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abusive relationships

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Bothered by the Behaviour of Others? It Contains Precious Gifts...

1 minute 39 second read

It can be too easy for us to get ourselves bent out of shape about what the behaviours of others. They were rude, they were inconsiderate, they were thoughtless or selfish. We label them with our judgement.

No doubt there have been a lot of times you've heard yourself say (with great indignation), "How dare he do something like that?!"

And we allow ourselves to become upset by their words and actions, often while stewing over the offending behaviour.

It has been said that the things that irritate us about other people are behaviours or aspects of ourselves that we don't like. When I first heard this, I was very young and absolutely disagreed without thinking about it. But as I aged, I began to discover that although it wasn't always the case, there were definitely more occasions on which that was the truth than I wanted to admit.

The beauty in that, however, is that once I was willing to look at it, I could see the gift in it because it allowed me another layer of self-awareness. I could see that there were times I'd been upset with others for doing a version of something I had done, too.

The more I paid attention to my reactions to events that I found to be upsetting when I was on the receiving end, the more I was able to find room for improvement within myself.

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It is also true that not every occasion was about one of my own behaviours. In some cases, whatever it was that I found to be upsetting was a trigger, reminding me of a past incident, something that still stung. Often, there wasn't anything particularly rude or disrespectful in the behaviour; it was merely my interpretation because of my own issues.

The gift in this was in discovering wounds that had remained unhealed. This was especially helpful when I'd thought an issue had been resolved but apparently, there was another layer lurking and interfering with my life in some way.

Now, if I find myself feeling irritated by the behaviour of someone else, I ask myself why I feel that way. I take a good look to see if there are ways in which I am exhibiting the same behaviour. If I'm not, then I dig into why I feel triggered by the event.

At the end of the day, unless the behaviour of others impacts me directly (e.g. someone hits me or trashes my home), it's none of my business. I can choose not to react. I don't have to feel anything one way or another. Their behaviour is no reflection on me, unless I choose to make it about me. I can just observe and move on.



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You're Not Responsible for Anyone Else's Feelings

1 minute 45 second read

Yesterday, I wrote about the most powerful tool you’ve got, which is the power of choice. It raised another issue, but first I need to back up just a bit.

I was saying that sometimes we feel trapped, even when we aren't. We might feel like we don't have a choice in certain matters, but the truth is, we do. It just might not be a choice that we like because of the potential consequences and in particular, when those consequences involve others being unhappy or upset with us.

"I can't say no, it'll hurt her feelings!" "You make me so angry!" "He pushes my buttons!"

The truth is, you cannot "hurt her feelings." She gets to decide whether or not she'll be upset if you say no.

And no one can "make you angry." Whatever other people do, no matter how boneheaded their choices, no matter how nasty or mean-spirited, thoughtless or selfish, you get to decide whether or not you're going to feel angry, or annoyed, or nothing at all. You get to decide to just dump responsibility for their thoughtless actions back in their laps and not waste any time or energy feeling miserable.

And there is no such thing as having anyone "push your buttons." Now, before you throw rocks at my house, let me explain.

Let's say your jealous younger sister knows you're self-conscious about something. So she teases you and you blow your top. You've given her the response she wanted.

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Next time she wants to get you riled up, she teases you again. You might even be a little angrier this time. She feels quite satisfied because once again, you've reacted as she'd hoped.

The more this goes on, the more you feel like she's "pushing your buttons and making you angry."

But the truth is that you've simply taught her that if she says anything about that issue, you will become angry. If you want the cycle to stop, you have to stop giving her the reaction she wants. She can't "make you" angry. You get to decide whether or not you let her words or actions get to you.

You could just as easily act like it doesn't bother you in the least (even if it does, just don't let anyone see it!). When your bratty little sister sees that she's no longer getting the desired response, eventually she'll stop trying.

So you see, there is no such thing as "button pushing." You are simply teaching people that if they do "this," you will respond like "that." If you want them to stop, then YOU have to stop reacting the way you do.

Be prepared for them to try harder to make you react the way you used to do, but stay strong and don't let them see it. It won't be long, they'll get bored and quit.

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How to Tell When It's Time to Say Goodbye

Do you ever find yourself struggling with certain people who are your friends or romantic partners? Does it seem that no matter how much you love them and try to make the relationship or friendship work, you spend more time being miserable than happy? Do you feel like a salmon swimming upstream, constantly fighting to get somewhere, to make progress, or to make it feel right and to be happy, but you just can't seem to get there?

