Destructive Relationships

I generally am of the opinion that everyone does the best they can. I have traditionally qualified that statement by saying something like “with the exception of some profoundly disturbed people,” but lately I have reassessed that and no longer believe a qualifier is appropriate.We all do the best we can. Even sociopaths, who essentially believe that the rules exist for them to get around, are trying to be the best sociopaths they can be. Of course we may determine that being a really good sociopath isn’t a very desirable thing, but that doesn’t change the fact that they are doing the best they can. That may sound silly, but it’s actually quite important. A bank robber wants to be the best bank robber he or she can even though being a bank robber isn’t really socially acceptable.

What of people who have internalized a really bad idea, or people who have experienced some kind of trauma that has left them with psychological issues? I would say that they, too, are trying to do the best they can despite the fact that their issues may severely restrict how good their best can be. Someone who has experienced traumatic brain injury may well have severe limitations, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t doing their best. There are some other limitations that aren’t permanent. People who have experienced sexual abuse have a very difficult time reclaiming healthy sexual relationships, but it is possible. In cases like that a person best effort today may yield rather limited results but with time, therapy, and other healing their best effort may find them much less limited or not limited at all.

We all know people who are in relationships that are less than healthy. Every relationship has its struggles and since we all are human we all experience periods in our relationships when we are not at our best. Again, that’s a different thing that not trying our best. We all get tired, we all get sick, we all struggle with stress from time to time, and during those times our relationship performance isn’t at its normal level. Then there are people who are so wounded that even at their best effort their impact on their relationships is destructive. We see this in addicts who are not in recovery and those in relatively early stages of recovery. We see it in people with anger management issues, certain compulsive behaviors, and many mental illnesses as well.

Some years ago, I dated a woman who had been ritually abused as a child. The small town she grew up in was home to a Satanic Cult and her father was high priest of the cult. Most of the important people in town were members including the mayor, the police chief, and several business owners. At that time I did a lot of research about this kind of organization and their actions. I won’t go into detail here, but it is pretty horrific stuff even to read about. I saw the effects of this kind of trauma first hand. Eventually, when this woman decided to starve herself to death and was involuntarily hospitalized I realized that she was unable to participate in a relationship in anything remotely resembling a healthy way and I decided to end our relationship. That’s a pretty dramatic example that most of us won’t encounter, but many of us will encounter more subtle examples of destructive relationships.

I was in a relationship a very long time ago wherein I was reluctant to have my partner present at business events where significant others were invited. She was just too volatile and it was difficult to predict what would set her off. When triggered she didn’t seem able to filter her thoughts, which moved from her mind to her lips without any consideration of the impact they would have on others or my career. As the only income producer in our relationship, that could have been financially devastating. We attended a concert once and the performer made what she considered to be an off-color joke. She insisted we leave immediately and made quite a scene. I was young and not very experienced in relationships and so it took me quite a while to realize our relationship was not healthy and even longer to end it.

When we have a friend in a similar situation we can struggle with whether or not to tell them what we can see and they are in denial about. We worry that we are going to lose our friendship. We need to ask ourselves whether or not a friendship that can be endangered by truth is healthy or not. We need to ask ourselves whether we would want to hear the truth if the tables were turned, and if we decide we wouldn’t want the truth we need to come to terms with how unhealthy our own perspective has become.

I have often said that the one person we cannot get away from is ourselves. We will have to spend every day of the rest of our lives with us. It seems to me that makes it critically important that we act with integrity no matter the cost. I have to act on that belief this week, and I am not looking forward to it – but the truth is that I have reached the point where remaining silent is not an option.

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