Relationships are not as straightforward as we’d like them to be. We want the connection, we want the acceptance, but revealing insecurities and imperfections puts that at risk, so we do a dance, walk a tightrope, or engage in a bit of a game to be sure we get what we need.
When these games are harmless and people eventually do reveal their true selves, we can find intimacy, trust, and support with each other. However, as our society becomes more and more self-centered, the goals of relationship are changing, and “support of another” is not as high on the list. Given these changes, it’s important to notice whether you’re getting as much from your relationships as you’re giving.
For example, we’ve all known and loved that one friend who is so much fun to be around that we put up with some pretty bad behavior. She can show up late, monopolize the conversation, tell half-truths, and get her way whenever she wants…or worse. We're starting to call these the "toxic" relationships - frustrating and confusing, more like a roller coaster than a friendship, but if it's hard to walk away, here's why...
In exchange for all the drama, people like this are usually charismatic and entertaining, and have a way of making us feel good. Almost like a magician, they give with one hand and take with the other, and leave the actual terms of the relationship in a haze.
When these hazy boundaries and a magician’s skill are combined with a self-centered orientation to relationships, we leave the harmless games behind and cross into the realm of manipulation. This may just be a habit or survival skill that was learned earlier in life, but when someone shows you a one-sided playing field, they are not really interested in a mutually supportive relationship.
We can use friendship as an example, but these dynamics can also develop in other scenarios. A romantic partner may be able to charm you into forgiving a habit of broken promises, or a colleague may entertain the whole office yet expect everyone else to do all the work. Similarly, a supervisor might feed you with compliments as he slides his tedious chores into your inbox.
If there is a common trap to fall into, it’s being too polite. Avoiding conflict and being overly careful about someone’s feelings is not as appropriate when they aren’t being careful with yours. The more we choose to be polite and hope the disrespect will just resolve itself, the more we allow the boundaries to be hazy and give these games the environment they need to thrive.
So, start by straightening yourself out. Clear up the haze by separating the good stuff from the bad. Pay closer attention to the inconveniences you endure on your friend’s behalf, as well as what she’s giving you in return. Notice how her inner magician finds a way to morph your interests into her own agenda. Remind yourself that true friendship is based on mutual respect and support, and do your best to find clarity.
Find a compassionate way to talk about it. Express how you feel, tell her you know she means well, and ask for a change in at least one of the behaviors. Then see what happens. If she can recognize her mistake and make adjustments, then standing up for yourself will have improved the relationship. If instead, your request is met with excuses, denials or empty apologies, she may not be ready to change, and walking away may be your best option.
The emotional challenges here are twofold.
First, if you are not used to standing up for yourself, then you’ll need to develop more confidence. You may find that longer term fears are being confronted under the surface. If those have been influencing your life for some time, leading you into a pattern of relationships like this, take the opportunity to grow through it and put an end to this cycle.
And second, there is obviously some value in the way this person makes you feel or you wouldn’t have been drawn into this dynamic in the first place. Notice what they do that makes you feel so good and recognize it as a need you have never filled on your own. This may be easier to see when you imagine your life without them in it. If you can become more emotionally self-sufficient, these games won’t have any power over you.
Being polite and letting it happen paves the way for more of the same, while standing up and being honest about it gives people a chance to correct their mistakes and find a new way forward. If and when you have to walk away from a magician who is not ready to change, that will have its greatest impact after you have been honest about your reasons. They may not hear you, and they may not hear the next ten people after you, but they may hear the eleventh, and that is only possible after the first ten stood up. So, do your part. Stand up, be honest, and always give the magician the chance to change. But walk away if they refuse and tell them why.
Know that manipulation will not survive in an honest, straightforward environment, so keep it straight, stay out of the haze, be respectful, and demand the same in return. The world will be all the better for your efforts to grow.
Time to transcend! This blog series is intended to challenge you by reaching beyond the status quo. If you are feeling resistance, consider that your ego is coming forward and presenting you with an opportunity to grow. This is where the magic happens! I'm here to help.