Dysfunctional relationships can happen to anyone. You can have a dysfunctional relationship with a parent who may be struggling with an addiction, a sibling who has some mental health impairment, or an abusive partner with whom you are still emotionally invested. You feel as though boundaries are crossed in these relationships with impunity, more than you can tolerate. Conflicts don’t get resolved with these folks; sometimes, getting your point across seems impossible. In the end, no one wins with your attempts to resolve things, leaving you – once again – feeling hurt, betrayed, ignored, and frustrated.
Although it is best to get yourself away from chronically dysfunctional relationships, realistically, is not always possible. Sometimes we must face the difficulty of untangling yourself away from someone you are responsible for, emotionally attached to, or financially dependent on. Unfortunately, abandoning a harmful relationship is simply not an option for some; this leaves many feeling hopelessly stuck.
In situations where you cannot distance yourself from the dysfunctional relationship, Robert Taibbi offers some helpful suggestions. A licensed Clinical Social Worker for over 40 years, author of 300 articles and ten books including Fixing Families: Tools for Walking the Intergenerational Tightrope, Taibbi shares tips on managing your life while remaining embedded in a dysfunctional relationship:
- Don’t feed the dragon: When emotions are high, do not continue engaging or explaining your perspective. Wait until the environment is calmer. Do not get lost in the need for the other person to understand you (when you are in an argument) because your point will be lost or rejected and you will only become more frustrated.
- Don’t enable: When your dysfunctional relationship is with a person who struggles with addiction, Taibbi explains that “by your enabling you ultimately keep them from seeing the consequences of their behaviors and the power of their affliction”. This means that you should not take part in covering up for someone who is addicted when their addiction gets in the way of their responsibilities. No matter how painful it may be, do not protect someone that you care about from the consequences of their behaviors.
- Don’t engage in magical thinking: Magical thinking is when you create a correlation between two unrelated things that happened at the same time to explain an event. As appealing as it may be for you to make sense of things in your dysfunctional relationship, it is not good to do this. It’s understandable for you to justify or rationalize what is happening to you; we are programmed to make connections. Even though magical thinking tends to lower our anxiety for a moment, these irrational conclusions do not benefit you; you are creating false explanation for coincidences instead of focusing on what actually occurred and why.
- Don’t emphasize emotions, but behaviors: Of course you should have compassion for what someone may be struggling with or going through. That does not mean, however, that you should excuse people’s behavior. Empathize with the difficultly someone is feeling; nevertheless, do not make excuses for someone’s behaviors, especially if it is abusive behavior towards you.
- Don’t be a victim: Do let a person brainwash you into believing hurtful things they say to obtain something from you. Do not let guilt from imagined responsibility set in too deep to the point that you won’t seek help if things get too dangerous. Remember that you are important and when a relationship gets to a point that you are no longer willing to tolerate – do not be scared to leave and seek help. Sometimes, survival mode is exactly what a person needs.
Being in a dysfunctional relationship is not easy. Leaving a dysfunctional relationship is not always an option for people. Conversely, losing yourself to someone who is trying to tear you down should not be a choice. Stay in control, do what you need to do, but stay focused on your own wellbeing.
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