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A Cool Recovery Tool: It Helps You Act/Not React In A Toxic Relationship

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Put this one in your emotional toolbox, stat!

When we're in a relationship with a toxic person aka Mope-About, Passive-Aggressive Ballroom Champion, Commitment-phobe, Relationship Detonator, we have a looooooootttttt of negative thoughts and feelings.

Some thoughts you may have:

  • If I can't make it work with this guy, I'll never have kids and will die alone in an unmarked grave.
  • There must be something really wrong with me for him to treat me like cow dung on the heel of his boot.
  • I have a fat tummy. If I didn't have a fat tummy he wouldn't cheat.
  • I'm a failure, just like my dad said I would be.

Here are some feelings you may have:

  • Fear
  • Anxiety
  • Shame
  • Hunger for a six-layer double chocolate cake to drown all these feelings.

Our instinct, when these negative thoughts and feelings arise, is to get rid of them as fast as we can.

Meditation guru, Andy Puddicombe likens these thoughts and feelings to cars driving past that we run out into the road and try to stop.

So if we think we'll "never have kids and die alone if our toxic relationship doesn't work;" we'll often abandon our healthy boundaries and most precious values to try to make it work.

If we're anxious our guy is lying or cheating, we might beg, borrow and steal to get him to stop.

This devastates our self-esteem.

So instead of running into the street to stop our negative thoughts and feelings, we can sit on the sidelines, as Puddicombe suggests, and simply watch them go past without judgment.

We can observe them, as if they were separate from us. This way we can see what they're based upon and decide what, if anything, we should do about them.

In the Al-Anon 12-step program (a recovery program for people who love alcoholics, addicts or just general practitioners of fuckery) they call this technique, "Getting into the Audience of Your Own Life."

The idea is to just sit in the theater seats and watch the show.

An Episode from my Own Asshat-tastic Last Relationship

Before meeting and marrying my mensch-of-a-man I lived with a complicated fellow I refer to as Mister Cruelly Handsome for two years.

One night I was fuming about his behavior. It was nothing unusual.

We'd been given free tickets to see a show at The Mark Taper Forum at the Music Center in Los Angeles.

I emerged from our bedroom all dolled up and excited to go only to discover my man still loafing on the couch in sweats.

He'd decided, minutes before we were supposed to leave, that he didn't want to go.

Despite the fact this kind of thing happened frequently I still reacted instantly to this thought: "I hate this guy soooo much because he's such an asshat, he's got to change!!"

I also reacted to this feeling: "rage."

In order to alleviate the pain this thought and this feeling caused I let loose a spew of venom that sounded something like this:

"You are such a selfish bastard! You never think of anyone but yourself and I'm so sick of you letting me down and treating me like crap. And there's something definitely really, really wrong with you which you should fix. And..."

I'm fairly certain he tuned me out right about the time I took a deep breath before I began to speak.

Then a miracle occurred.

I remembered my 12-step training and managed to get into the audience of my own life and listen to my tantrum.

What I heard coming out of my mouth was my paternal grandma Bette's voice. She frequently berated my grandfather, who was a hopeless gambler, during our family get-togethers.

I sounded JUST LIKE HER!

Her unhappy marriage had made her strident, anxious and just generally prickly. Until she instantaneously dropped dead from a massive heart attack.

I was headed right down the same road to be squashed flat.

So instead of reacting to my negative thoughts and feelings, I decided to act.

I stopped yelling at and attempting to shame my guy. I knew, from being in the audience and having seen this tired play at least a hundred times, that it wouldn't make any difference at all; except adding to the demise of my sanity.

So I shut my trap, gathered my dignity about me like an ermine cape and went to the real theater alone.

In that moment I made a decision not to participate in my Greek tragedy.

Or, to mix metaphors, not to be a small yappy poodle who runs into the street chasing cars.

This buoyed my self-esteem and was a recovery tool I used frequently thereafter.

Over time, this tool helped stop me from participating in drama that cost me self-respect and serenity until, eventually, I found the strength to make a healthier relationship choice.

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