Cutting Cords To Toxic Relationships

Cutting Cords To Toxic Relationships

Cutting Cords To Toxic Relationships

When to Walk Away

As an experienced Denver marriage counselor and therapist, I know first hand: Relationships take work. No one is perfect, no relationship is perfect. No boss, friend, loved one, or partner is perfect.

But how do you know when a relationship has crossed over that tipping point from imperfect to toxic? How do you know when cutting cords to toxic relationships is necessary?

Whether you are struggling with a bullying boss, a caustic friend, or even questioning whether to walk away from a long-term relationship or marriage, no one usually wants to walk away.

Walking away is hard. Change is hard and scary. And there is a natural and healthy desire for things to work out and for everyone to be happy.

But when you’ve found that a relationship is causing you misery, you’re wondering if the bad has started to outweigh the good, and questioning, “should I burn this bridge?” here are a few questions to ask yourself:

How Did We Get Here?

This step is for getting curious about the patterns you notice in this relationship and creating a narrative from the beginning of it until now. In other words, what is the story of your relationship? What is the relationship’s dynamic, or the dance you and this person create together?

Go deeper: When you reflect back to the infancy of your relationship, do you notice red flags you didn’t necessarily see at the time? How has the relationship evolved since – and were there milestones or critical incidences that contributed to these changes? Can you see where negative energy crept in or was always there?

After spending some time here, zoom out again; what story do your reflections tell you?

What Can I Accept?

Instead of focusing on what you CAN’T control (which includes everything about the other person), focus on what you can accept. Acceptance means not trying to change, help or give advice, not judging or fighting against. It means that, even if you don’t like or agree with something, you let go emotionally. You lean into the fact that “it is what it is,” whether you like it or not.

When working with my DTC relationship clients, I like to ask them to think about (or even list on paper!) all aspects of the relationship over which they have no control. This includes the other’s perspective, reactions, and feelings, just to name a few. Be honest with yourself on this one. Can you let go of some of these?

What Can I NOT Accept?

After asking yourself “what can I truly live with?,” you may now know more about what you CANNOT abide. Daily stress? Financial instability? Walking on eggshells? Compromising your values for the sake of the relationship?

These are the pain points that will need to be addressed if you choose to continue your investment in this relationship.

Let’s look at how to address them…

What Have I Tried?

Up to now, our questions have focused on what IS NOT in your control. Let’s shift gears and look at what IS. Your perceptions, feelings, behaviors…

What have you tried so far to improve this relationship? Some key areas to think about include communication, compromise, and education.

Have you tried being appropriately vulnerable? 

Have you gotten curious about and tried to understand the other person’s needs? 

Have you looked for where you and the other’s wants or needs can overlap and lead to compromise? 

Have you asked for help or accessed resources and education (coaching is a great example!)?

Think about all the steps you (and possibly the other person in the relationship) have taken to create positive change.

What Am I Able And Willing To Do That I Haven’t Yet Tried?

Is there anything left? Really challenge yourself here to think outside the box and brainstorm. Is there anything you can do, that’s in your control, you haven’t yet tried?

• Information gathering?

• Learning how to have a different emotional reaction in the relationship?

• Classes or coaching?

This step can be uplifting. Even if your hope for the future of the relationship is dwindling, it can feel empowering to focus on what’s in your control, your options and choices (no matter how sparse), and what you can do to help yourself.

When we focus on what we can change (our own behaviors, tools, and resources), we feel more resilient and we open up possibilities for the relationship to improve and grow. What do you really have to lose here?

Now, of these – what are you interested in, able or willing to actually try out now? It’s okay if the answer is “none of them!” Be honest with yourself, about how you feel, and if you aren’t motivated to work on the relationship…honor these feelings. They are valid. And they must be heard in order to answer the question, “should I burn this bridge?”

What Can Change And How Much?

Now, realistically, knowing what you and the other person have done, or could yet still do, and what you can accept and what you cannot, what is the likelihood of change?

What aspects of the relationship that you know must change for your own wellbeing are actually changeable? And how much, or to what degree, is this change realistic, based on the evidence and past experience, as well as your own ability and willingness to try?

For example, it’s possible someone can become less argumentative, but they might still be that way from time to time.

It’s also important here to view change with a “dimmer switch mindset.” Basically, know that change doesn’t flip like a light switch in a moment, but occurs as a slow, gradual process and this healing process takes time. This relationship can be improving in small increments, not necessarily visible in the moment but easier to see over time.

Keep this realistic view of change in mind when you consider what you can accept if you stay in the relationship and your own ability to grow for the sake of its success. And don’t forget to make note of what the other person has really done to work on things and appreciate it.

Sometimes the devil you know feels safer than the big, scary unknown. This, and the knowledge that no relationship is perfect and they all take work, can make it hard to know when it’s time to stop giving it your all and walk away from a toxic relationship. I hope these questions help you explore with your own intuition of what is best for you.

And, remember, it’s okay to take care of yourself!

Kathleen C Stutts, M.Ed., LPC, NCC 

P.S. Share your thoughts with me in the comments section below!

 

Kathleen Stutts, M.Ed., NCC, LPC helps clients build self-esteem and create strong, meaningful relationships in a non-judgmental, productive space where you will feel safe, comfortable and understood.

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Read More by Kathleen 

Why Group Therapy Turbocharges Your Growth

Why Group Therapy Turbocharges Your Growth

Why Group Therapy Turbocharges Your Growth

Kathleen Stutts, M.Ed., LPC is a therapist, life coach, and relationship counselor who with a gentle, compassionate approach. She specializes in helping people grow their confidence and self esteem, and increase their empathy for themselves and others.

