Is it possible to have positive relationships with toxic people?

toxic

At some point in our lives we all have encountered toxic people. Perhaps it has been a parent, best friend or romantic partner. It can be very difficult to maintain positive relationships with people who seem to go out of their way to make your life more difficult. How can you have a positive relationship with a parent who consistently makes cutting comments in the guise of preparing you for the real world when their comments only break your spirit? Is it possible to call a friend a true friend when they belittle you and don’t support your dreams? Can you trust the declarations of love from a romantic partner who goes out of their way to undermine your self-worth?

These are questions that I have been asking myself while navigating life as a divorced mother who must exist in the world with a co-parent who seems to delight in making things as challenging as possible. When my six-year-old looks me in the eye and asks me “why life has to be this way” after the latest purposeful disappointment from her father, I find myself attempting to explain to her that we can’t control other people’s behavior we can only continue to be kind even in the face of disappointments.  I see loved ones who are being taken advantage of by their parent’s then being quilted into relationships that I know will end with pain for them while their parents will continue to live guilt free lives. I have seen people betrayed by those that they considered to be close friends only to have those people use the inside information that they gained through the friendship to cause them harm.

Most people on the outside considering the above-mentioned situations would say the best thing that you could do for yourself would be to cut all ties to these people. However it is not always as simple as that. It is not easy to walk away from parents, close friends or romantic partners. Instead you have to define what those relationships will look like and how they will function. Based on my observations I have composed a toxic relationship checklist to help determine if a relationship can be maintained as is, improved or must be released.

I’ve seen people maintain relationships with toxic people out of obligation. Usually they will make excuses for accepting this subpar treatment or even blame themselves for the situation. These one-sided connections often lead to lowered self-esteem and expectations and can lead to a warped view of what is acceptable behavior and what they are willing to accept from other people.

Relationships can be improved if, and only if, the behaviors that have caused pain have been identified. Then an open and honest dialog needs to be had. That person then needs to acknowledge what has been said, apologize and make a real effort to not make the same mistakes. Then and only then can that relationship be maintained. Often it is better than it was before because communication and expectations have become clearer.

If the person who wronged you refuses to acknowledge the issues you have raised and instead chooses to deny or deflect then this relationship will need to be released. Once a person has recognized and identified toxic behavior and has attempted to reach out to the perpetrator but receives pushback and gas lighting, then it is a sign that this person has no real intention of being fully present in the relationship in a way that is mutually beneficial and that is not someone that you should maintain close ties with. As I have mentioned before it is not always easy to sever ties with people you have known for long periods of time or that you care for deeply. If you don’t want to completely sever ties with your mother, for example, it would be better to limit your contact with her. Modify the amount of time that you spend with her and in time you will find that it the peace that you feel away from that toxic relationship will far outweigh any thing else.

When it is all said and done we are in control of who we allow into our space. The world will try to overwhelm you with connections, opportunities, expectations and trials that we have very little control over. It is in our best interest to try limit our exposure to people who bring us more pain, anxiety and sadness than joy, peace and love. The choice is yours, choose wisely.

Do You Love With Your Whole Heart?

Love

True love. This phrase has been drilled into our heads by fairy-tales and movies with happy endings all of our lives. It conjures up thoughts of men on white horses charging in to save the day. Teenage boys standing in the rain with boomboxes overhead and one on one basketball games for the chance to win someone’s love and affections. However, the reality of love is much less newsworthy. Authentic love requires us to love with our whole heart. When I first encountered the concept of wholehearted love it was in Brené Brown’s book The Gifts Of Imperfection: Let Go Of Who You Think You’re Supposed To Be And Embrace Who You Are. As a qualitative researcher, she spends a lot of time collecting data on various topics and then following the truths revealed by that study. From the data she gathered regarding love she came up with a definition that I think is much more accurate than the vision we currently have.

Through the data she defines love this way:

“We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honour the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness and affection.

Love is not something that we give or get, it is something that we nurture and grow, a connection that can only be cultivated between two people when it exists within each of them-We can only love others as much as we love ourselves.

Shame, blame, disrespect, betrayal and the withholding of affection damages the roots from which love grows. Love can only survive these injuries if they are acknowledged, healed and rare.”

By this definition it is plain to see why many relationships do not thrive. Most people spend so much of their lives protecting their own feelings that they never truly open up and allow themselves to be vulnerable with anyone. I know that it has been a challenge for me to allow myself to be wholehearted with family, friends and romantic partners throughout my life and I believe that this inability to trust someone else with my feelings has crippled many of my connections. This fear of being hurt has led me to shallow friendships and uneven romantic partnerships because I found myself hustling for my worthiness instead of reveling in the fullness of who I am.

The first thing that I did to correct this imbalance was to learn to love myself by these standards. How can I expect to attract a romantic partner who exhibits these traits unless I first cultivate them in myself? How can I expect my friends and family to trust me with their inner most feelings if I am unable to trust myself with my own emotions? Loving myself, flaws and all was harder than I thought it would be and took a lot of work.  Heck I still need to remind myself to be respectful, kind and to show myself affection but I’ve gotten much better at it over the last couple of years. I’ve taught myself how to do manicures and some fun nail art, started working with a trainer to build strength, started taking better care of my skin and nutrition and when times get tough or I miss the mark I try to speak kindly to myself to get through the rough times.

During this process I also began to be more honest with my friends and family about my feelings and began to be more purposeful in communicating my feelings with them. I also began to be more open with my romantic partner about my feelings and desires for our relationship and this has created a wonderful safe space for us to explore what we mean to each other and how we want to shape our connection moving forward.  These types of interactions are still very new and nerve racking for me however I began trusting the people in my inner circle enough to share my feelings of love, appreciation, joy and thankfulness for our connection. To my surprise instead of them running from me, as has always been my fear, these connections have blossomed into deeper connections. I have also been able to extend this courage to the workplace and am now speaking up, offering suggestions and being more forthcoming with my concerns which has created new opportunities for me to advance my career within the company.

This process has shown me that there is an amazing strength in vulnerability. It takes courage to allow someone to have access to your feelings, however the reward of deeper connections far outweighs the fear of rejection. It has not been all roses during this journey. I have faced rejections, the pain of knowing that my feelings were not reciprocated or that some people do not want to form deeper bonds and I have learned that this is OK. Through this definition of love I have embraced the idea that “Love is not something that we give or get, it is something that we nurture and grow”. Thinking of love in this way has allowed me to have a sense of peace because I know that I am living and loving with my whole heart even if friendships end, family connections change or romantic partners leave and that is pretty amazing.