Monday, December 19, 2016

Thought to Ponder: to walk away and / or be open to transformations

So often we read advice that tells us to walk away from toxic relationships as the solution to our problems. The problem is that I am pretty sure almost every one of us has a toxic behaviour pattern that we internalized without even realizing it.

I believe we all have to some degree learned toxic behaviour as children growing up. These are defensive traits that we internalize to "protect" the fragile child self. These habits helped us to survive childhood where we are dependent upon others to have our needs met. We learned to do what we needed to do to remain in the “good graces” of those who were our caretakers.

As we grow up some of us learn to "moderate" these toxic behaviours but I think for the most part we do not.  After all why change what seems to be working?

Mostly I think it is a case of awareness and that awareness comes to us at different stages in our lives dependent on what difficulties we face and what learning we do to navigate those difficulties.

For example my sister and I grew up in a home that always pitted us against each other. The "good" child got the love and the "bad" child was punished by being neglected (i.e. not shown love). So we were always in competition for this scare commodity “love”.

While I learned to be a "people pleaser" to earn validation and love; my sister learned to do the same to others in her those who give her what she wants, and ostracize those who do not give her what she wants.

Both behaviours are toxic in a different way.

The people pleaser gives from a place of neediness (trying to earn love) rather than whole hearted giving and thus is the easily manipulated "door mat" personality.  The "narcissistic" personality continues to manipulate others to get the love they need.   Because it works, for a long time there appears to be no need to change as both “seem” to be getting what they need.

When these two opposing styles of dealing with conflict come face to face theirs is a toxic imbalance, but it is one that on the surface appears to function.  As long as the giver giving balances the needs of the manipulator, the relationship functions, but each person pays a price.  The people pleaser feels guilt when they don’t give enough and the manipulator has the false impression that the relationship works because it works for them and they have no idea the price the other person pays to maintain the relationship. As long as neither awakens to their nature / personality this is a working relationship but it is not a close  or intimate relationship.

However when one person has an awakening, usually the people pleaser starting to understand why they feel so used, the balance in the relationship changes. 

When the giver stops giving in to the need to earn acceptance love or validation then the imbalance is exposed.  When this happens one or even both of the people in the relationship feel the need to step back to "self-protect". 

The manipulator is confused as to why the giver has stepped away and they in turn step away because they are no longer getting the acquiescence that they need. The problem stems from the fact that neither learned the skills of effective communication because for so long the imbalanced relationship seemed to work.

In my opinion the problem is not in the learned behavious patterns (they are simply what they are, learned traits) but rather the fact that #1 there is little awareness about these traits and #2 the tools needed to understand and change these old ineffective behaviour patterns are not readily at our disposal.  

In the absence of effective awareness and learning opportunities, we have seen the rise of a certain class of so called "advice" givers that advocate for walking away from toxic relationships rather than working through toward a healing of the relationship. True, the easy solution is to end a toxic relationship that no longer works.  However there is another path provided both parties are willing to do the work.

I believe there needs to be far more talk about the process of working on how we deal with each other, and where those coping mechanisms came from and how to change our learned patterns of behaviour.

To simply advocate for a break in a relationship we do not address the coping mechanisms that no longer work.  We blame the other person for a coping mechanism that has worked for them just fine for many years and where it is entirely possible they don’t even realize they are using a coping mechanism that is destructive to the other person in the relationship.

I think possibly some advice givers are in a popularity contest.  To advocate the easy solution first (disengage from toxic relationships), they give people the “no work option”.  And naturally most people don’t want to work on relationships when the going gets tough. For really who wants to hear about the hard work of repairing and relearning when the easy road is to ostracize and blame and use that as a tool to cut ties.  And so they get a following, all the people that say “yes, just walk away.”

It is easier to just move on and hope that the next relationship will be better.  Of course the problem is that you then take those same old bad habits with you and the next relationship will suffer a similar demise if nothing has been gained through the hard work of self-evaluation and change. 

The advice givers who suggest the hard work of transformation seem not be nearly as popular. They tell us what we need (change forged through hard work) as opposed to what we would like (an easy fix).  Those who advocate that we  focus much more awareness on the aspects of healing relationships through understanding personality conflicts and how to resolve issues through communication are often tuned out simply because let’s face it, most of us are lazy when it comes to the work of changing our bad habit in relationships.

Of course both parties in the broken relationship must be willing to do the work.  That is a given.  However, in relationships we must be open to the concept that the other person is unaware and needs an opportunity to become open to change.  How do we do that? 

