After working with people for the past seven years, I gotta say… many of us benefit from painful relationships.
There are two benefits of a painful relationship. One real, one perceived.
- Staying stuck gives us an illusion of safety
- There’s the potential for personal growth
Of course those who look at it as a form of safety–keeping them from taking risks or challenging their beliefs (there’s no one else out there for me)–may do it their entire adult lives and stunt their growth out of fear of the unknown.
So is it a benefit? It is when speaking in terms of adaptability. Humans are incredibly adaptable to their environment (we may grumble–but we adapt). And please remember, most of us don’t do anything unless there is a benefit, no matter how small.
Martin came to me trying to leave his marriage. He was living separately, but a part of him could not let go of his caustic wife. Her desire for control would cause her to belittle others, including Martin. She was on edge when threatened by others who didn’t want to give her their power.
Most of the time their interactions would leave him wanting to defend himself or react by attacking her, resulting in him walking away wondering what he was doing. He was looking for validation. His hope was that she would wake up and recognize her flaws, therefore turning her into a kinder, gentler woman who would appreciate him.
It never happened.
In fact, when he would receive a tidbit of kindness, he would get hooked back into the drama. He could be on vacation and think of coming home to the picture perfect family he never had.
Illusion was his benefit.
Martin didn’t have to move on or take a risk. As painful as being stuck was, it meant he didn’t have to open himself to other possibilities in life. It also meant that whatever validation he didn’t receive as a child for ‘being who he was,’ still had the possibility of fulfillment from his estranged wife. She could validate him.
Yup! For Martin, he had married his mother.
She wasn’t an exact duplicate BUT the negative feelings of self-doubt and being unworthy were elicited from their interactions. This kept Martin hanging by a thread, waiting for validation. Mix this together with him not having to go through the tedious job of rebuilding his life as a single man and the fantasy that one day she would wake up; he was good and stuck.
He’s not the only one who is attached and can’t let go. Many people settle for so little in search of a miracle, or simply adapting to the bits of validation they receive.
The fantasy of what ‘could be’ during the few good moments in these dysfunctional relationships can keep us captive in a hope way beyond the ‘use by’ date. Some of us try to move on, but again the allure of validation, fixing ourselves and not having to see if there is anyone else out there for us can hold our vision firmly in the past.
Our worth is at the bottom of this barrel of fish. Subconsciously we act out patterns that show our lack of worth over and over again. Instead of going through the pain, we fantasize… and stay attached to what is toxic or just doesn’t work.
When it comes to the true benefit, the one of growth, we can learn what keeps us tethered to the untenable through growing awareness; allowing our pain and starting to make choices for ourselves. Yup, hard to do… making a decision in favor of taking care of yourself vs. pleasing the other person by abandoning yourself.
We stop sacrificing our needs and desires to gain what we irrationally believe: this other person holds the key to our ability to receive love. Pause on that for a second.
As individuals dig deeper, they find the key in themselves. The pain is released and the feelings of possibility emerge where none existed before.
Admitting our struggle against the shame we feel, or believing we’re screwed up begins with recognizing it’s beyond our conscious mind. We don’t do it on purpose, or even know we ARE doing it. To stop kicking ourselves, stop feeling like we’re somehow less worthy and become courageous to ‘go there’ moves us toward the freedom we seek.
When have you chosen “safety” over personal growth? Did it serve you? Share in the comments.