Tag Archives: toxic relationships

Two to Tango

tango

Passivity invites the other person to take a power position.

Maya and Jarel have been dancing the same dance step—or style of relating—for years. He dominates and she obediently yields. She’s tired of it.

Not long ago, she was ready to walk out the door, but right at that point he made a dramatic change . . . for the better. Now she’s not so sure about leaving. But she’s not sure about staying, either.

“I’m skeptical,” she said. “If I change my mind and decide to stay, I’m afraid Jarel will go back to his same old ways.”

“Sounds to me like you don’t trust the new you,” I said

Lately, Maya has made some impressive changes—giant strides—in terms of standing up for herself.  She doesn’t mouse-down anymore. Gone are the days of being dictated to and controlled. Gone are the days being passive and silent. She’s come to value herself way too much for that.

Yes, Jarel could slip back to his “same old ways,” but it’s more crucial that she doesn’t.

Here’s the naked truth:

If she doesn’t go back to her old ways, he can’t go back to his. It’s impossible to dance the tango when the other person is busy doing the rumba. As the saying goes: It takes two to tango.

Darcie, another client, was also rising to the challenge of changing the dance in her relationship with her husband.  You can read about that by clicking here.

Maya, Darcie and all dance-changers should not underestimate their power to change a relationship dynamic . . . or dance. They can. It happens, but only if they remain changed themselves.

For Maya, this means she’ll continue to stand up for herself—instead of being passive—if Jarel reverts back to his habit of dominating. Not occasionally or a week later, but ideally every time it happens!

Both will slip up occasionally, but weakening back to their former daily pattern spells destruction for their relationship. Maya’s challenge is to remain just as self-honoring as the day she was poised to walk out.  Not to forget that being uncompromisingly true to herself was the game changer for Jarel.

By the end of our session, Maya was leaning in the direction of staying. She’ll be practicing her new dance step which, inevitably, invites Jarel to follow suit. Who knows, he may even decide he likes the new dance!

 

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Love Can’t Thrive in a Cage

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“If you really love me, you’ll be true to yourself!”

Say that to your partner and watch their jaw drop to the floor. Why? Because we usually get the opposite message: “If you really love me, you’ll do what I want. You’ll do back flips—on the ceiling!—to please me.”

Has anyone ever tried to guilt you with a statement like that one? What did it evoke in you? A warm fuzzy feeling? Doubtful.

Have you ever said that to anybody else? Did it feel like an act of love to you? Probably not. That’s because it hails from feeling deserving and entitled.

Click here to read about Dane and Paula … two people who were unhappy in their relationships for this very reason.

Shoulds and love do not belong in the same universe.

Thich Nhat Hanh sums it up perfectly: “You must love in such a way that the person you love feels free.”

 

 

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Meet Your Roommate

roommate

 

Suppose you had a roommate who constantly scrutinized and critiqued your every move starting with the moment you got out of bed: “You should have gotten up earlier. Are you ignoring  today’s schedule? Your hair’s a mess . . . as usual. Don’t forget to contact Jonathan today. He expects a call, you know. You’re such a slacker.”

How long would you continue to live with such a roommate? Briefly. You’d throw that person out on the street in no time flat!

That’s what Michael Singer, in his book The Untethered Soul, believes we would do. But . . . BUT . . . he points out an exception. We’re not very likely to boot out the roommate who takes up residence in our head—our “inner roommate.” Our inner roommate says all the same things as any given external—actual—roommate . . . and more! We’re told what to do, what to fear, what to second-guess, and how to think about this person or that person.

Not only does our roommate devote its time to judging us, it judges everybody we know and everybody who streams on and off our path throughout the day.

According to Singer, “It has something to say about everything you look at: ‘I like it. I don’t like it. This is good. That’s bad.’ It just talks and talks. You don’t generally notice because you don’t step back from it. You’re so close that you don’t realize that you’re actually hypnotized into listening to it.”

I can only agree. Call it a dictator we bow and pay homage to.  We listen to it and give it more power and authority than it should have.  I discussed this very thing with two of my clients, Dawn and Doug.  You can read about our sessions by clicking here.