As far as I have been able to find, there is far too little information on this topic.  I for one; have not been taught the communications skills needed and I presume that most other people have not been taught these skills either.  We have been taught to accuse, blame, lay guilt trips and find fault with the other person. We have not been taught how to effectively communicate how we feel. (The operative word here is effectively, for all too often when we try to let another person know how we feel they hear a complaint, accusation, blame etc.).  Because of this lack we of communication skills we react to negative situations with negative words and / or actions often escalating a dispute just when we need to be at our most effective a diffusing a situation.

So as I understand better the difficulty of the challenge; I wonder if the so called "advice givers" who advocate for ending toxically imbalanced relationships, have in their own experience found the work of transforming and fixing is possibly too great a challenge and / or one they have not experienced any success at.

Of course the further challenge is for me to continue to learn the skills I need, to transform and change myself in a healing and healthy way, so that when given opportunities to repair difficult relationships I can do so effectively from a place of greater self-awareness and also greater compassion for the other person who is facing probably for the first time the growing awareness that there is a problem that needs to be dealt with and that they too are going to be required to change old habits and traits that are ineffective at creating the very closeness that they too desire.

Renate Dundys Marrello
2016 – 12 – 19 

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Monday, December 12, 2016

Post estrangement: the most hurtful statement of all “if you only apologize”

I believe that parents who have been estranged are on the receiving end of a lot of criticism.  They are often blamed or scapegoated for being on the receiving end of ostracism.  More often than not the message is expressed in self-righteousness as in “you must have done something to deserve it”.   And yet I rarely had great difficulty dealing with these kinds of people, because I understood that they were ignorant, and their words, hurtful as they may be came from that ignorance. 

Of course at the same time I was also battling my own self-flagellation where I blamed myself for being inadequate.  I examined every word every action under the microscope of hindsight seeking for the mistakes that I made. (And yes I made my list of things I needed to apologize for and wrote the letters as advised.) 

However there is a kind of judge mentalism that I find hard to tolerate; that is when someone says “Well all you have to do is apologize”. 

This is in my opinion the most insensitive and discouraging of all come backs that people make toward a parent that has been estranged. And sadly enough even some parents who are estranged believe also that if only they can word the apology just right then they will be taken back. How often have I seen parents blasting other parents to “just apologize!”  This is a really low blow. 

First of all most parents that have been estranged do “do the apology thing” first and think about it later.  In the early stages of estrangement most parents are so willing to “do anything” to make it end that they will blanket apologize for everything and anything they did wrong in hopes of begging their way back into good standing. I have known parents to grovel and beg, offering themselves up to walking on eggshells in fear that any misstep will once again precipitate rejection.

I confess; I too did several apologies.  All of them were met with silence!   The message became clear to me; even your apologies are not good enough.

It has taken me a long time to figure something out.  Offspring that estrange don’t want an apology if the apology is meant as a preface to communication and dialogue. Only the ones who “want” to work on repairing the relationship respond to an apology.  It is just like any other amends program, you offer the apology, but the recipient can decline.

When an apology is declined there is a message as well.   The nonverbal message is; “I am not yet over whatever it is I am holding against you.  I want to perpetuate the grudge.  I want to continue to show my power over you so the emotional abuse can continue, because power over you makes me feel better about myself.”

You see communication requires surrendering power and control. Declining an apology is about control.  As long as they control the situation they are powerful.  Rejecting an apology they are still in control.

So the question that really ought to be asked is not “why don’t you apologize” but “why are your apologies rejected? 

The rejecting of an apology says more about the rejecter than the person offering the apology. The person offering the apology says; here I am, I am offering up my inadequacies for your judgement, I am ready to atone.  The person rejecting says; I am not ready, I have my own agenda, I have not yet finished what I set out to prove to you.

The evidence is growing steadily and daily that estrangement is an epidemic with 1 in four families now affected. With that many families sending apologies surely there would be a higher rate of reconciliations than there is if all it took was an apology to open the lines of communication. 

There are even those now in the mental health care industry that are talking about this strange turn of events; rising numbers of estrangements and very few reconciliations.  The old standard for growing up and expressing autonomy does not explain this phenomenon! 

What this tells me is that it is not about the “right apology” it is about control and power.  Those who want equal relationships want dialogue and communication.  Those are the apologies that are received and used as a starting point for reconciliation. Those are relationships of adult child becoming autonomous within their own rights. 

Those adults who ignore apologies, who do not even respond with what their grievance are, don’t want an equal relationship, they want an empowered relationship where they are in charge. 

