Growing up, I was always taught that it doesn't cost anything to be a decent person. The words we use, how we interact with others, how well we listen or respond when someone says something unexpected or different than what we're used to --- there is always a way to be respectful vs. ignorant, hurtful or plain mean.
But what happens when someone you know, someone close to you, someone in your family even, is constantly disrespectful to you or belittles your abilities?
Until recently, I still used to think I needed to try to "make things right." I thought it was in my best interest and everyone's best interest for me to keep pushing out positivity in spite of how they were treating me.
I thought that if I could just do enough of the "right" things, the nice and "best" things, that maybe they would see the bigger picture, maybe they would be inspired by my actions, and maybe the passive-aggressive comments and snide remarks would stop.
But that didn't work.
And I longed for their support. In fact, all I ever wanted was support. Even if they disagreed, I just wanted these people in my life to say "I may not always agree with you, but I care, and I support you."
But that didn't happen.
Then I played around with scenarios in my head. How to talk to them about it. How to make them "see" how I felt. No this wasn't an abusive relationship, nothing was really at stake necessarily, but what was happening was consistent remarks, a lack of appreciation for me as an individual, and an ever-increasing awareness of self-doubt and confusion anytime I spoke with them.
Then it dawned on me.
Why do I keep trying? Why do I think I need to explain? Why do I keep scalding my hand on a hot stove when it just continues to ignite? Why do I continue to keep touching something that has proclaimed who it is, how it will be, and how it will react to me regardless? Why am I letting their behavior affect my happiness?
There wasn't a way for me to change this person or their behavior. There never would be. No matter what I ever did. No matter what I ever said. It wouldn't matter how I explained it or if I tried to do it in the nicest, most sincere, most approachable way possible.
This was liberating!
I cannot tell you what an epiphany and relief this was for me. But oh, of course, the doubts and what-ifs began to pile up in front of me...
- But what about when we all do things together?
- What will they think when I stop texting them all the time?
- How will they react when I don't call as much....if at all?
- What will other people think of me when I make this decision?
- How are they going to judge me?
- What if this makes everything worse?
I could see myself mentally backtracking, like raising my hand in class with the answer and then quickly lowering it as soon as the teacher saw me, suddenly worrying about the humiliation if there was a chance I was wrong.
Why was I doubting this?
Then I decided to make a list of what would happen if I decided to not interact anymore. To slowly remove myself from the ongoing concert that I'd never enjoyed.
- I would feel relieved and more confident
- I wouldn't be doubting myself, my words, or my actions nearly as often or frequently
- I could spend more time doing what I want and living in ways that aligned with my own values without looking for their approval
- I could seriously start building the foundation of how I saw myself without their lens interfering
- I wouldn't be worried about what they might think about my actions because I wouldn't be looking for them to validate anything
- I wouldn't feel less than without their support because I wouldn't need it
The second list made it all clear.
Part of me wondered if I should explain myself or my actions even after all of this brainstorming. Maybe I should tell them? Maybe they deserve to know WHY I don't put in as much effort anymore. Maybe I would be a better person if I told them.
Then I realized that all of that really didn't matter when the relationship had been constantly one-sided. It would be like trying to inflate a giant balloon all by yourself with just your breath, never taking a break to breathe yourself. At some point, you'd pass out and the balloon would never grow any bigger.
This entire time, all these years I'd spent giving and giving because I cared and because I wanted them to see how much I cared, didn't matter if I wasn't taking care of myself. And it didn't matter because nothing I could ever do or say would be appreciated. That's not to say that caring for others isn't important, some of the most important things we can do in life is for others.
What I had realized was that giving to these types of people in my life did nothing but drain my sense of self and did nothing to improve much else.
These types of relationships can manifest in many forms:
- They can be friendships where you are constantly checking in, listening, and being supportive only to have silence on the other end when you ask to vent or want some advice or support
- They can be romantic relationships where you are always helping the other person or listening to them but never have any of your needs met
- They can be family members who constantly make jokes at your expense, talk down to you when you share your passions, or hinder you from pursuing what matters most to you
- They can be acquaintances who are always asking for help moving, an extra hand at a bake sale, or if you can watch their dog over the weekend but always seem to be busy or not willing to listen to you or help in similar ways
There's nothing wrong with doing things for others without expecting anything in return, in fact, that's a great thing! But when that becomes the norm and an individual makes you feel low on the regular, that's when a relationship leaches happiness from your very being and will slowly eat you from the inside out.
