised to do so in their vows “ for better or for worse.” When the other spouse does not see the spouse changing in this scenario, trying to change “for better or for worse,” they continue to hope that the spouse will change and spend more time with them soon because it is what is expected in the role of a spouse. Will the spouse leave if the other does not change “quick enough?” Most likely not. We stay in the relationship because of the responsibilities of the role of wife and husband has to the relationship and because the connection is deeper than other relationships one may have. If a friend never wanted to spend time with you, yes it would hurt but wouldn’t it be easier to move on?
What if our spouse can never change or our parents will never be able to meet our emotional needs because they are so concerned about themselves? What if our cousins never stop spreading rumors or a sibling never stops putting you down? What if?
You have one choice: accept that they will never meet your needs and that others must meet these needs. Releasing the expectations you carry based on familial definitions allows you to define how these crucial players affect you. Understand that this is easier said than done. Hope and fulfillment is the driving force that causes us to keep turning to family members that will never meet our needs.
Surround yourself with those that do meet your needs. Accept that those closest to us will not meet your needs and be okay with that kind of relationship. This is the key to how to live your best life: only engaging in positive relationships that enhance your life. Remember there are three things you do not have control over: time, nature and others. You do have the ability to change your perceptions and self!