Hold On Or Let Go?

Should I stay in this toxic relationship or leave?

It’s a question we all ask ourselves at some point. I’m willing to bet that, when you read that question, someone specific popped into your mind. As I typed it out, several people {in my past} sprung to mind. If you thought of someone in your present, this is for you.

Toxic relationships teach us about what we don’t want in our existing or future relationships. Toxic people affect us mentally, psychologically, physiologically, physically. Depending on the nature of the relationship and the frequency of contact, we can become consumed by the toxicity.

From experience and observation, I know how difficult it is to end a toxic relationship, particularly when someone exploits their dependency by exaggerating a sense of helplessness. My mother was part of the generation that didn’t believe in divorce. She stayed with my father despite his dysfunction, abuse, and alcoholism…and despite my pleas to leave him. I always told her she deserved someone who treated her like gold but she always said no. My mother was a compassionate woman who knew that my father lacked the skills to live on his own. He knew nothing about managing money or a household and his cooking skills were limited. I know she didn’t really love him, but she respected him as the father of her children and that was enough for her to stay and make sure he was taken care of.

Maybe they had conversations about splitting up. My father was an expert at guilt and, although I never heard such a conversation between them, I can still imagine it with a fair degree of accuracy. My mother would have quietly voiced her dissatisfaction and unhappiness before suggesting they part ways. My father, in full panic mode, would have made excuses, empty promises, and told her that he was nothing without her. He would have told her a gruesome story about becoming destitute and finally, he would have begged her to stay. With a heavy heart and a ton of guilt, my mother would have capitulated, probably feeling bad for wanting to leave in the first place.

It’s difficult to walk away from someone who exhibits helplessness, severe dependency or self-destructive behavior. Toxic people hold people hostage; they exploit our compassion by making us think about a potentially gruesome ending and, further, suggest our part in it {“If you leave me, I’ll end it and then how will you feel?”}. It’s not fair and it greatly taints a relationship by making things obligatory for us ~ “As long as I stay, s/he’s safe.” The truth is, our presence or absence has nothing to do with it. Each of us is responsible for who we are, what we do, and how we handle adversity in our lives.

We can’t control what other people do {or don’t do}. There are no guarantees. It’s not up to us to supply these people with whatever they think they need to live their lives; that’s on them. We can’t allow them to use our presence as a safety net for their dysfunction. It’s a lose/lose situation for all concerned. Enabling the behavior only prolongs the behavior. Without consequences, toxic people never learn how to break the cycle of dysfunction or the right way to conduct their relationships.

Deciding when to hold on and when to let go is not easy. What we must remember is that it’s not selfish to let go when our health is at risk. We must take an honest look at the relationships that drain us and be willing to ask the necessary questions:

~ Does this person contribute or contaminate other relationships? People who consistently have problems with “everyone else” are usually not the “innocent parties”; as a general rule, there has to be a common denominator and it’s usually the one who complains the most about his or her other relationships.

~ Is your relationship give/take? Does s/he meet your needs by supporting and listening or is it always all about him or her? Does s/he earn your friendship, love, support, caring, compassion by being as loving, supporting, caring, and compassionate toward you?

~ Do you look forward to hearing from this person or do you feel a sense of dread when s/he calls or shows up at the door? Do your interactions with this person leave you feeling happy or constantly drained? Does s/he have a profoundly negative effect on your overall well-being? Does s/he bring out the best or worst in you? Do you feel as though you’re a better person because of him or her?

~ Is s/he holding you hostage from the other areas of your life? Are you too focused on him or her to focus on anyone or anything else?

Don’t make excuses. Don’t wait for things to improve or change. We instinctively want to help someone we care about avoid hitting rock bottom, Sometimes it’s the kindest thing we can do for someone, not because we want to see it happen but because the only way to go from “rock bottom” is up, and, also because “rock bottom” is where we learn the most unforgettable lessons of all.

As always, we’re here to help. ❤

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