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Sally has been a busy mare today with THREE questions in her grain bucket….She decided to answer them together because the questions are so connected. We have a theme!
1) Do you have suggestions for how to get the courage to say you are done with a relationship…even when it’s hard?
2) Do you have suggestions on balancing the inherent built-in and guilt ridden feeling of obligation of taking care of an ill parent with the truth that you don’t like them very much sometimes?
3) How do you to get out of spending time with mother-in-law and other in-laws gracefully…when you really have NO interest in spending time with them?
I have good news and bad news. The good news is that you are being honest with yourself! The good news is that you are getting a feel for healthy boundaries and beginning to imagine courageous leadership. The good news is that you sound kind and loving and don’t wish to harm others. All of this is great news!
The bad news is….it seems very very hard, and even painful, for humans to make the leap from “internal honesty” to honest action or honest living. In the herd, if we don’t give honest feedback, it could mean life or death. Our culture is built on the trust that we will always be honest with each other, always take care of ourselves, and we will listen to each other’s signals in case the common welfare of the herd is at risk. We don’t dwell on the feedback and collapse in a crisis of self worth. We take the feedback, respond, and move on. We’re pretty graceful even though it might look nasty sometimes. We let things get nasty. Just today, I took a big ‘ole bite on Riva’s neck because she was hogging attention and I had a real good itch on my face I wanted some humans to scratch. She was pissed and kicked at me but she did move out of the way. I got my scratch. She came back and we were all peaceful again. We’re still friends.
When humans watch these transactions, they think we are at full-blown war. But the truth is we’re just having an honest relationship. All mammal relationships are like a high contact sport. We bump into each other. We hurt each other. And then we find a way to move on. Moving on is essential to our survival. We need to move and graze and forage. Moving on is essential to human survival, too. I hear that people who get stuck get these terrible things called “stress” and “depression” and “anxiety” and “burn out” and “resentment.”
So what do you do? You guys can’t change your culture overnight. But you can take one relationship at a time and begin moving toward more honesty. Surprisingly, honest conversations, even when they are painful, build trust rather than erode trust. Sometimes, it’s just not wise to give honest feedback directly and instead we have to change our approach to the relationship and shape how things go. I knew this one horse who would strike out and once I almost got very hurt. I tried to let him know he didn’t need to interact with me like that but he wasn’t willing to change. For me to be honest and take care of myself meant that I had to create space. We could co-exist as long as I avoided contact. It worked but I sure was glad when I had the option to create even more space and not share a pasture with him.
If you feel a relationship isn’t a good fit, if you’ve outgrown it, or you are not getting your needs met and it’s time to exit, you might look at courage just a bit differently. The most important thing you have is your own well being. Staying in a situation or relationship that isn’t good for you goes against your innate instinct for survival. It’s stressful and destructive. Instead of looking for courage, which is usually about the other person’s reaction, look for your own relief, your freedom, the gift you can give yourself.
If you are needing to take care of a parent who is difficult and you don’t like interacting with them, what about a more honest approach? Your belief system has you obligated to care for the parent and provide some amount of support. That might be a healthy part of you. But how can you limit your interactions and have some boundaries so that you don’t have to subject yourself to your parent’s bad behavior. For instance, you may provide financial support, interact with doctors or caregivers, create structure, make meals, etc. This is amazing and a huge act of love. Sitting on the phone listening to your parent whine, rage, gossip, etc. or spending hours together might be too much for you. Look at the ways that you can help this parent and be loving that don’t hurt you. Look for ways to say NO and limit what support your giving.
If you don’t want to spend time with family members, good for you for knowing that. Now how can you find a way to maintain a relationship which works for you? Maybe there is a very short activity you could do with them once per month. Or maybe you choose something like a movie or play so that you don’t have to do much interacting. In-laws are tricky. We don’t have to love or even like all of the members of our herd. But we have to respect that they are part of the herd. So we can be strategic and creative about how we spend time together. Make it work for you and put some parameters around it so it feels more manageable.
My main point here is to start acting in YOUR TRUTH. We can do this with kindness but it does take some thought. And it takes a commitment to care for ourselves, first and foremost. From there, we actually show up more authentically in everything we do.