Then there are those adult offspring, in the rare instances, where they do reply to an apology and do so with a list of “demands”.  They very clearly voice those demands in language that says I am in control, do as I demand or I withhold myself from interacting with you.  Any attempt to reconcile without acquiescing to the demands is turned down flat.  This is not an act of communication and compromise, it clearly is about control. 

If you have this many estrangements being perpetuated in spite of apologies delivered, in spite of efforts made to open lines of communication, in spite of willingness to forgive the pain experienced because of estrangement, surely the problem is going much deeper than no apology extended. 

And yet still the most often heard critique an estranged parent continues to receive is; “why don’t you just apologize”.  The most hurtful, condescending sentiment of them all because it comes from the unfounded assumption that the estranged parent hasn’t tried hard enough, done enough, worked diligently enough to resolve a situation they wish fervently they were not experiencing in the first place.

Renate Dundys Marrello

2016 – 12 – 12  

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Sunday, December 4, 2016

Post Estrangement: coming to terms with feeling lonely.....and used

There is a saying that I recently saw:

“The person who tries to keep everyone happy and always cares for everyone is often the loneliest person. Strange but true”

What exactly is the nature of this loneliness and does it relate to a person who has been estranged is what I am seeking to explore.

Feeling lonely after being estranged I think is one of the natural emotions that we feel.  I know that at the heart of my sadness is the void, this feeling of being alone. Connecting with others simply isn't the same anymore.  Everything is coloured by the experience of being rejected or abandoned and tangled up with this is the feeling of "not being good enough.

The loss of trust in others, is another one of the things that contributes to this loneliness.

Naturally one of the feelings that we start to process throughout of all of this; is the thought of being used.  Has our usefulness come to an end and therefore we are discarded?

I know for myself this has been something that I have been grappling with, the feeling that I have been "used up" and that because  of how I was feeling and when for own my emotional health I had to say; "no, I can no longer allow myself to be used / treated this way", contributed to being estranged.  When I had no more to "give" I was of no more value, and because I had no more value it was easy to find reasons and excuses to discard me.

I have spoken to many estranged parents on this topic and they all at some point in time say something to the effect that they feel like refuse thrown to the curb for having outlived their usefulness.

Sooner or later we need to address the deeper aspects of this loneliness that comes from a feeling of being used and then discarded. Unless we do this work we won't be able to take back our love and joy of generosity toward others.

One of the issues we need to contend with is what most people recognize as the "doormat syndrome", others call this co-dependency, where self sacrifice in the name of other people's happiness and well-being becomes the way we learn to define ourselves.

I see two pathways that intermingle and twine together so that over time we don't recognize where one ends and the other one begins. The first is our personality, which comes from the messages we learned during childhood about the nature of our value and the second is the parent's natural instinct to give and do for their child so that their child can prosper.  And so we bring to parenting a set of values that we learned and integrated into our character and at the same time an overwhelming biological desire to care for and do right by our offspring.

As parents we well understand the nature of sacrifice and doing for our children. But depending on our intrinsic character as defined by the values we internalized we might not have learned where to draw the line between care taking and care giving.

For example; when as a parent you are taking care of everyone else, our children don't necessarily see that you too need some taking care of. Children can learn to take all that we do for granted.  They start to see us as this super person who can do it all.  The more you do, the more you are expected to do.

If we did not learn the "correct" values for balance then we are incapable to teaching this boundary to our children because we have no reference point.  This is one of those areas where what we "learn" or "don't learn" from our parents then shows up in our lives.  If we learned that our value is in what we "do" for our parents to earn love, then we in turn "do" for our children to earn love and they in turn learn that they "deserve" or are entitled to all we do for them.

The problem with continual giving, or the co-dependents need to put everyone else's happiness first is that the day comes when inside yourself, you feel all used up.  I first experienced that as loneliness which I expressed to myself as "no one understands me".

That was when I started to awaken to the fact that I was being taken for granted, that I was now expected to take care of everyone, that it is my role and my duty.  At this point in time it was no longer the things that I did for others as much as the emotional support I was expected to give regardless of how I felt about it.  I was expected to accept rudeness, curtness and dismissal in return for acceptance, validation and encouragement.

The more marginalized I was made to feel, the less validated my feelings were, the more resentment boiled up inside of me.  And of course when all those emotions are bottled up inside 
(for when you have been taught that anger is never expressed you suppress it) sooner or later there is a "break". 

