Even family has no place in your life when they hurt rather than heal.
There is a perverse logic to family and blood ties. Because they are meant to be the source of love and nourishment, even when they are not, we keep them close. The irony is that they are also one of the primary sources of personal trauma. Keeping the close is laying on a bed of thorns. Or worse, a kind of suicide, literal and figurative.
The same applies to friends, but at least friends don’t usually start from a positioning of taking your love for granted. The beauty of a healthy friendship is just that: you have to work for it, earn it, cultivate it, develop bonds of intimacy and trust, invest in it.
A love partner is a friend that goes much deeper. One that we allow in, and whose presence inside us can heal or hurt on a much higher scale. The beauty of a lover is that we make the choice, presumably finding someone who fits the unique inner landscape that needs cultivation.
Families have an advantage in the intimacy stakes, because the gravitational pull of blood and upbringing are very powerful. This can lead family members to take other family members for granted.
I am not sure exactly when this happened in my own life, but at some point growing up, I found myself with a powerful thought—just because you are family does not mean that you can take me for granted. If you treat me poorly, hurt me, then I will cut you out. I learned to turn off my emotions, to fight back, as a way to survive.
I was the baby of the family. By many years. My parents were divorced before I knew what was happening, and my father was gone when I was 4. My very busy and stressed mother struggled. My older siblings tortured me mercilessly—emotionally, physically. Especially the eldest. They seemed to resent me, and their perception of my perceived closeness or need to be close to our mother. One of the others was a “mediator” and was close to me and close to the others. It was a fallacy, however, as he never stood up for me, but joined in the teasing and nastiness just the same. I came to recognise over time that he is weak. No adult in my life ever stopped them from their games.
Perhaps it is not surprising that I have largely cut them out of my life. I rarely see them, rarely speak to them, am largely unaware of their lives, don’t know their kids. We were temporarily reunited in grief at the death of our mother, but I have no desire to see them other than on the rarest of occasions, and for only light-hearted social times.
Do I miss that? No. Because I know what kind of people they are. And I don’t respect them. I see them too clearly for that. And who has lost? They have. Nobody needs to keep people in their lives who hurt them. Life is too short.
Instead, I have created a family with very strong nuclear bonds, and a very positive love dynamic. I took a decade off of work to be present for my children, to have children, to experience children, and to be able to be invested in their lives and their development. Yes, there are career consequences, and in that, my life parallels motherhood. No regrets. It was the best decision I ever made. And we are all very close to one another. And I watch my children and my wife grow and live and enjoy with the greatest pleasure and try always to not take anything for granted.
So too with friends. There is a French expression, “if you have more than one friend you don’t have any friends at all.” It is extreme (as are many things in French thinking!), but there is an important truth. We cannot invest in everyone. The more we invest in just a few, the richer our friendships are. As a result, I have a small number of friends, most of whom have been with me for a very long time. And even though we are all scattered all over the world, I am in touch, I see, and feel them all the time. We are fellow travellers, and share life’s loves and vicissitudes with aplomb.
But I have also had to kick friendships out of my life. It is hard. One feels sorry for a friend. Even when they are hurting you, because you can see that their aggression stems from their own pain. They can’t help it. But you also cannot take responsibility for fixing it. And I don’t suggest trying.
For years I had to do the same with my mother. It was too hard to be around her, to even talk to her. Every interaction was laced with her disappointment or some other judging that cut me in many ways. I realised that I couldn’t take it anymore. This was the same time I was in therapy, which I wrote about here. It took a few years of separation to make it possible to begin interacting again…but I also knew that I needed to limit my exposure to her as it wouldn’t take long for old wounds to reopen. And that is what I did–managed our times together so that they wouldn’t have the chance to fester.
I try in my own life to be an energy giver. I ask of my friends to accept that energy (and yes, I have a lot), but I also ask that they correct me or alert me to when, or if, I stop giving. I do the same. We can all take a little of nastiness from others and still forgive, but we don’t need to martyr ourselves.
Surround yourselves with positive people. Life is too short to do anything else. And be a positive person. Always. You owe it to yourself and to those you love.