Sometimes you realize you’re being held hostage by someone else’s instability, mental illness, or addiction. This can only happen if you care deeply in the first place; that is, if you’re invested in the relationship, or if this person is in your life and it’s not easy to extricate yourself from all communication or connection (your boss or colleague, for example). Often, we meet people and they may present one face to us, but inside it’s a whole different story. It takes time to get to know people, and even time won’t get the job done if a person wants to keep things from you. We only ever know the interior world of another person if they give us access to it.
If you’re a warm, trusting, open person, you probably project and assume that other people are also that way. That’s what we all tend to do, we make assumptions about other people based on how things are for us, and that’s a great way to have your eyes opened, but it probably won’t feel very good because we can never assume, and we can never project. We all have our various upbringings, experiences, ways we were supported or neglected, different tendencies and dreams, varied emotional lives, relationships, things that are driving us consciously or unconsciously, heartbreaks, levels of resiliency, disappointments, achievements and fears. How things are for me is not how they are for you, but we exist in this same world. We just cannot expect other people to see what we see, even the things that seem totally obvious to us.
People with addictive personalities are usually very good at hiding their addictions or tendencies, and I don’t say that without compassion and understanding. It’s awful to be a slave to a numbing agent, to feel like you have to have access to your “fix” at all times, whether we’re talking about drugs and alcohol, or sex, or the internet, or shopping, or eating disorders. So you might observe erratic behavior in someone you’re getting to know, but think it’s just an “off day” here and there. Mental illness can work the same way. Maybe you’re dealing with a personality disorder that renders a person unable to consider how their actions impact the people around them, but unless you’re a target, you might go a good long while before feeling like something isn’t right.
Sometimes, in order to be close to someone, you have to accept their version of reality. Maybe you’ve known people like this. I once had a girlfriend who had a serious drinking problem. When I’d try to talk to her about it, she’d say she was a social drinker, and I was over-worrying, but I poured her into a cab enough times to know this wasn’t something to sweep under the rug. I talked to her mother about it, but she wasn’t ready to face it, either, and when I refused to be quiet about it, my friend wrote me off. In certain situations, there’s nothing you can do but walk away and hope a person decides to get help before it’s too late.
There are many people attached to their stories about what’s happened in their past, and why things are the way they are, and why they are the way they are. I lived that way during my late teens and early twenties, and it was awful. Blame keeps you stuck pointing, when you really want to be digging. You’ll find most people living this way are angry or bitter or depressed, and probably all three. I once became friends with a guy who had story after story about how he’d been screwed professionally. First by this company, then by another, and I believed him, I believed he’d been unfairly overlooked, unappreciated, and mistreated. Then he went to work for close friends of mine, and I watched him blatantly sabotage every opportunity he had to grow. He was more attached to the sad story than he was to writing a new one. When I tried to point that out to him, he became enraged. Sometimes people cling to their stories because they aren’t ready to take ownership of their lives yet. They use their anger like a shield, and anything you try to say or do bounces off. It’s understandable. We all have our coping mechanisms, and you can’t make a person be somewhere they are not.
If you’re attracted to the “walking wounded”, you’re probably going to encounter people like this, and I’ll just remind you in case you need to be reminded, you cannot save anyone. You can love people and you can try to get them help and support, but you can’t make another person happy, or compassionate or kind or loving. You can’t make anyone fall in love with you. You’re not going to change the way someone moves through the world. This is all inside work; everyone has to do their own journey. You can decide who you want to bring close, and who you want to keep at a distance. Often, you won’t have to make these decisions, they’ll be made for you. If you back someone against the wall and ask them to be accountable for what they’ve done, and they aren’t ready to do that, they’ll head for the hills, anyway. Pay attention to your tendency to draw people close who aren’t able to do anything but hurt you. Don’t participate in someone else’s instability. You can’t fix it, but it also doesn’t help when you enable it. It doesn’t help them, and it doesn’t help you. Create boundaries where necessary, and defend them when you must. You can’t control what other people do or say or feel or want or need, but you can control the way you choose to respond. Just keep your own side of the street clean, the rest will take care of itself.
Sending you love,