Looking back now I see that it was inevitable that the day would come; when an incident happened that was so rude and so disrespectful that the dam broke, I acted out of character, said things I would never have said without extreme provocation.  And it is an interesting aside that I am expected to apologize for that outburst while those who treated me badly over a long period of time don't feel any need at all to apologize for how they treated me and how that eventually led to my break in character. 

That of course brings me back to the present.  The realization that I am alone in my healing journey. No one can do this for me.  The loneliness that I experience is a culmination of many factors, yes the estrangement which started it all; but also my growing awareness of the "wrong" input I received in my childhood leaving me with no sense of boundaries and growing knowledge that I had to learn a completely new vocabulary for communication based on an understanding of feelings and needs.

In that sense this loneliness became for me the springboard for change;  for redefining what is means to give and why.

We start with the acceptance of the premise that we do for others and care for others because we want to; it is a gift we share. It is part of our human nature.  To what extent is this truth shaped by how we perceive the purpose of the act of giving?

To what degree this is true in my experiences?
When I do for others it is because there is joy in the giving.

However, those of us who are by nature “givers”, often have a boundary awareness problem. I know for sure that I had no idea what a boundary was.

The “doormat” phenomenon is one that stems from faulty messages learned from our upbringing and / or the society we grew up in. Faulty messages lead to faulty core values.

For instance if we internalized faulty messages like:
  • we “earn” love by our giving actions
  • our value is in our service and sacrifice
  • It is our responsibility to be care takers.

Then we have a faulty set of core values which we need to address and rewrite into our own more accurate core values:
  • Giving actions are not about earning love but about expressing love.
  • We have value because we are not because of what we do. When we choose to give it should come from a sense of purpose and not from a sense of creating self-value.
  • When we take care of someone we rob them of the opportunity to care for themselves; we must give our caring in such a manner as to foster their ability to develop their own strengths, thus becoming a care giver not a care taker.

Other boundary awareness issues that “doormat” or co-dependent personalities were not taught or did not learn:
  • We need to take time for ourselves and that it is okay to take “me time”. To feel guilty about taking time for oneself is clearly a faulty core value.
  • That it is okay to ask for help. We instead learned that to ask for help is sign of weakness, and that one must hide weakness at all costs.
  • That it is okay to stop giving when we begin to be taken for granted. It is wrong to have learned that when the first giving was not good enough that we then should give more and more because the fault is with us for not giving enough or in a satisfactory enough manner.

So if we are to become “aware” givers what are some of the signs of being taken advantage of? How can we reset our boundaries to receive the “joy of giving” without becoming a target for manipulative people to gain our compliance?

Here are some obvious signs that you are being (have been) taken advantage of:
  • You are not given any kind of gratitude response from the recipient. No word of thanks, no smile, no recognition that a gift of caring has been received.
  • When you do ask for some help you are mocked or called names.
  • You are called selfish when you do take a break and spend some time taking care of yourself to replenish your energies.
  • You are sidelined or removed by a friend or family member as soon as the giving is reduced because your financial or emotional means no longer support the ability to give.

It is vitally important for those of us who have been trained into the role of doormat to clarifying our core values with appropriate boundary work which allows us to gain the awareness needed to be truly a giver for the joy of giving.

We must leave behind the old mindset, freeing ourselves from all sense of “obligation” where we are “expected to give” to earn our acceptance or to free the other person from their share of the emotional labour needed to preserve a healthy relationship.

As I change, I find it is important to remember, those who do not like these changes in my mindset and my actions are most likely the ones who benefited the most from my doormat behaviours in the past. Their interests are not my best interests but rather how my actions no longer benefit them. 

And conversely, those who love me for me not for what I do for them are the ones that rejoice with me.
Can you guess who will be the recipients of my generosity in the future?

To come full circle, the healing that I do now is something I do to honour myself.  I am not the person that was estranged, I am actually, while still a work in progress; a better more knowledgeable more balanced version of me. 

Moreover while I understand better the character and personality issues that triggered the chain of events that led to estrangement, it in no way excuses their behaviour. Yes I accept that if I had known and taught proper boundaries some of this situations maybe could have been avoided.

However that does not change the fact that all parties in a dispute have to take responsibility and accountability for their actions.  And as the silent years flow by, I begin to wonder if possibly I am the only one doing so?  Am I only one working on awareness, understanding, change and growth?  

Renate Dundys Marrello
2016 – 12 – 04 

My journal blog entries are copyright.
I love when you share my page to spread the word.
If you want to quote me I kindly ask that you please provide a link back to my page. 

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