I’ve had a few relationships in my life that have hurt me deeply. Like the close friend I thought I had that, one day, just quit returning my calls. And this is someone I spent a lot of time with. Someone who, at one point, I could tell absolutely anything. Even my deepest darkest secrets.
Or the family member who, no matter how much I’ve tried to develop a close bond, seems more content with a superficial text-based relationship. The same one who, coincidentally, only contacts me when they need help.
There are so many times I’ve beat myself over these types of relationships. I’ve spent hours, days, and months wondering what I did wrong. I’ve relived our last moments together over and over again in the hopes of finally realizing what I said or did that made them decide that it was better to not have me in their lives than it was to keep in touch.
Then there are the people who would are in my life but can be extremely toxic. These are the ones who like to play the victim. The world is always against them, yet they can’t see that their own actions and behaviors are contributing to their pain.
Or the ones who can’t seem to fight off their vices or addictions. I do have empathy for this because I understand the power some substances can have over you — I smoked for more than 20 years and there were a few years in there when I drank more than I should. However, spending too much time with people so deep in their addiction that they can’t see their way out increases the risk that they’ll take you down with them.
When it comes to the toxic people still in my life, I find that happiness lies at arm’s length.
The helper in me really wants to take these people in and help “fix” them. In the past, I’ve become so consumed in their drama, in their lives, that they took over my own. Their worries became my worries. Their problems were my problems. The only difference was, when it came to wanting to find a way to solve them, I was on my own.
It has taken me 45 years, but I’m finally to the point where I am comfortable with arm’s length. I’m comfortable with saying, “Yes, I understand what you’re saying. So, what are you going to do about it?” I’ll still give you a little bit of my time and attention, but if you’re not willing to do your part, that’s all you’ll get.
I’ve actually found that arm’s length is a very peaceful place. I don’t get sucked into other people’s bad decisions. I don’t feel turmoil from their trauma. I don’t suffer the consequences that they’re doing their best to not face.
Don’t get me wrong, if you have a problem and not only want help, but are willing to put in the work, I’m all in. I’ll be with you every single step of the way. But if all you want to do is bitch and moan about where you are and not do anything about it, then arm’s length is where you’ll be. It’s also where you’ll remain.
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