“There’s almost nothing that voice can say that you don’t pay full attention to,” Singer states. “It pulls you right out of whatever you’re doing, no matter how enjoyable, and suddenly you’re paying attention to whatever it has to say . . . . That’s how much respect you have for this neurotic thing inside of you.”

Singer’s correct. We honor it over our own will, in fact. And therein lies the key to change and freedom. We must switch our allegiance from our inner roommate to our will.

 “Your will is stronger than the habit of listening to that voice.”

—Michael Singer

The first step in accomplishing that is to become aware of its existence. The very act of awareness sets you apart from the voice and places you in the role of observer versus blind captive. As an observer, you have control. As your roommate babbles on, you critique it rather than the other way around. And in the process, you think and act on your own beliefs, tastes, and opinions. You determine your own course of action.

Identify with the true you … the observer.

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

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Seek Sunlight

woman prison

 “I felt like a cage was around me when I was with John. I wasn’t me. I was afraid to be me. I was always nervous about doing the wrong thing and setting him off.”

Those words were spoken by my client, Marta, who finally left her husband because he’s an alcoholic—he got violent.  Click here to read an earlier post about Marta’s situation.

Are you like Marta was, anxious about upsetting others if you voice your truth, act yourself, or possess a mind and will of your own?

If you nodded your head, it’s very likely you’ve spent a chunk of time with a person who made it difficult for you to do so. Their intense—often combustible—reaction taught you to remain tight-lipped and behave chameleon-like in their presence. You soon realized that it’s better to appease than face the consequences of being true to you.

Understandably, a sharp tongue, harsh hand or painful withdrawal are backlashes worth avoiding.

Who are these people? Some are addicts—hooked on drugs or alcohol, some are spoiled children residing in adult-size bodies. Some have a mental disorder of some kind, and others are just over-reactive, difficult people.

They all possess something in common: They can’t be counted on to be consistent with their warmth, remorse or clarity. In one moment they will understand what you want them to understand and in the next they won’t. One day you’re a beloved friend or ally, but the next day you’re the target for blame and hostility.

Their unpredictable fluctuations cause that tight knot in your stomach to take up permanent residence. You’re constantly on the watch for the next upheaval. Over-exposure to these people can cause you to doubt yourself. You wonder: “Am I at fault? Did I cause their reaction? What can I do to fix it?”

You can’t. There’s only one solution: Save yourself. Don’t entertain the thought—for an instant—that you’re the cause or the one responsible to fix it. Trust your instincts that say:

“This is not sunlight for my soul.”

In fact, it’s just the opposite.

We’re hard-wired to sense what’s toxic for us both physically and psychologically. Call it our survival instinct. Trust it.

And finally, believe that you’re worthy of the sunlight. You deserve to be around people who are consistent, who see your goodness, and who relish your individuality, which includes having a mind and will of your own.

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

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Avoid the Muck and Guck

 crooked road (2)

I found a perfect piece of advice for those of us who try to fix someone else’s distorted thinking. It’s an old Russian proverb that says:

“Don’t drive a car straight down a crooked road.”

Easier said than done, especially if we’re the target of someone’s erroneous accusations. At those times, it’s extremely difficult to resist springing into action—in defense of ourselves, armed with facts and mounds of explanations.

Trish, a client, is a good example. One morning she got up before Chad and went downstairs to start her day. She was relishing the silence and a nice cup of coffee when he suddenly appeared in the doorway. “Hey, what are you all ticked off about?” he asked with a scowl.

Chad had assumed wrongly. She wasn’t “ticked off”—her mood was in fine shape . . . uh, at least up to that point. His accusation instantly jolted her out of the tranquil spell that enveloped her, and she spent the next several minutes frantically attempting to get him to perceive her through a clear lens. (Click here to read more…)

Trish got snagged by his stuff. Soon, they were both swimming in their combined muck and guck. We all know that place . . . it serves no one.

That’s our little piece of insanity. We engage. We walk into a tangled web of distortion and accusations and try desperately to clean the other person’s lens. Or, another way to put it: we “try to drive the car straight down a crooked road.” It doesn’t work. The car lands in a ditch.

