Relationships serve a purpose, all of them. It may be to validate our view of ourselves as a worthy or unworthy person, or to build us up, to take us down, or to build others up, and we are serving a purpose in other people’s lives also.
Today we are talking about those relationships that require us to be small, unwell or broken in order to feel accepted by them or to be emotionally safe with them. You know the ones I am talking about…the ones where we feel small and even make ourselves small…
We often don’t recognize we are in these relationships for a long time, especially when we have not yet wrapped our head around the belief that we are healthy and deserving of safety, love and respect no matter what the situation, because it just fits with our world belief that people would treat us this way.
Yet without any conscious awareness, we will instantly change our posture when we are around these people, hunching our shoulders, hanging our head, making less eye contact. We become worried or anxious about being around them or sharing our opinion or become indecisive around that person. We often minimize our successes or we don’t share them at all. We accept and tolerate the other person mocking us, even sarcastically or harping “jokingly” on our short-comings, especially in front of others, or they are just plain invalidating, dismissive or treat us unfairly. We will mock or degrade ourselves and use a lot of self-depreciating humour. We will do things that we know are not healthy and make us feel like we betrayed ourselves.
I don’t know about you, but when I see it all laid out that way, it sounds pretty miserable, not something I would sign up for! Yet we have ALL had these relationships. Some of us may still be in relationships like this now; with our friends, partners, parents, siblings, co-workers or bosses. For some of us, that might be the only kind of relationship we know how to have! The question is, WHY?
It seems to be like this…we are a dragon
(the strong and healthy self), but somewhere along the way, we learn that in order to be safe or get attention or some form of nurturance or protection, we have to pretend to be a mouse. That may happen by us getting into trouble for speaking our mind or expressing our frustration as a child, or for some it comes from having parents who pull away when we express our needs and then we get called “sensitive” or “clingy” or told that we “over-react”.
The problem is that dragons make really miserable mice. All of our energy goes into trying move the right way, talk the right way, make the right mouse-like choices- all so we can pass as a mouse….it is EXHAUSTING! Pretending to be someone we are not uses up our resources! It leaves us without any energy to even notice what actually makes us feel stronger or weaker. And even if we had any energy left, we would spend it by going into other people’s heads to try to figure out if we are “passing” as a mouse or not.
In this situation, we often become anxious about interacting with people, it becomes threatening because every interaction requires resources from us, to put on this show. We also become anxious when with people because we are always worried they will figure it out, that they will see we aren’t really a mouse and they will reject us. Then to make things worse, because we are actually pretty bad at being a mouse when we are actually a dragon, they often do sense something is off, that we are trying too hard, or acting “weird”, and they DO reject us ANYWAY. Worse yet, because we aren’t listening to our dragon self about who SAFE people would be to open up to, when our true dragon inevitably slips out now and then, we let it slip with people who are actually more likely to reject us when we stop playing our mouse, small part! They punish us for not being ill, broken, “messed up”.
Then we may tell ourselves we are actually a loner, that we don’t even really like people, or we drink or use drugs to get rid of that anxiety when around people or when alone to avoid all those feelings that come up when we are with ourselves. Some of us become promiscuous as a way of avoiding real intimacy and connection or we become prickly and hostile towards others so they leave us alone, or we just isolate ourselves and avoid all together…you have probably picked up on the fact that none of these are healthy, and this is definitely not an exhaustive list.
So what do we do about this?
All change starts with AWARENESS and DISLIKING it. There are many ways we can go from there; we can consciously start standing up for ourselves, mentally rehearsing being our strong and healthy self (dragon) to our relationships, even practicing doing that with strangers on the street or at the grocery store or coffee shop. The approach that will have the best results will be to focus on the belief that we DESERVE to listen to our strong and healthy self, that we deserve to be healthy, safe, respected and loved, no matter what the situation.
You can expect this will likely bring some strong feelings with it, feelings of anger towards others, for how they have treated you and feelings of shame and regret for having allowed them to do so, along with a healthy dose of sadness. It is common to want to distract ourselves from these feelings by beating ourselves up, but it is actually impossible to connect and pass feelings when we are judging or evaluating ourselves. So when you catch yourself doing that, go back to focusing on having compassion for yourself and return to the feeling.
Watch this 5 min video about who to share our Shame stories with…