I had a comment on a post I wrote last month and in it, a long-time reader asked me if I would share more about moving in the direction of relational health. I’ve been thinking about this for a while and decided to answer her questions here on the the blog. This is not a "how-to" post; it’s simply a peek into some parts of my journey.
How do you go about making progress in this area?
For me, I really began to take a long, prayerful look at the relationships in my life that felt hard. What was hard? What was good? What did I wish was different? Where was I at fault? What was I willing to invest? What did I really want? I’ve written about this before but sometimes knowing what you don’t want leads you into knowing what you DO want. Through my evaluation process, I realized that some of the relationships I was holding on to were not ones I wanted to keep investing in. I realize that sounds harsh, but in order to be kind to myself I had to cut some ties.
I also invested in some counseling. My husband loves me dearly but he isn’t objective when it comes to me and things that hurt me, so it didn’t feel fair to make him listen/process this stuff with me. Counseling was a logical next step, and as is always the case, was a journey into deeper self-revelation. I was able to clearly identify relational patterns and triggers in my life, and because my counseling was faith-based, I was able to invite Jesus into my process of healing—a process that is still ongoing. I don’t feel led to share the nitty gritty here; I’m sure you understand.
How do you prune relationships that are not healthy? It just seems so awkward, but I know I need to. As a people pleaser, I just don’t know how.
Let me first say that YOU get to define what unhealthy relationships mean in regard to you and your life. Not every hard relationship is unhealthy. Some are definitely worth fighting for.
I chose to completely cut ties. Maybe you can limit your involvement with those who pull you down, or retreat a bit, but for me, it was a complete break. Cutting ties isn’t clean or easy; I’m still wading through some emotional residue, awkwardness, and lingering hurt. As much as I hate it, I don’t know any way around this. I do know that the peace I feel from stepping away is confirmation that I did the right thing.
It’s easy to play a blame-game when you’re evaluating difficult relationships but it’s important (and difficult) to stay away from that emotional pull. Rarely are things completely one-sided. Owning my fault and and my role in the demise of certain relationships was hard, but necessary.
One big thing I realized during this process is that I have a pretty significant flight response. The minute things get hard or weird, I flee and convince myself I’m better off without that person in my life. There are times that is true but flight shouldn’t be the first/only response and it is completely unfair to emotionally abandon a person.
In regard to being a people pleaser and it being awkward to navigate unhealthy relationships: YES. It is completely awkward. I’m a people pleaser too. I want everyone to like me. The hard truth is that everyone doesn’t. Haters is a strong word, but I have a few in my life, and I’m trying to take Taylor Swift’s advice and Shake It Off. It’s hard to do; harder still if that pleaser mentality is deeply ingrained in every fiber of your being.
I’m also slowly learning to get up every morning and let ONE VOICE define me. God’s voice. He is the one who truly knows my heart and my motives and my needs and my fears and His opinion of me is the one that matters most. It’s the key to freedom in this area.
Can you suggest any books that helped you in this area?
Friendships Don’t Just Happen by Shasta Nelson was a book I loved because it gave me a system to evaluate and categorize my relationships. She explains her system in this video. I think this book also validated my decision to “cut ties” yet didn’t let me off the hook for my flight response and the ways I emotionally check out of relationships. It challenged me to change the way I threw around words like “toxic” and it challenged me to push through difficult relationship challenges. While the book is not overtly Christian, the writer is and I thought she approached things in a balanced way.I haven’t read Boundaries in a number of years but I still practice some of the things I learned from this book and would suggest it as a resource in navigating relational wellness.
Couple of things to add:
1. All of my "hard" relationships were female friendships. This is an area where I've personally struggled for the past several years.
2. I'm happy to answer questions in the comments section.