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

 

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The Latest Wow: Don’t Feed the Parasites!

mosquito

Not long ago, one of my clients, Rani, wowed me with this:

“Some people don’t really deserve the benefit of the doubt.”

Experience taught Rani that somber truth. For months, she overlooked and excused multiple incidents of being used, deceived and manipulated by her friend, Val. “It finally reached such ludicrous proportions, I just couldn’t ignore it anymore,” she said in our counseling session.

Rani loaned her money, let her move in, gave her rides to and from work. The list grinds on. As for the loan, Val promised to pay it back, but so far “I have yet to receive a single nickle of it,” Rani said, disgusted.

Let’s face it, there’s a population of nice people out there and there’s a population of . . . uh, let’s just say, not-so-nice. They take advantage of the nice ones and the nice ones let them. That merely perpetuates a maddening set of circumstances . . . for the nice tribe, that is.

These two types attract each other like magnets. Self-centered versus other-centered. One is self-denying and willing to give up what they want and even need so that the other can experience a “happy” life.

When I ask these big-hearted people why they sacrifice themselves, they tell me things like, “I’ll feel guilty and mean if I do otherwise.” Ironically, they’re afraid of being self-centered and . . . not nice.

Rani no longer thinks that way. Her experience with Val opened her eyes to a fundamental truth: When the events of our lives don’t bring us peace, it’s vital that we opt to make life changes.

 As for the “nice” word, she came to see that it isn’t nice to dishonor ourselves by tolerating being used and disrespected.

And it isn’t nice to keep feeding the parasites. How do they ever learn that parasiting isn’t nice? 🙂

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

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Free to Leave

Free_Spirit

“A grain of sand becomes a beach in a millisecond.”

Marta—my client—was talking about her over-reactive, hot-tempered husband who makes mountains out of mole hills. Add suspicion, an appetite for power, and alcohol to the mix and you have a potentially dangerous man. Not long ago, he became just that.

It all started when she walked in the front door. There he stood, arms folded and wearing a scowl. The usual grilling began—demanding to know where she had been. Her explanation fell on deaf ears. He didn’t believe her—never does—that is, unless her story agrees with his. He was convinced she had been spending time with another man.

As is often the case, Marta tried—desperately—to get him to believe her. It didn’t work. He just got nastier . . . then . . . he hit her. Serious bleeding resulted. She did not file a police report. Why? Because she’s locked into the habit of appeasing him. He’s her priority.

There’s another reason. Marta second-guesses herself. When she’s the target of someone’s anger, or when accused or badgered, her knee jerk reaction is to believe it’s somehow justified. So, along with thousands of other abuse victims, she believes she can make him treat her better by changing something about herself.

In our session, Marta unloaded example after example of verbal and emotional abuse. But at the time of those incidents, Marta was in a state of denial. She didn’t want to see it so she minimized or excused it. She even followed his lead and blamed herself.

But fooling herself had now become an impossibility. He had crossed a line, and—long overdue as it was—it finally opened her eyes.

“Why have you put up with this for so long?” I asked. “I’m not a quitter,” she said.

I don’t call it “quitting” when we decide to leave an abusive relationship. I call it a much needed course correction . . . and an act of loving ourselves.

If Marta’s husband doesn’t love her enough to stop abusing her, shouldn’t she love herself enough to put an end to it? The answer is a clear “Yes!”

Marta’s not alone. Scores of women (and men) are in abusive relationships. It doesn’t usually start out that way. Few people, if any, would go on a second date with an abuser. No, it’s a subtle, progressive thing. Suddenly, we’re there!

And just like Marta, we may shake our heads in disbelief and ask: “How did I get here?” The answers are varied, depending on the individual, but one universal cause is adaptation. If we’re exposed to something long enough, we start to get used to it. Cigarettes comes to mind. At first our bodies recoil—they reject the toxic substance. But with prolonged exposure, our bodies learn to adapt.

Dr. Steven Stosny shared his thoughts and advice on adaptation, anger and abuse in relationships with Oprah’s audience many years ago.  His words are as true today as they were then.

As Marta and so many others have discovered, the way out of such relationships requires courage, a hearty dose of self-love and an awakened belief in one’s own value.

Names have been changed to honor client confidentiality

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