One of the biggest challenges that we face in our efforts to build meaningful, fulfilling and loving relationships is that–thanks to what might be some pretty painful experiences in our past–we might be unclear about how to recognise healthy relationships and interactions. Becoming educated about healthy boundaries as well as having greater awareness of what I call code amber and red issues and behaviour are undoubtedly vital, but us humans do have a tendency to become hypervigilant for potential transgressions rather than empowered.
We quite simply don’t realise how guarded we’re being instead of boundaried.
We build walls to protect us from our fear of the past happening again (or to assuage our guilt about where we think we royally messed up either through actions or inherent inadequacy). Despite what might be our increased awareness and knowledge, we play Columbo. We also engage in catastrophic thinking and routinely doubt ourselves despite what might be overwhelming evidence that something isn’t right.
If we have increased awareness and knowledge of what constitutes unhealthy behaviour/situations, why do we doubt ourselves?
"It’s because we tend to wonder if we’re being needy/dramatic/too sensitive/unreasonable/unfair/psychotic/jumping the gun/judgemental/over-emotional"
It’s like knowing the signs of fire but wondering whether you’re being melodramatic as the place is burning. So many of us have a fear of not only making a mistake but also just straight-up listening to ourselves.
The aim of life isn’t to only listen to ourselves when we’re guaranteed to be right! We have to tune in and be OK with sometimes getting it wrong–vulnerability. Life is on-the-job-training and by listening and learning, we gain personal security and hone our judgement skills. We become happier.
The irony is, of course, that if we’re criticising and doubting ourselves in response to something, it’s a code red alert. Something is very wrong. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the person/situation is shady, but it definitely means that we don’t have our back. We are the feeler of our feelings, thinker of our thoughts and keeper and advocate of our needs and desires. If we’re not listening, no one else can.
Our boundaries being crossed is undoubtedly an issue but how big it’s going to become comes down to whether we have an active response. Where we stand with an issue that we’ve responded to from a place of loving, caring, trusting and respecting ourselves (even when there’s a possibility that we haven’t got our assessment of things ‘perfectly right’), is very different to where we stand when we’ve either not responded at all or we have but from a place of busting up our boundaries.
Our feelings provide vital clues to our emotional state, our needs and what may or may not be going on around us.
Feelings aren’t facts, or more accurately put–the stories, judgements and assumptions that we pad around our feelings aren’t facts. The fact that we, for instance, feel anxious, doesn’t mean that the sky is about to fall down. We’re being signalled to either reassure ourselves or make a decision.
Identifying what tends to trigger a spiral of thoughts, feelings and subsequent actions allows us to make self-care driven choices. E.g. If we have a pattern of becoming anxious when the going is good or when we have free time, we can compassionately acknowledge these reasons. We learn that we’re still fearful of a past situation happening again and so protecting us from being “too happy” or that anxiety is our pastime– it’s a habit we use to fill time or to cover up other feelings and thoughts. Choosing to consciously respond from a different place allows us to move forward.
There’s a simple formula that works every time for recognising healthy people, situations and relationships:
Healthy connections regulate you, and unhealthy ones destabilise you.
In healthy interactions and relationships, there’s consistent calmness, steadiness and sense of self. This doesn’t mean that you won’t have occasions where you feel anxious, stressed, frustrated, etc (hello, you’re human), but you will be able to go ‘back to base’.
No matter how fabulous you are, persisting in hanging on to something or someone that isn’t compatible with your values will destabilise you.
A hell of a lot of people unwittingly (and sometimes consciously) believe that destabilisation is love. It’s not; there’s a fine line between excitement and fear.
If you’ve become less of who you are, the person, situation or thing is not in alignment with you.
It’s time to change the way in which you’re interacting with it/him/her. Or, you need to recognise that life is communicating something crucial to help you move closer to your values.
Working in a job that makes you feel as if you have to medicate in order to function? No longer seeing your friends, family or doing any of the things that matter to you? Run, Forrest, Run! Acknowledge the toll that whoever or whatever it is is taking on your life. It’s communicating vital information about who you really are and your needs. And then start working on getting out.
If by becoming involved with somebody, you can’t seem to eat, sleep or think straight, or it’s as if they’ve come along and decimated your life, you’ve been activated, triggered.
Something about that person, the dynamic, what you’re trying to ‘get’, what you’re avoiding, is a reflection of an unresolved wound. It’s unhealthy. You’re being invited to see something that you couldn’t see before. If you weren’t misunderstanding something about your worth in relation to your past, this situation wouldn’t exist. The relationship is here to wake you up. It’s forcing you to confront the pain, fear and guilt that you’ve been carrying around. In doing so, you will make space for the people, opportunities and things that are in harmony with who you really are and how you want to live.
Pain is not love.
Healthy connections regulate you, and unhealthy ones destabilise you. This is a simple yet powerful way of quickly gauging where you’re at. Listen and learn.