THE BLOG

When Your Relationships Feel Confining

Can a stranger be the best kind of friend? At first glance, it seems like a rather odd notion. How could anyone even think a stranger could be the best kind of friend? Perhaps it's just a feeling that's not really true. But why might one feel that way?

What can be problematic with friends and loved ones is that the relationships come with a set of preconceived notions and expectations. It's as if, through the years, you've been put into a box. They have notions of who you are and what you're expected to live up to. It can be something as simple as an idea that you are not supposed to consume dairy products. Or it can be as complicated as expectations of a particular mode of behavior, such as always being wise and understanding, or never spouting off in anger.

Over the years, these expectations accumulate. It's easy to conform to the expectations, but over time, they become confining. You may even feel the need to defy the expectations just so you can feel free to be whoever you are in the moment. But these sorts of confinements and impositions are not always something you're even conscious of. It can be something subconscious that may be sensed or felt, or just spontaneously understood without even giving it any thought. As a result, you instinctively limit your behavior to remain within those parameters.

Many of the preconceived notions of who you are and how you function can be negative. They can be judgments about your character, intelligence, or emotional state. They can create an attitude that people naturally fall into whenever they interact with you.

Within a family system or group of friends, an entire dynamic can get set up where you are pigeon-holed into having one sort of role or another. It's almost like the movie Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, with Sleepy, Dopey, Doc, etc. Each individual is stereotyped into a different role they are expected to abide by. Unlike the movie, when you deviate from your role in real life you can be met with opposition. For instance, it might make other people in the dynamic uncomfortable if a person who is expected to contain their emotions suddenly begins to reach out emotionally to bond.

So, in a very odd sense, your best friends and dearest loved ones can become your adversaries—limiting, confining, and defining you. You may not want to deviate from what is expected of you in these relationships. You might feel like you're letting people down if you do so.

Sadly, it may seem easiest to just 'throw the baby out with the bathwater', move to another town, and start up with a whole new set of relationships. The strangers you meet would become your fresh start. On the other hand, you might do better to work with the relationships you currently have in order to evolve them.

This can be done by gradually shifting boundaries and not conforming to old expectations. In a family system, it might involve a restructuring of household duties. Or it may involve not responding to negative attitudes or comments that confine or limit you.

However, these shifts in relationships shouldn't be reactive or overdone. It's not a rebellion or a complete and total overhaul. Instead, it's a thoughtful transformation that comes from a deep and wise place within you. It's not about retaliation; it's more about understanding and respectfully working with situations. All too often, people wait until the confinement feels so extreme that they react with anger or even rage, which of course is not constructive. Rather, the feelings of hurt and limitation must be felt and worked with without perpetuating a state of negativity that only harms the relationship.

Cultivating the skill to work with these sorts of shifts is essential to a rich and fulfilling life. Otherwise, the relationships you end up with have little history and shallow roots. Evolving your relationships over time is the key to a fulfilling, long-lasting, and emotionally and psychologically nourishing life.