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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  1. "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."

    I have tried for over 60 years to "heal" toxic relationships, with not one bit of success. Now that I have finally cut the cords, I AM HEALED. And that is what counts.

    If the toxic people want to make those changes, fine. But it's not my responsibility nor within my control. Let them live however they want. And I will continue to keep my balance and peace. These disordered individuals may reach out with an olive branch temporarily, but it won't last long. Under the least bit of stress they WILL revert. That is their nature and that is guaranteed.

    Will keep hoping for them to change and the relationship to change? It's not all "learned behavior." Look at small children and you can see their personality before they are one year old. Don't deny it; accept it, and do whatever you have to do to "keep the peace" which means the peace in your own home and your own heart.

    They can live any way they want, and so can I. I will not open my door to allow them to destroy my happy home regardless of how they try to manipulate me into believe they have "changed."

    When someone shows you who they are, believe them.

  2. Thank you for sharing your reflections. I think some of the communication skills needed, and the opportunities to build awareness in one's self of the toxic patterns in one's relationships can come from Twelve-step programs such as Al Anon.

    1. You are welcome.
      I agree, there is much to learn from the 12-step programs.

  3. If your loving a peaceful life in estrangement, why are you reading and participating here?

  4. BJ, to whom are you asking this question? I know that for me, I'm still always trying to find a "magic key" to solve the estrangement I find myself in, through no desire of my own, even though I know that the only real solution has to come from both parties. One can't resolve a relationship with another by themselves.

    But I love and miss my son and think about him every day. And I won't quit praying, wishing and hoping that one day the love and peace I feel for my estranged son will spread like wildfire and bloom like a desert on fire ~ when finally the rains come and long-dormant seeds spring into life and the world is green and glorious once again. I hope this answers your question. If not, perhaps someone else will.

    It's like a divorce that you never wanted, even if there were problems. Sometimes, love never dies.

  5. PS: for my toxic family relationships, with other disordered family members who are adults and not my only child, I relish the peace and distance I have found. That's a whole different story. I am happy to "love them from a distance" and let bygones stay bygones.