Perhaps those people keep blaming you for everything that's wrong between you. If only you were more like this or less like that. If only you would do this and not do that, they wouldn't get upset. You live your life, carefully tiptoeing around on eggshells, worrying that you will say or do the wrong thing, trying your level best not to cause a disturbance.

You become anxious, always anticipating what might set them off. You think it's all your fault that they are unhappy - because this is what they tell you - and therefore, it is your fault that you are unhappy, too, because your happiness depends on theirs. You feel rejected; you believe you're a failure and that all you've done is cause those people nothing but of misery.

And then you have a break from those people. Someone goes on holiday or you and your partner separate for a while. After a few hours or a few days, you start to breathe easier. You begin to relax. You smile again, and it feels foreign on your face. You giggle a bit and maybe even laugh a lot. You associate with other people who think you're bright and funny and sensitive and kind.

You begin to feel like your old self. You start thinking perhaps their misery is not your fault after all. Perhaps those people have some issues. Maybe they're just impossible to please. Maybe they're demanding or miserable or irritable, or just plain selfish, through and through.

You're outside the box now, with some breathing room, able to look at those relationships with a different perspective. You see that they're very lopsided. You do all the giving, and the other people do all the taking until you have nothing left to give. But away from them, you feel your strength returning, your sense of worth, and your dignity. You vow that you will not be treated like that any more.

Then the break is over. The holiday ends. Those people are back in your life, in your space, and almost immediately they're complaining about this and that, and you're sliding back into that place of believing that their unhappiness is your fault.

In a heartbeat or two, you're back where you started, feeling worthless, depressed, resentful, frustrated, and desperately lonely.

You're as miserable as you ever were, and once again, you're that poor little salmon, swimming upstream, fighting against the oppressive currents of negativity and control that are swallowing you whole.

The pattern continues. Every time you separate for a while, you feel better and are happier. But when you're with them, life is miserable and you don't feel good about yourself.

There are numerous reasons why we get into these situations or why we stay in them but I can at least tell you this: If you have several good relationships with people who appreciate you and enjoy your company, and with whom you get along well, but there is a certain person in whose company you are consistently unhappy, take a closer look.

We can learn a lot about ourselves from difficult relationships, and sometimes we can work within those relationships to make them better. When both parties recognise that there's a problem and want to fix it, that's a good starting point.

But when one of the people refuses to accept any responsibility and does nothing but point the finger of blame, and has made it clear that he or she has no intention of working at what's wrong, then it's probably time for you to end your association.

I'm all for trying to fix a problem in any kind of relationship. But there are times when we must recognise that it is beyond our control. Sometimes we have to see that being in the company of certain people is destructive, that it's toxic and will only adversely affect us.

When it is clear that this will be ongoing and the other people involved refuse to budge, then you must walk away, for your own health and your own happiness.

You can bet that those people have troubled relationships elsewhere, too, and that they blame other people for everything that's wrong in their lives. You can bet that they are not happy people in themselves, but this is their stuff to fix, not yours. You're not responsible for anyone else's happiness or loneliness or social life.

When you have ongoing problems with a certain person, but no amount of talking has helped and you just feel more and more unhappy or your self-esteem has plummeted, bear in mind that you've always got the best gauge for figuring out what to do. That gauge is your own feelings. Just look at how you feel when you're with that person, or involved with that person. And then notice how you feel when you have some breathing space and some distance. If you're consistently or frequently miserable in the company of that person, and happier on your own, that's all you need to know.

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Love Does Not Conquer All

Yeah, I know there are millions of love songs and romantic films and stories about the greatest love that ever existed. And I know that when you're in love, you think it will last forever.

I know, too, how it feels to believe that your love is so strong, it can survive anything, will withstand anything, and that no matter how much you or your partner might change you will overcome any obstacle that is thrown at you.

I know - all too well - about making a promise to love each other "for better or worse" and most of the time, people really mean it when they say it.

But I also know - all too well - that sometimes love is simply not enough.

There are a couple of very important factors that contribute to this harsh reality. One is the emotional baggage that we carry with us. Another is change.

First, the emotional baggage. My goodness, the damage it can do...bad enough when we know what it is, but when we don't - when we haven't spent any real time discovering what makes us tick, and overcoming past wounds - we will unwittingly contaminate relationships, despite our best intentions.

This gets us in trouble with the "for better or worse" part of marriage. People seem to take this to mean, "I'll love you even if you abuse me. I'll love you if you betray me. I'll love you if you disrespect me, cheat on me, lie to me, violate me, do things behind my back that you know you shouldn't do."

