Sometimes we accept treatment that’s so far below what we want, it’s hard to comprehend how we’ve landed ourselves in such heartache. This can happen with our parents, it can happen with our partners, and it can happen with our children, too. When we love people with our whole hearts, we make ourselves totally vulnerable. It’s hard to create boundaries when you love like that. If it’s your child, walking away is not an option, but if you’re being abused, of course you’re going to need some support, and so are they. Allowing yourself to be mistreated never serves anyone, but those situations are particularly painful, because of course we never think we’d need to protect ourselves from people whose diapers we once changed. You simply never know what might happen down the line; you can’t say for sure how the teenage years will go, or what kind of rage you might be facing, or what will happen when your grown children find partners. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard from mothers who tell me their son has married a woman who doesn’t like them, or their daughter is involved with someone who doesn’t value the family bond, and now they barely see this person who means the world to them. It’s brutal. (Don’t worry. I hear from the wives who tell me horror stories about their mothers-in-law, too. I understand there are always at least two sides to every story. I just think it’s a heartbreak to watch a family that was once close, fall apart.)
Of course this can happen with our parents. If you grew up with an elusive mom or dad, maybe you’ve been trying to earn her or his approval or attention or recognition for years. The same holds true if you were abandoned, by choice or circumstance. This stuff can run so deep. Even if you know your mom or your dad didn’t leave you “on purpose”, even if they were taken by disease or disaster, it doesn’t change the fact that you were left. Sometimes we chase love, or we run around trying to prove our worthiness, or we try to be “perfect” so we won’t be left again, or we act out all over the place. Feeling invisible hurts like hell.
Which leads to my third example, because of course this can happen with our romantic partners. Sometimes we fall hard in the beginning, when the hormones are raging and fogging up our lenses. A lot of people think, “This is it!” six weeks in, only to realize a few months later that maybe the “person of their dreams” isn’t so easy to be with. It takes time to get to know people, but by then, a lot of us fall into that trap of having already decided this person is the one we’ve been waiting for, even if all evidence starts to point to the contrary. We keep waiting for the person who was so kind and attentive and complimentary in the beginning, so romantic and affectionate and sweet. For many people, the beginning is the part they’re great at; when things get real, they want to run for the hills. I get so many emails from people who struggle with all of this stuff. The teenage child is being hurtful, the parent is punitive, even from the nursing home, the partner is treating them like an option.
The bottom line is that we teach people how to treat us. If we allow someone to be emotionally or verbally abusive, and we keep interacting with no consequences, the message is that we will tolerate that behavior. We create an understanding, a contract. You can’t expect respect from people who’ve learned that they can treat you badly, and you’ll still be there, with the exception of your children, and I want to clarify that. I don’t know if you remember your teenage years, but unless you were one of those rare, well-adjusted teens with your self-esteem intact, you probably went through some rough moments. Puberty isn’t easy for most people. We don’t know ourselves well yet, we feel pressure to conform, or at least to make it seem that we’re the same as everyone else, even if we feel sick on the inside. The hormones rage, peer pressure can be intense, and then there’s bullying, and cyber-bullying, and texting and sexting and so many other things many of us did not have to deal with. So if you’re a parent of a troubled teen, I think it’s important to draw healthy boundaries, but I think it’s equally important to make sure your child knows you will always love him no matter what. That you might have to draw the line, or get some help, but that love will never be withdrawn.
Anyone other than your child does not automatically get that same assurance. A growing kid is going to flail and make mistakes; that’s normal, understandable and expected. Your parent is not a person from whom you need to accept mistreatment, physically, verbally, psychologically, or emotionally, and neither is your partner. You are not obligated to come back with love when someone is treating you badly. I mean, you might choose to love them anyway, but you have to love yourself, that’s a non-negotiable, and that means you must protect your tender heart when necessary. You don’t have to participate in toxic, unhealthy relationships. You don’t have to accept poor treatment. You don’t have to settle for so much less than what you really want. If you’re in love with someone and it isn’t reciprocal, don’t stick around to have your heart broken again and again. Look at a person’s actions. Words are easy, but the tale is told in deeds, not words. If you want to be someone’s everything, and instead you’re their, “fine for now”, get out.
Life is short. We’re here for a blink of time, and none of us, not a single one of us, is here to be a doormat. You have a spark and it’s your job to stoke it, not to participate in its turning to ash and dying out. Teach people to treat you well, by refusing to accept anything less.
Sending you love,