A New Year… time to sort through relationships, time for a “primer” on positive connection in relationships.
For many people, the experience of family togetherness, especially at the holidays, is not wonderful. It’s painful.
It is very difficult to realize and accept that relationships in our life can be toxic. What is a toxic relationship? It is largely characterized by hostility from another person that is aimed at “rounding” you. This is the person who lets you know in one way or another that you are not who you should be for them. You are not performing your assigned role in their set of expectations.
As nice as you are, there is never a real connection where you feel as though you are understood or known. Or you can say something, and the person is quick to point out that there is a different way of seeing what you said. Time and again, your half-wrong.
Toxic people round us down to their size, or at least they attempt to diminish our individuality or accomplishments or the significance of our presence. The message is that you are either out of line, inappropriate, or uninteresting. Bottom line, you are supposed to get that you are really nothing special, you are not seen, you are not really heard, you are ignored just enough to communicate to you that there is a silent distance of separation.
You are emotionally disinherited from a sense of fitting or belonging as you are, not directly, but subtly. Perhaps all they do is shake their head when you talk, or make a comment, or turn slightly away or even leave the room. One way or another, whatever it is, they let you know without ever saying. You know it and they know it.
Welcome to the territory of the American idea of the value of family, regardless of the personal cost. Family is family. Family comes first.
You are being rounded, brought into line, brought down to the level of everyone else, and often put in a position where you expect of yourself to be extra obliging to this person, to give them some kind of extra or special attention, which is noticed but not really appreciated and changes nothing.
What do you do?
It is difficult to accept that the myth “family is family” may mean very little. If you have been raised in a family system where the rule is, “family always comes first”, it’s hard to get a hold on dynamics that are year after year, dinner after dinner, holiday after holiday, unpleasant, rejecting, and actually toxic, and you feel helpless.
The first is to recognize hostility and rounding when it occurs and to know that your awareness of it is probably not inaccurate. The second is to realize that, as much as we want family to fit the myth of a wonderful place, that, for some, that is not the case. Family can be a toxic environment and if it is, you need to pay particular attention to the abuse that it fosters and admit that to be the case.
One of the most important things we can do is to leave behind and detach from relationships that are toxic. Give up the idea that every relationship in your life has to work, especially in your family. It doesn’t and may never. Your expectations of having to repair every relationship, or be willing to, is like blowing air in a balloon with no skin.
When that is the case, detach and fade. That sounds like blasphemy in today’s world of seeing family relationships as sacred. Not every relationship is and some, especially if they are toxic, need to be left behind. Perhaps the gift of this New Year’s new beginning is that you realize that detachment from toxicity and from relationships that are empty and hollow, void of real connection, need to be left behind.
Detachment is a decision to leave behind what isn’t working and hasn’t been working for a long, long time. The decision to detach from people almost sounds like a sin. But it can be the most important area of detachment in our lives, especially in relationships that round us and have no meaning. The best way to detach from a toxic relationship is to fade.
Back off, respond less, unplug, and do it gradually over a period of time. Be less responsive, stay away from toxic people, and busy yourself in living your life. What about guilt? It’s a natural part of the process that you have to look at, so write down what the guilt is telling you. What does it say about how you take care of yourself? Or don’t, more likely.
Healthy attachment is measured by real and true meaningful connection where you have an experience of “felt feelings,” and that you are “known” authentically. Go where you find healthy attachment. Build healthy attachments and allow the fade to give you less and less attention to the person from whom you are detaching. Do not allow them access to your world.
Give yourself an unusual and remarkable gift of the awareness that you can detach and still be a good person. The New Year is a good time to sort relationships and identify which ones are worth the effort and which ones are not or close to anything like toxic. Rather than so many resolutions about what we will do, it would be good to make another list of what we won’t do, a list of things from which we will detach because the cost of them is too emotionally great for what we get from them.
Sound selfish? Be fiercely selfish in protecting yourself from rounding –ANYWHERE. Identify toxicity where it exists as hostility or emptiness that demands too much of your time and attention without giving you the satisfaction that anything you do really matters.
Scrutinize what should be left behind. Admit what is not worth your effort and good will, and clean your house of relationships that are too costly, unfruitful, and unsatisfying and really illusions of love and caring. Admit where you just don’t care and admit what is really not breathing life into you in one way or another.
Sit with this and ask yourself: where do I need to detach to open my life to new energy? What are you keeping alive solely out of a misplaced sense of obligation or an unwise promise you made someone? Where you need to detach and do the “fade”?
In a world where networking is considered something holy, and where socialization is regarded as something like a god, take a second look and find out what really gives you meaning and go for that, put your efforts there.
You have permission to fade and detach.