Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Line

Where is the line between giving to someone when you don't feel like giving any more, and removing yourself from a difficult and costly emotional situation because it might be the best thing to do? It's hard to make these kinds of decisions as we can't look at things honestly and fairly; there is simply too much resentment and frustration in the way of clear thinking.

I know from talking to my friends that this is a common issue in family relationships, likely because they go all the way back to birth, and there is often a sense of forced togetherness. When the conflict isn't worked through in any real way, it begins simmering on a low heat, deep below the surface, and interferes with any kind of relationship progression. At a certain point, the hard questions have to be asked, and I don't know any of the answers.

I do know that there is a line that I won't cross, but knowing where it is, and how much more of the high road could be walked, becomes a tricky process. We are often forced to feel our way in the dark, terrified of being lost or falling and breaking a bone. I don't like feeling uncertain, but in relationships, we are not in control of everything, only our own side of the interaction.

I don't want to hang on to anger when I need to let it go. But there is a place to let go of anger, to forgive, and still to hang back. I'm not very good at living in that place. I want to kiss and make up, but sometimes the cost is too high, and you've seen it go bad too many times in the past, and you don't want to keep living through the same nightmare. So you step back, to protect yourself and stop being a fool, but then you wonder if you are being too harsh, and the questions come again.

I thought when I was in my twenties that relationships would get easier as I got older. I'm finding they are more complicated now than ever - thorny and challenging in every direction, and it makes me sad that we can't all just get along and be kind to each other. I suppose I can be patient with myself, and accept that I don't have all the answers, and not expect anyone to be kind to me if I am not loving to them.

My goal is to push aside the years that have gone before and try to start fresh, in my own attitude and outlook, and see if that helps anything. It's not a simple process, as the past informs the present in a real way, but I don't want to keep lugging around the emotional baggage from everything that has happened in the past.

I'd prefer to create new and lighter luggage, but I have no idea how to do it. Thinking about it helps, and not putting pressure on myself one way or the other. I can only do the best that I can to heal these relationships, but I am only one side of the issue. I must be as gentle and kind as I can to myself and to the other party, while I get closer to figuring out where the line is, and whether or not I should cross it.


  1. ugh. yes. the age old question. I find moving 3k miles away from all your family solves most of this :) I also found counseling greatly helpful because nothing is quite the same as outside perspective, even if its tainted by the accounts of the person giving them, it really helped me to be able to view some of the hardest relationships more logically and less based on emotion and an underlining need/want for things to be a certain way.

    I also realized that (like you) I have a great desire to confront conflict, and work through it. However, many many other people like the road of denial or avoidance. Some people use denial so much as a coping strategy that they honestly can't see the fracture in the relationship or their part in creating it. Even when its obvious to anyone else.

    For right or wrong I have grown to rely on boundaries. These boundaries are easier the further removed a family member is, but I think when someone causes pain over and over again there comes a point when one must say enough is enough. It's sort of like tough love. It hurts but it is actually not only the best thing for you, but for the other person.

    Relationships are hard, and you are right, they only get harder because the baggage, understanding of complexity and habits only grow stronger.

  2. Good thoughts, Cortney. I completely agree and think that counseling is ALWAYS valuable, no matter what the circumstances are. I've had a lot of counseling too, and its made a huge difference in my overall sense of mental/emotional health and well being.

    You are right about boundaries. I think I'm doing well with boundaries, and then suddenly I realize I'm either being too harsh and unbending, or too relaxed and opening myself up to unnecessary pain.

    I wish that relationships got easier, or at least that the other person in the relationship was more willing to address the conflict when it rears its ugly head. Adjusting my expectations is the only way I know to manage the frustration, but it's not an exact science, and in each situation I find there is still something else to learn.

    Thank you so much for your thoughts.