There’s a million reasons why I chose to write this article. Maybe it will touch those who’ve experienced an unhealthy relationship, or who grew up in an invalidating home which set the foundation for their subsequent choices in repeating what’s familiar, but toxic to their potential.
Maybe it will resonate with those who may be repeating the same patterns from one relationship to the next who don’t recognize opportunities for growth — or who aren’t willing to recognize them.
I’m not here to judge. And, I’m not here to try and change your opinion, because ultimately at the end of the day our opinions, our thoughts, our habits and our feelings are a mix of our lived experiences and how we choose to interpret them.
Our job is to decide whether we choose to take the gifts and apply them to our future selves and our future growth.
We already know we’re responsible for our own awareness and in choosing to dig deeper as a result of the relationships we have, the relationships we’ve lost, or the relationships from which we had to walk away, either by choice or by circumstance.
Sure, there may be differences from one relationship to the next, after all that’s what keeps things exciting and fresh. That’s also what keeps us caught up living for the moment — one person brings noise; another embraces serenity. One relationship is fun, another offers peace. One relationship is shallow, another is emotionally and spiritually deep.
And, sure, this can give us a superficial understanding of ourselves and our likes— but not healing.
This becomes a pattern in itself — chasing distractions to fill voids, or to silence the buzz of our inner critic…..preventing healing.
Patterns always repeat and shadow us. Unresolved pain always resurfaces in one form or another. And, we remain held captive by our own choices to repeat, or our non-choices to change.
At the end of the day, any brightness a relationship brings is darkened by the same things we’re trying to avoid by distracting ourselves in the same habit with a different face.
After all, we can run from pain. We can run from accountability. We can run from one relationship, or all of them.
…but we can’t outrun ourselves.
Past pain always wins. Habits always emerge. And patterns always repeat.
Until they’re conquered.
One relationship becomes collateral damage to unresolved pain that plays on repeat. And, a new relationship, a new hobby, a new obsession, or a new compulsion become the newest distractions; new band-aids on the same old wounds that keep reopening until we’re ballsy enough to stop running, to stop using band-aids and to start healing.
The inevitable crash always happens. We can’t stay on a pedestal forever. We can’t hold a torch for them forever, either. What starts out as amazing and “perfect” is an illusion; we see what we want to see and ignore what we don’t want to see. We blind ourselves to the red flags because they trigger shame, or a repetition compulsion…and more shame.
At the end of the day, we’re not perfect, nor are they. Any idealization we felt was simply the mirror talking, not them. We learn to accept that the compliments or the love that they professed was simply a repeat of their past relationships playing into our whims and their own needs.
Partners may change but agendas remain the same.
The one thing that keeps us stuck post-relationship, is hope. Sometimes it’s all we have. Hope that we’ve learned about where our needs are, where our boundaries need tightening and the areas in which we need to cultivate more growth.
The thing is, unhealthy relationships are never “all bad” even if you wind up being painted “all bad”. They always start out amazing and tapping into our needs, often needs we didn’t know we had. With each compliment, or adoration we have the chance to understand ourselves more, and where our needs have gone unmet.
With each challenge we’re presented, we have the choice of accepting it and learning more about ourselves, or refusing that challenge and remaining stuck.
There’s so much emphasis on ‘signs of toxic relationships’ or ‘signs your relationship’s in trouble’. And I get it. If someone has been taken to the highest of highs, unless there’s a solid foundation built on transparency, unconditional regard and authenticity by both partners, the lowest of lows is inevitable.
And, so is that fall from grace. I don’t want to focus on the million reasons our relationships suck, or on the warning signs that we need to hit the eject button.
We know — intuitively — if we’ve made a healthy choice with our partner.
We know — intuitively — our motivations for being with someone and whether we’re in it for the right reasons, the wrong reasons, in it to hurt an ex, or in it to hurt ourselves.
We know — intuitively — if the compliments are coming too fast and furious, or whether we’re getting hooked on expectations of more adoration.
We know — intuitively — when that red flag hits us like a lightning bolt if we’re going to choose to receive it or ignore it.
And, we know — intuitively — why we made that choice.
This is where awareness can start. Or is pushed away for another round of self-sabotage.
The fact is, it’s easy to get hooked. It’s easy to become conditioned into feeling beautiful or in feeling worthy or accepted or in having someone ‘adore’ us.
And, it’s easy to lose ourselves in the aftermath of an unhealthy relationship, too. We can spend months or years hating ourselves, hoping for a different outcome, hating them or sitting there with thoughts of, …”If I just…”
…loved them harder.
…was more patient.
…was more understanding.
……was (insert self-sabotaging inner critic, here).
The most amazing relationships, if they’re authentic, won’t have an expiration date. They won’t have expectations, or devaluations, or limitations.
They won’t be shallow or superficial or based on good times that pass the time.
And, they won’t be perfect either. There will be the proverbial shit sandwich each partner will have to take a bite out of. There will be problems that can only be swept under the carpet for so long. And, there will be only so many distractions that can keep us occupied or chasing the next feel-good moment until that inevitable crash.
However, in an authentic relationship, partners will bust their asses together to face their own pain, in order to conquer their goals, together. There will be understanding, communication, emotional support, and patience between partners.
