Saturday, September 28, 2013

Evaluating relationships

I was originally going to write about defining friendship and a separate post of healthy relationships, but it seemed I was repeating myself.  So we'll try this instead.  

We are social animals by both nature and nurture; our lives are filled with a variety of relationships from the familial to the purely societal.  Each of these relationships serves purpose in our lives.  Some are healthy relationships that enrich us, but there are also relationships that are toxic.  From time to time, we must, for our spiritual and mental health, evaluate our relationships and decide if they are worth perpetuating.

All relationships should, from time to time, be evaluated.  They change over time, and sometimes we don't keep up with maintaining them as we should. In my opinion, the relationships that most need evaluation are those that make us uncomfortable or dictate the circumstances of our lives.  If a relationship is causing stress on a daily, or even weekly basis, it might be a good idea to ask yourself some questions about it.
  1. Does this relationship regularly cause you to feel negative emotions? How do these negative emotions compare to the positive ones?
  2. Do all partners in the relationship benefit from it?
  3. Do you hesitate to evaluate or talk about this relationship?
  4. What do you get out of this relationship?
  5. What do you put into this relationship?
  6. Deep down, do you feel this is good for you?
Depending on your answers, you may need to think about ending the relationship and looking for healthier options, or instituting boundaries that you can live with (some relationships are for life, I am aware, but that doesn't mean you can't control how you let them affect you).  At the core of this process is self reflection, which requires absolute honest with ourselves.  Relationships that prevent us from growing, from making healthy adaptations to our circumstances, or that make us feel fear, shame or guilt are not healthy. They will, in the long term, prevent us from being the truest and best self we can be.  If we walk on eggshells around someone else's issues, but they stomp on our souls, it's not healthy for either party. Don't worry if you can't answer your questions right away; relationships are complicated. It takes time to sort out how we feel and what we think.  Meditation, journaling, or brainstorming are excellent tools for untangling your thoughts.

If all your relationship needs is boundaries, spend some time thinking about what the optimal boundary is and how best to enforce it.  Sometimes this is as easy as avoiding time alone with a particular person, or not being alone with them.  For more serious  problems, "I'm sorry you feel that way" is a powerful tool that acknowledges the feelings of others, but doesn't commit you to any further action. For the type of relationship that tends to suck you into dramas unwillingly, this is the best response.  Depending on the other person involved, you may be able to simply discuss what you need and come to an agreement. You'll have to feel your way through the process based on your personality and the other person's disposition.

Some relationships, while not overtly unhealthy, are drains on our energy.  These people are energetic vampires who thrive on cycles of drama and celebration that revolve around their needs.  They may appear sympathetic, supportive friends, but when they go home, your energy is gone with them and you never seem to have any when they are around.  These relationships take special care; you must begin by denying their energy sucking habit.  cut the leech-like cords that tie you to them and give yourself permission to cut them off from your energy flow.  This isn't ending the relationship, it's just stopping them from taking your energy.  You may also want to institute drama free times and spaces with them.  Energy theft requires a certain level of permission, and if you deny that permission, they can't feed off of you.  In some cases, once you've identified the feeling associated with energy vampires, you will be able to cut them off before they ever get a taste.  Don't be afraid to keep unhealthy people at arm's length.

If it is time to let go, make space for fixing the reality of the relationship in your mind and heart.  Don't allow false, candy coated feelings to dominate your memory.  Embrace the relationship as it exists, not as you wish it were.  From there, make space to grieve, to accept the ending of that relationship, and to remind yourself that you deserve to be treated fairly, with respect, and love. You are a being of this world and are entitled to respect, dignity, and safety.  As difficult as it is to make this decision, one day, you will be glad you decided to demand better.

We can't avoid all relationships, and to be honest, we probably shouldn't (even though it's tempting at times).  What we can do is to make our relationships as healthy as possible, and to learn to break our own bad relationship habits.  It's not easy, but we are worth it.  Creating and maintaining healthy relationships requires time and effort, and sometimes will need multiple attempt at changing behaviors to be successful.  If you try and fail, keep trying; eventually, you will get it right and you will be better for it. Hold onto those relationships that support you in weakness, that honour your true self, and that make you feel good.  Try to give those feeling back to the people in your life, and embrace being happy, healthy , and an important piece of the Universe.

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