One of the biggest hurdles we face after leaving an unhealthy relationship is learning how to be vulnerable again. Fortunately, if you have realized that you are or were unhappy in a relationship and identified some of the specific things that made you that way, the seeds of change have already been sown.
To begin with, you are already a whole lot less tolerant of certain behaviors that got you into deep do-do with your (former) significant other. That’s the first step on the road to strength and health. Moving beyond that is a simple matter of applying your new insights to a broader field of people.
It starts with being sensitive to strangers or casual acquaintances who exhibit behaviors you can no longer easily dismiss. It’s easy to simply walk away or apply Medium Chill to someone you have little connection to.
Then, as you become more aware of both your own reactions and of others motivations, you start to realize that people you know better, co-workers, closer friends, may not be acting in ways that are healthy for you. So you begin to practice those healthier boundary building and maintenance behaviors in slightly more challenging situations, and you become more aware of the limits on your personal boundaries.
Along with this new found sensitivity, comes an awareness of your own needs and responses. The truth is, you are part of the problem. Your part comes because you did not recognize when you were first being violated, or did not give your awareness the attention it deserved when your boundaries were being ignored or dismantled. If you did notice, you brushed it off as insignificant, unimportant or reasonable within the given circumstances.
Disordered people seek, respond, feed and exploit those aspects of ourselves where we are neediest. They discover our deepest desires and provide just enough sustenance toward them that we eagerly ignore things we otherwise wouldn’t. The more needy we are, the more vulnerable we are. So the solution is to become as whole as we can be.
This doesn’t mean to stop opening up and showing our soft underbellies. But it does mean not placing all our vital parts into those underbellies, to be prepared to lose those things that we are being vulnerable with. In other words – we craft our identity based on who we are rather than what we are to others or what we get from others.
You may have even welcomed the intrusion and labeled it love and connection. After all, it was filling your own need. And once those boundaries were crossed and merged, it became very hard to differentiate one person from the other. That’s where the crazy-making came in.
So learning to see your own boundaries again is a process, and then learning to clarify and fortify those boundaries is still more work. You can only do some of the work when the boundaries are challenged, which is why it takes so long and is sometimes so painful. But it’s also one of the major benefits of both having and then leaving a PD partner.
I firmly believe that the worst relationship of your life can turn into the most powerful force for growth you have ever encountered.
If you put in the work, you can become stronger, better, more defined than you ever could have been otherwise. I am finding new edges and new strengths all the time and while it’s uncomfortable and I sort of wish I didn’t have to do it, I know it’s part of my growth process, so ultimately I welcome it.
There are countless examples of people who have been in situations just like yours, or maybe even worse, who were able to gently and permanently changed their interactions and leave their bad relationships for good.
Even more encouraging, is that when you take the time to recognize and fortify your own boundaries, you ensure that you will never accept less than you deserve in a relationship ever again.
When you become stronger, you’ll be able to deal with all manner of challenging personal issues with skill.
The Big Payoff
Make no mistake, it will not always be easy. You may become exhausted and overwhelmed emotionally and physically. You may feel uncertain in fundamental ways and sometimes doubt your ability to triumph. But when those times come, you simply have to look back over what you have already accomplished and draw strength from it.
And when you reach that point, you will understand that even if everything shifted and changed your life into something unrecognizable, that you would still remain.
And that is the difference that will allow you to continue and persevere. To learn how to trust, even though monsters might be lurking around every corner,
It won’t matter if there are, because you will have learned to listen carefully and trust yourself and that is the most important defense against monsters there is.