We recognize that sometimes the things we feel we can’t talk about are the things others also feel unable to discuss – this post has been published anonymously as part of a series to engage our community in those difficult conversations. Click here to read more posts from this series.
I’m a big believer in doing hard things. You get out what you put into your relationships, and I believe that the most beautiful things in life also take the most work. I have many long-term friendships because I don’t give up on people easily.
That said, I’ve recently had to give myself permission to walk away from some unhealthy relationships that were dragging me down. This was very difficult for me to do. It made me think long and hard about when one needs to stay put and show up, and when it’s okay to let go. If you, too, are trying to navigate through the darkness of toxic relationships, here are some guideposts I used that gave me permission to change course.
Guidepost #1: It may be time to walk away if staying is pulling you down instead of pulling others up.
I stayed for a long time in a toxic community because I was very hopeful I could help make it a better place for others. I thought if I just loved hard enough, persisted long enough, and grew in grace enough, my community would become a more loving, healthy place for all of us. I hoped to cast a brighter, lighter vision for people who seemed trapped in darkness.
However, after many years, I came to the realization that I wasn’t pulling others up as much as they were pulling me down. I was becoming someone I didn’t want to be, and that was not the kind of transformation I was after! I began to feel like certain, needy people I thought I was in real relationship with only wanted me for what I could give them. The minute I changed the terms of our relationship, they wanted nothing to do with me anymore. That’s when I realized that if someone who is sinking has their hands clasped around my neck, I am not obligated to drown with them. In other words, I’ll do my best to keep you from drowning, but if it’s you drown or both of us drown, then you drown. That’s not cruelty; that’s wisdom.
Guidepost #2: It may be time to walk away when you are trying to help people who aren’t ready to be helped.
The other day, I house-sat a dog who didn’t want to eat. This worried me a little, but I couldn’t make her eat – she had to take responsibility for that. All I could so was fill her bowl and put it in front of her; the rest was up to her.
It took me years to learn how futile it is to reach out a hand to someone who won’t take it. In fact, I learned that if I’m trying to help and it isn’t helping, it is better to stop trying to help. Not only am I wasting my time and energy, but I could be making the situation worse. In my case, I was making the situation worse because I was holding people back from feeling the consequences of their actions.
If you repeatedly offer your hand to someone who won’t take it, you have to stop offering the hand. It is not loving to enable people to live foolish, self-focused, contentious lives and not feel the consequences of where that leads. In this situation, the loving thing to do is let a burning ship sink. But in order to do that, you need to get off of it first.
Guidepost #3: It may be time to walk away so that you can model wellness for people who don’t know what it looks like.
Sometimes people don’t take responsibility for their actions because they don’t think they have choices. They truly believe they are victims of their reality. But physically healthy adults have almost unlimited choices. In fact, the adult life is often a series of personal decisions. People who accept this experience freedom, but people who won’t accept this become life-long victims. That’s why, sometimes, instead of trying to convince someone else to choose wisely, it is better to focus on getting your own life together so that you can show them what making healthy choices looks like. This might mean you have to go off and live your best life, even while doing so might leave precious people behind. I have learned that sometimes loving people and walking away from them are one and the same.
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