By Christine Carter
Last week, I had lunch with a friend. As we were walking out, she mentioned that she had to see someone who hadn’t always been kind to her, a relationship that caused her more stress and suffering than anything else. She’d been avoiding the meeting, but now it looked inevitable.
“She just makes me so anxious,” she said, gritting her teeth. I’ve been there myself. Lots of times. Seriously toxic relationships call for us to cut off contact altogether; others, though also toxic, seem impossible to avoid. Perhaps you have a constantly criticizing mother-in-law, or a neighbor who seems emotionally stuck in seventh grade. Maybe it’s a boss who belittles you when he’s stressed—or someone who is so under your skin you hold entire conversations with them in your head.
If you, too, have struggled with a toxic relationship, I hope this little instruction manual will help you.
1. Accept that you are in a difficult situation, dealing with a very difficult relationship
Your choices here are fairly limited, and, strangely, acceptance is always the best choice. You can judge and criticize the other person, but that will probably make you feel tense and lonely. Alternately, you could nurse your anxiety and despair that you’ll never be able to get along with them, which will make you feel stressed and sad. You can definitely deny their existence or pretend that they aren’t bothering you. You can block their texts and emails, and avoid every situation where they’ll turn up.
These are all tactics of resistance, and they won’t protect you. Ironically, these tactics will allow the other person to further embed themselves into your psyche.
What does work is to accept that your relationship with them is super hard, and also that you are trying to make it less hard. This gentle acceptance does not mean that you are resigned to a life of misery, or that the situation will never get better. Maybe it will—and maybe it won’t. Accepting the reality of a difficult relationship allows us to soften. And this softening will open the door to your own compassion and wisdom.
Trust me: You are going to need those things.
2. The other person will probably tell you that you are the cause of all their bad feelings
This is not true. You are not responsible for their emotions. You never have been, and you never will be. Don’t take responsibility for their suffering; if you do, they will never have the opportunity to take responsibility for themselves.
To continue reading, visit How to Handle a Toxic Relationship.