vitalstandardsOften, when we’re really close to a situation or another person, it’s hard to see clearly. Sometimes we have an unhealthy dynamic going with someone for years, as often happens with family members, romantic partners, people with whom we were once close, or even friends and colleagues. We might be able to step back from it from time to time and realize it’s just not good, that it isn’t serving our well-being or theirs to continue engaging this way; maybe we resolve to do things differently, and we might pull it off a few times, but then we slip back again, and find ourselves screaming, or frustrated or withdrawing or shutting down or slamming the door and we lose hours or days or weeks obsessing and replaying and participating in interactions that aren’t going to get us anywhere good.

You can only keep your side of the street clean; you cannot manage another person’s journey. People are where they are. They have the tools they have, they’ve been through whatever they’ve been through, and these things have shaped the way they think about life, move through the world, and treat other people, just like you, just like me. Nobody’s going to come along and convince you to look at things in another way, or to try communicating differently unless you feel a need for a change yourself.

Having said that, we are all in a constant state of flux, and there’s always the potential for shifting, but if you have a painful history with someone who’s emotionally or verbally abusive, who uses manipulation instead of honest communication, who points the finger at you over and over again but never, ever seems to be wrong, you probably need to think about why you’re participating in a relationship like that. Sometimes there’s no choice about having someone in your life–maybe it’s a parent, and the cost of distancing yourself feels greater than the cost of engagement, maybe it’s your sibling or your business partner. Maybe it’s your ex and there are children involved.

Even though there’s always the possibility of change, some people cling to their anger and their list of ways they’ve been wronged or disappointed no matter what you do. Sometimes a person just does not have a time-stamp on a thing, and the rage is boiling just below the surface. Every time some small thing happens, ten years of history is also unearthed, and you’re left stripped bare, wondering how your oversight about stopping for apples led to the apocalypse that just took place in your living room. There are a lot of people in the world who are unable to look at their own flaws and vulnerability, so their default setting is to make everyone else wrong or screwed up. When a person doesn’t want to look, you can’t make them see. You can exhaust yourself trying, but at a certain point you might ask yourself what is it you’re hoping to accomplish? Closure, forgiveness or acceptance may be something you have to give to yourself so you can move on and open to joy again.

A lot of the time we have our own doubts about ourselves and the mistakes we’ve made, we may feel regret or shame or guilt, and that can be so crushing. We want to be seen clearly and understood for who we are, to have at least some of our good points acknowledged, and it feels like such crap to be misjudged, or to have revisionist history thrown in our faces, when what we want is connection and peace, a way to move forward. No one has to be right. No one has to be victorious. How about a bridge, an attempt to meet somewhere along the way, some hope for clear seeing? You don’t have to agree with someone else’s feelings in order to hear them out and do your best to see things from their point of view. That’s usually all people want, is some reciprocity, some sense that the other person cares enough to try to see things another way.

If you must have someone in your life who just cannot seem to do that, it’s all about boundaries. If someone is verbally abusive, try communicating through writing for awhile if you have to communicate at all. It’s probably going to take time, but if you change what you’re doing, they’ll also have to change they way they approach you. Again and again, examine your own participation. That’s the story that matters as far as your inner peace, knowing yourself well, and understanding what it is that’s driving you. Taking care of yourself is not a luxury, it’s a necessity. Your job is to get right with yourself, to open to joy, to share your gifts, and to live your life.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

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6 thoughts on “Toxicity”

  1. Thank you for your article, it was so amazing, I had to save it in my favorites. For years now, I am dealing with an extremely aloof, insensitive and negative person who happens to be my mother. I am 32. Mom lives in Russia and I live in NJ. As much as I would love to have a beautiful mother-daughter relationship with her, she always pushes me away. I am an extremely successful, healthy and positive young woman, and I would love to share my accomplishments with her. Last year, we didn’t talk for the whole year. She hangs up on me when I call saying “I am not ready to talk to you”. From her perspective, not talking to me is being “strong” and “tough” and she actually takes pride in that! Bottom line, the relationship is as toxic as it gets. I take care of myself every day (eating right, exercise, weekly meditation, Vinyasa yoga, surrounding myself with friends, having a supportive husband, etc). But I do admit that whenever I think about my mother, my mood plummets. Perhaps I can write to her instead of calling…
    Thank you again for your wonderful insight.

    1. I’m really sorry to hear about your mom. What an incredible loss for her. And you. I know there’s a certain kind of heartbreak that goes along with being rejected by your own mother. I hope you can really understand in your heart that this is due to something lacking on her part, and nothing lacking or broken or unlovable within you. Are you getting any support (aside from your wonderful husband?) I’m thinking therapy around this topic would be so helpful. Sending you love, and a big, giant hug, Ally

  2. I understand and agree. My question is, what if someone is a recovered alcoholic/drug addict, has anger management issues, and lives in a world of lies, what do you do then? I feel caught in the web of his chaos. I love certain aspects about him. I know if he lies to me again, I’ve allowed it. Things are spiraling out of reason. I don’t know what to do.

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