There will be respect and awareness that one partner may be further along in recognizing their pain and figuring out how to move past it, so a hand-up can be offered to the other partner, not a hand-out…
The problem with focusing so much on what’s wrong with “toxic” relationships is that it can breed more shame. If the one thing most who’ve experienced a history of pain share, it’s toxic shame. So, why reinforce it by reminding them they’re doing the same thing their family does, or by throwing it in their face that they’re doing what they swore they’d never do again?
It doesn’t solve anything, except to keep someone running from their own pain, running from their healing, running from their potential, and ultimately…running from you. Because you’re now a reminder of everything they’re running from.
Pinning bad relationships on one partner doesn’t give the other partner a hall-pass that they were perfect in the relationship, either. After all, the old saying rings true here that, “It takes two to tango”. No one is perfect and no relationship is perfect, regardless of what social media images portray or what personal denial wants us to believe.
If you’ve made the choice to evolve onward and upward in your life, one of the first ways it starts is by having a better understanding of what some relationships teach, and the gifts they bring.
After the dust settles and the smoke clears, our gifts are revealed:
Self-reliance. The biggest gift some relationships will teach is to rely on ourselves. We can thank our ex, because for every faux-adoration they offered, it doesn’t mean you aren’t a beautiful or worthy person if their complements came with a price. It means you now recognize things like agendas and angles and won’t save space for them in your life.
You demand authenticity and complete transparency with your partner. You’re looking for, and worth of that soul connection based on vulnerability — letting each other in and understanding and respecting how our pasts have shaped us. And you don’t have to settle. You won’t take discounts, and you know your value.
For every pain suffered in childhood, more self-reliance is handed to us. No, it doesn’t happen at first. And, no it doesn’t happen overnight. Most of us who have done the inner work know that self-reliance is about taking care of our physical needs, but more importantly in tending to our soul needs.
These are gifts we are handed for every painful moment in childhood that we were invalidated, went unheard or made to feel unwanted — our self-reliance grew exponentially in the form of establishing our personal boundaries, respecting our personal space, and being more selective on those we welcome in to our lives. With self-reliance, quality of those in our lives is more valued than quantity.
Recognizing Patterns and Habits. Because most patterns and habits start in childhood, if an ex replayed what they were taught, we are now aware of their pain and we’ve also been given insight into our own pain that welcomed it. The same is true, in reverse.
The fact is, dysfunction needs two sides of the same coin to be maintained. It requires both an action and a reaction, past pain being re-triggered in current situations.
As long as both partners are willing to continue the cycle, patterns and habits win. While walking away (or being pushed out) is extremely painful — even traumatic — it’s what propels us into awareness and healing. By accepting that patterns and habits serve a purpose to enlighten us about our past pain, we are now empowered to stop the cycle and heal the pain.
Inner Strength and Resiliency. The fact is, we get so caught up looking for the next workout regimen or the next fad diet focusing on what we look like on the outside that our inside can be pushed to the wayside. I’m not knocking physical activity or its necessity, especially when starting our healing journey. After all, physical health is necessary for tackling past pain.
I have personally taken up jogging, meditation, yoga and recently added jiu jitsu to my list. However, when a tough or unhealthy relationship has come to an abrupt, unexpected or toxic end, we need to focus on things like our resiliency and our inner strength. The bottom line is that if we’re focusing so much on our outer strength without setting the internal foundation, we’re little more than a house of cards.
The gift of resiliency is based on inner strength, determination, acceptance and awareness. Resiliency is often learned, conditioned like any exercise and mastered. We need it. We need it to push through the pain, to grow from it and to become wiser and more empowered. Resiliency is more than pushing through muscle cramps — it’s about pushing through the emotional scars and emotional triggers.
It’s about understanding their significance in where it started, why it started, and what we gained and learned from it. It’s through the most influential (and yes, sometimes the most unhealthy) relationships that our resiliency is handed to us…but only if we nurture it.
Alone, Not Lonely. If it’s one thing an unhealthy relationship should teach, it’s how to be alone after it. If you jumped right into another relationship or distraction after one relationship tanked, you’re not healing, and you’re not being fair to yourself.
If you’re licking your wounds and piecing together the “whats” the “whys” and the “wtf’s”, congratulate yourself for taking the steps into self-awareness, inner strength and personal growth. From the loss of one relationship, the gift is in learning to value time alone for healing and to differentiate time alone, from feeling lonely.
There is a common theme with many who find solace and peace by re-examining those in their lives after a relationship traumatically ended. Some may recognize that there’s family that they need to distance themselves from for their own mental health. Some may dismiss friends who aren’t healthy influences or repetitions of past cycles.
Taking the time to be alone also heals inner core wounds which often start in childhood as a result of rejection or abandonment. This is why some struggle with being alone, because of past unresolved pain that hasn’t been addressed, leaving them feeling lonely and threatened.
Unfortunately, if we deny the gift of solitude, we’re also denying the gifts of self-awareness and self-acceptance while exchanging it for more pain and more of the same patterns.
These are the lessons. And these are gifts. These are what light a fire within us to bring us back to our true self, or to help us find our true self. These are the same gifts that help us recognize our inner beauty, our perfect imperfections, and to celebrate our victories, even if they come from losses.
Previously published on medium
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