Frankly, none of that kind of behaviour has anything to do with love. I think "for worse" means when we lose jobs, or there are financial troubles or someone wants to change careers and it means a lot of upheaval for the family. Or perhaps there's the offer of a transfer to another city - or country - and one person doesn't want to go. Nobody's right or wrong; there are just obstacles to be overcome.

To my mind, "For worse" refers to the curveballs in life. It should not mean intolerable, unacceptable, unloving behaviour that undermines the whole point and purpose of marriage. Even without the legal tie, or that specific promise, those behaviours are still unacceptable. They are not about love. They have nothing to do with how we should be treating the person we say we love above all others on the planet.

We like to think that loving someone and trying to make a relationship work in such circumstances will bring about positive change. But, when the other person repeatedly refuses to seek help or make an honest attempt to change his or her ways, you're wasting your time.

I've been in too many relationships that were like that, each of us with our own issues that contributed to an unhealthy situation, one of mine often being that I did not respect or value myself enough to stop accepting unacceptable behaviour.

Change is another potential serial killer of relationships. It slaughters couples, silently, over a long period of time, divergence gradually poisoning their happiness until it exists only in their memories. When there is nothing much to talk about, virtually no common ground, a shared dream, a meeting of the minds - and more importantly, no desire to find a way to make it work in spite of the differences - it is time to move on.

And what about a couple that starts out in the same, but then one person changes and grows away from it and into something different, perhaps even something contradictory and then the whole foundation for the relationship is threatened? Should that person be forced to pretend and carry on living a lie, feeling suffocated and unhappy? Or should the other person be forced to change, too, even if it doesn't fit or feel good? I'm sure many people have found a way to make this work. But what about the ones who haven't?

No matter how much people love one another, we are not put on this planet to compromise and suffocate ourselves, or to tolerate disrespect. We are meant to thrive and to be happy, not to stay tied to toxic situations because of love.

What about loving yourself enough to leave a relationship that is destructive? To my mind, that's about the only kind of love that can "conquer all." Self-love automatically means self-respect. Combined, these help us to find our power and inner strength. This is what allows us to become truly happy and fulfilled. It is in this fulfillment that we will find deep and rewarding happiness and accomplishment. And it's from this place that we can offer the most love.

It would be wonderful if love could be as easy as the songs and poems say it is, and if that's all it took to glue two people together and make them happy. But it's not and I've seen it up close and personal more times than I care to remember. I know how it feels to walk away from someone I loved very much because to do anything else would be self-destructive.

I had always believed that as long as I loved someone, I figured I was obliged to keep trying to make it work. Even through abusive and dysfunctional behaviour, I kept hoping, trusting and believing that somehow, love would be enough to make it better.

And then I had a profound realisation that changed everything. Loving someone is one thing. But that doesn't mean you have to stay with that person and keep trying to make things right. You do not have to continue to beat your head against a wall, attempting to resuscitate something that cannot (and should not) survive.

You're wasting your time. Because sadly, love does not conquer all.

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Your Happiness Depends on This

If you're like most people, you find yourself saying things like, "Oh, she makes me so mad!" Or "He loves to say things just to hurt me!" Or "I have to do it or they'll be really disappointed!"

Many people go through life believing their feelings are controlled by the words and actions of others when, in fact, this is impossible.

No one can make you feel anything in particular. You are always in control of your own feelings and responses to whatever happens around you. If someone is insulting you and saying hateful things to you, it's up to you to decide whether or not to feel hurt, offended, or disappointed.

You could look at that person and just think, "Wow, that person has a lot of emotional wounds to behave like this. It's not about me and I'm not taking it on as mine."

No one can make you angry. No one can make you sad. No one can make you feel disappointed. Another person's behaviour is that person's choice and responsibility. Not yours.

Let's look at the idea that people "push your buttons." The truth is that you don't have any buttons to push; you have simply taught them that if they say or do a certain "something", you will respond in a specific way. So how do you break that cycle?

If you don't like that dynamic, you are always free to change it by showing a different response. When you do this consistently, eventually the other person will give up attempting to get the desired result. They may step up their efforts to get you to be the way you used to be, but if you refuse to give them the old response, eventually they'll stop trying to get it.

It might not happen overnight but if you continue to honour and respect yourself and not allow yourself to feel hurt by what amounts to a demonstration of another person's emotional wounds, eventually you will see big shifts in the dynamics of your relationship.

You get to choose your responses, and that includes the decision to end a relationship in which you are subjected to a continual or frequent barrage of negativity. I am not suggesting that if you're in relationship that includes verbal and emotional abuse, you should just continue to ignore it and tolerate it.

The point I'm making is the same though: Although an abuser's toxic words and actions are not your fault or responsibility, your reactions are.


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