By request…today we are going to talk about a way of thinking, a paradigm that will help navigate the waters of relationship with folks that may not always be all that safe. This is a common question I have from clients that are working so hard to develop good boundaries and have safe relationships: “When I can see how unsafe others are for me to be in relationship with, but I can’t necessarily avoid them, how do I interact with them?” There is a big problem that we run into when we start to get healthier ourselves, and those around us continue to relate to us in unsafe or unhealthy ways.
When we start to develop a strong sense of self, and an understanding of what is OK for us in relationship and what isn’t, the need for good boundaries and a strong non-reactive voice becomes an absolute imperative. The temptation is to cut-off from the unsafe person/people. We might want to avoid, confront too much, or just completely wash our hands of them. In other words, we want to isolate ourselves from those who would relate to us in unsafe ways.
That kind of isolation, whether unhealthy emotional cut-off or healthy geographical boundaries, is just not always possible. At least not quickly in most cases. (Emotional cut-off is still reactive as well, and is not healthy for you or the other person.) If the unsafe person is at your workplace, you may want to find a different job, but that could take some time and may be difficult in many cases. If the unsafe person is your spouse, it will certainly take some time to develop more and more distance from them, and if it ultimately ends up in divorce, you may still have to interact with that person because you have children with them.
So the question becomes, how can I continue to relate with these unsafe people in ways that keep me safe, when I can’t leave right away, or at all? The answer is to learn how to insulate yourself instead of isolating yourself. How do we do that, exactly? There are a few very powerful things we can do to insulate ourselves:
- Continue to have a strong, non-reactive voice. The unsafe person/people will give you lots of practice at developing and mastering this skill. It helps a lot to see it as practice, a gift to help you learn, instead of a continual problem. Not easy, but well worth the effort!
- Practice having outstanding boundaries. They will try to push, pull, and bulldoze your boundaries. Hold strong, as non-reactively as possible.
- Heal yourself. The wounds that they are poking with their unsafe behavior, if left unhealed, cause reactivity. If you work to heal them, you can be much less reactive and much more compassionate.
- Realize that you’ve been unsafe before, too. Grace and compassion for others who are hurting you comes from the realization that I, too, have needed grace and compassion. Give the grace that you have needed, and still need sometimes. No one is perfect!
- Try not to judge where others are in their journey. Everyone is at a different place on the path. How hard has it been for you to work through your issues? Makes sense that some people would want to avoid that journey, right? You avoided working through your difficult issues for some time too, right? Was it easy? Try not to judge.
- Pray. If you are so inclined and believe in such things, cultivate the practice of praying for the other person. Don’t pray that they would suddenly do things or behave how you would like them to, but that they would have healing in their journey. You can do this without even interacting with them, and it will change your eyes and your heart toward them.
I cannot over-accentuate the importance of grace and compassion. It’s what allows us to be non-reactive when people hurt us, which is the heart of insulation. When this becomes the natural condition of your heart, insulation becomes doable in the most difficult of circumstances. You become balanced between being a doormat to be walked on, and an aggressive bully who is just as unsafe as the person from whom you are trying to protect your heart.
Need help? Come on in, let’s have a chat. This isn’t easy stuff, but these are lessons that are worth learning if you want to feel peace in your heart. Thanks for stopping by and reading my work!
Healing Hearts provides counseling services to the surrounding communities of Indianapolis, Fishers, Carmel, Zionsville, Westfield, Noblesville, and Geist. E-Counseling is available for residents of Indiana. Call or text today to set up your appointment. 317-218-3038
© 2016 Nancy Eisenman, MSW, LSW