When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time. – Maya Angelou
This cited quote made me stop and think about the influences affecting my enjoyment of life.
Each day since starting this blog, I’ve given serious consideration to how to boost the spirit. My thoughts tend to run toward what might be added to enhance the pleasure of a given day: trying a new hobby, buying a new album, taking a day trip, or tasting a new food are all no-brainer activities guaranteed to perk up your day.
Yet sometimes what detracts from an otherwise gratifying life is the exhausting presence of a toxic relationship. We’ve seen this dynamic depicted rather melodramatically in books, movies, and television. Bullies, physically abusive partners, and overly domineering parents are just a few examples. Fortunately, most of us will never experience extreme toxicity. But rarely does one escape the subtler, yet equally detrimental, forms of an unhealthy relationship.
Maybe it’s the co-chair on your volunteer committee who is never quite satisfied with your contribution. Maybe it’s the friend who likes to gossip about everyone, leaving you to question what is said behind your back. Or maybe it’s the colleague who is always bragging about his or her success. The bottom line is that those complicated dynamics can sap us of joy and confidence.
The “easy” answer is to quickly identify those relationships and then eliminate them. But often we’re forced to remain in the relationship (especially if it involves a family member or a co-worker). So, instead of heeding Ms. Angelou’s good advice, we give people a second or third chance to hurt us. We hope things will change. We make excuses for their behavior. Basically, we suffer.
As I’ve gotten older (an oh-so-much-wiser, wink wink), I’ve learned to handle these kinds of situations with much more aplomb than I did twenty years ago.
First and foremost, I’ve learned to recalibrate my expectations. I no longer try to change the person, or myself, in an effort to improve the relationship. I accept it, for better or worse, “as-is.” This step is particularly hard because often you must mourn the loss of what you’d wanted it to be versus what it really is. The good news, however, is the internal peace you achieve with such acceptance.
Second, I detach and depersonalize all communication. I recognize the offending person’s behavior isn’t a reflection of my shortcomings (although I confess to having many!). Rather, I decide that person likely treats everyone similarly. Once I view the exchange as impersonal, it hurts much less.
Third, I minimize my interaction with them to the fullest extent possible. Out of sight, out of mind. Sometimes those old sayings are just plain true! And walking away (or stepping back) isn’t as hard as you think. Once you commit and get a taste of freedom, it gets easier to reduce your exposure without feeling guilty.
I don’t suppose mine are particularly profound insights, but they work for me. By setting those invisible boundaries, I’ve learned to cope with detrimental relationships without letting them take a bite out of my entire day or sense of self-satisfaction. Plugging the drain is one way to keep my spirit buoyed!
Of course, I still like to find those “add-ins” to enrich my day too…
Are there tricks you can share to help others handle toxic relationships?