So how do we align ourselves to better be aware of these types of relationships and break free from them when they occur?
First of all, not all people that do or say things are horrible people. I too have been a shitty friend, a not-so-great date, and a difficult family member at times. The fact is we all have stages in our lives that we go through self-absorbed, unaware, or totally discombobulated. The difference is that we can all learn from ourselves and move forward and live more impactful lives.
Sometimes people in our lives just aren't "there" enough to give back to a healthy relationship. And sometimes people in our lives will always be mean for no reason. That's for all of us to decipher -- and for us to walk away from if we want to.
We can't instantly avoid happiness-leaching people in our lives, they will always pop up. But we can decide how to react to them and how to move away from them once we see their behavior.
Here are 5 Signs that a relationship is ruining your happiness:
1) You constantly feel like you're talking to a wall.
You're always texting, calling, emailing, snail mailing, mores-coding, flag-signaling someone only to hear excuses after you say something like, "hey, are you alive?"
We all get it. They're busy. We're all busy. Being busy happens. They aren't a bad person for being busy. But if they are available when THEY need to vent or have issues but never make time for you -- that's lame sauce.
Things to consider:
- Would reaching out less help you maintain your relationship?
- Might reaching out to someone else help you feel more supported than continually trying to make the support thing work with this person?
- How does it feel when you never hear back?
- Would it help to talk to them about it?
2) You're really good at listening......always for the entire time.
Part of being in a healthy relationship is being able to listen to someone you care about. Problems arise when you are the only one listening. When the other person is always complaining, venting, or even talking about great things in their lives without asking you so much as a "how are you doing?" it's easy to feel deflated and used. People get excited to talk about themselves and their own lives but if they never want to also talk about you, it's not worth it.
Key points to remember:
- Your are worthy of being listened to
- You deserve someone who asks about YOUR life
- You shouldn't have to constantly tell anyone you want your turn to be thought of
3) You get anxious before calling, emailing, texting, or seeing them.
Whatever form of communication you use to talk to this person, it makes you anxious. Thoughts might jolt through your mind about calling at the perfect time, interrupting something, being a pain for thinking about them, or not wording something just the right way (walking on eggshells, much?). Not only is this relationship leaning into unhealthy territory but it's also making you question yourself. We can all be respectful of timezones and events, but if you're constantly worried about how, why, and when you are trying to talk to someone, it's probably a sign of a bigger issue brewing.
Things to consider:
- How do you feel before talking to people who uplift you?
- When was the last time you felt truly excited to see or talk to this person?
- Who makes you feel energized to see?
4) You leave conversations feeling drained, let down, and exhausted.
Ever have that long call with your best friend where you feel rejuvenated and energized afterwards? Yeah, this person is nothing like that. In fact, most of the time, you feel quite the opposite. Whether it's feeling mentally drained from listening the entire time (see #2) or not feeling any support coming your way, these types of relationships can fester in your mind and make self-doubt spurt up in gardens of misery.
- Notice your energy level before and after conversing with this person
- How does your body position change during these interactions?
- What happens to your mood?
5) You keep wondering if you're doing something wrong, have offended them, or just aren't a good enough friend/spouse/partner/family member, etc.
After going through a relationship with this type of person for any amount of time you may start to have some major self-doubts. And you may really want things to work, improve, or take a turn in a bigger better direction....but they just don't. This doesn't mean you've failed. You may start to wonder if you should change aspects of yourself. You may contemplate how often you __________ and question it, even if it's a crucial part of who you are and your personality. There's nothing wrong with self-improvement but there's a huge difference between self-growth and wanting to change because someone else is treating you poorly.
Just like anything in life, relationships require constant work, adjustment, and evaluation. There are things we can improve by becoming more aware of our own actions, and there are things we can help others to see but in the end we can only do so much to "show" someone else how they are treating us. No relationship should ruin your happiness. Ultimately we have to decide how much of ourselves we are willing to give away to make something work that doesn't benefit us.