Questions About Group Therapy?

Curious about Group Therapy? Intrigued by Group Therapy? Worried about Group Therapy? Maybe all of the above?

So normal to feel this way. While there are so many benefits and advantages to group therapy, the idea of meeting a group of strangers and sharing deep and personal information can, understandably, sound dubious and bring up feelings of anxiety.

But what many who aren’t familiar with groups don’t yet know is that therapy groups are not only structured to create a safe space for sharing, but can also promote growth and relief more immediately than individual therapy.

Here’s a little bit about what to expect from a therapy group experience:

Group Therapy Feels Safe: First and foremost, just as in individual therapy, what is shared in a therapy group remains confidential. All therapy group members agree to respect each other’s privacy and anonymity. What happens in group stays in the group! In a high-quality therapy group your facilitator will create clear boundaries and expectations. They will discuss with everyone the focus, objectives, and rules of the therapy group so that everyone is on the same page and can feel safe.

Group Therapy is Flexible: It’s also important to know that, while you will benefit most from sharing in the group, what you share and your pace of opening up is entirely up to you.  Feeling particularly vulnerable today? Not in a great mood? That’s okay. You can show up to the group as you are and find support.

Group Therapy is Supportive: It is, in fact, the opportunity to find belonging that contributes to the unique benefits of a therapeutic group. As wonderful and helpful as individual therapy can be, it simply doesn’t offer some of the growth opportunities you will find in a group therapy setting.

Just Some of The Benefits of Group Therapy

You are not alone.

Often we feel that our struggles are unique. This contributes to a sense of ourselves as an outsider, intrinsically flawed, impossible to understand or maybe even help. While it is true that we are all unique, we share common challenges. Hearing that others, too, feel insecure, have anxiety, or repeat the same relationship patterns helps us to believe we are not so abnormal after all. If experience is the best teacher, listening to the stories of our peers is an experience that can change our own idea of ourselves in a profound and direct way rarely found outside of the group therapy setting. This can be especially helpful if you’re going through something really hard, like a breakup or divorce.

You give and get support.

Belonging to a group immediately expands your support system. Being exposed to fresh perspectives, inspired by the struggles and triumphs of others, brainstorming together, and the genuine expression of curiosity and concern are just some of the ways group members support each other. Stepping out of your own struggles to support someone else is also cathartic and therapeutic in itself, providing a special feeling of purpose and contribution.

You learn new relational skills.

What better place to put new skills to task, to practice them, than in a group of those with whom you’ve bonded and feel understood, not judged? The group experience lets you not only talk about what changes you want to make, but also give these new changes a try in a safe, more comfortable atmosphere. The therapy group enables us to “dip our toe in the waters” of change with others who, themselves, deeply understand and even share the nature of our struggles.

You find your voice.

For those of us who would like to improve our relationship skills (basically all of us), becoming part of a group propels us forward. In a therapy group, we increase our self-awareness, learn how to articulate our thoughts and feelings, and become competent at carving out a space for ourselves within a team. This unique opportunity increases our confidence with others in ways we can put to use practically in our daily lives.

You listen and learn.

Even if you are having an “off” day, have less to share, or are feeling a bit sheepish, you can benefit from listening to the other members of your group. Supporting them, just being there, creates growth, insight, and new, fulfilling relationship experiences.  Come as you are, whether that means eager to get things off your chest, wanting to ask for help, or ready to let your support system take the lead.

Group therapy costs less.

This one is pretty self-explanatory. Due to the nature of groups and participation of several members, they simply cost less than private therapy. [How much does therapy cost?] This means that therapy groups make support, growth, and change available to many who wouldn’t otherwise be able to take advantage of therapy.

Groups aren’t just for therapy.

While traditional, Yalom-style group therapy is enormously helpful for people, coaching groups are also a fantastic, effective, and affordable way to launch your personal growth.

What’s the difference between group therapy and group coaching? 

The differences between group therapy and group coaching are subtle, and more about the intention and format of the group than the actual experience. Group therapy is wonderful in helping you identify your old patterns and gain insight into how you interact with others. Coaching groups are affordable, effective ways to set goals, learn skills and strategies, and get accountability.

However, therapy groups also provide skills, strategies, and accountability, and group coaching also gives you insight and self-awareness. The biggest difference between group therapy and group coaching is that group therapy can be used to help people struggling with mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, (as well as personal growth.) Group coaching is for the purpose of self-improvement and goal attainment, such as improving your relationships, or advancing in your career. 

While group coaching has many of the benefits of group therapy (i.e., group coaching offers support, guidance,   “the group experience,” teaches you skills and strategies, provides accountability, and is less expensive than private life coaching or career coaching) group coaching has one significant advantage over group therapy: You can attend group coaching online.

Online Group Coaching

An online coaching group allows you to attend the group from the privacy of your own home, and is often more convenient for many people. People can attend their coaching group at home after the kids are in bed, while they’re traveling, or even during a lunch break. You can also attend your coaching group if you’re in a different state or a different country. This leads to an increased diversity of perspectives and opinions, which is a major advantage to coaching group participants.

Both Group Therapy and Coaching Groups Turbocharge Your Growth

You can probably see how effective and encouraging groups can be, particularly around helping us understand, improve, and even like ourselves more in the context of relationships. Interacting with others is such an integral part of our happiness and wellness. Finding our place in a group helps us create more fulfilling and meaningful relationships, both in the short-term (within the group) and in the long-term future we dream of creating. Effective groups also provide us with insight, guidance, new ideas, skills, strategies and accountability — all more affordably than private therapy or life coaching. Groups offer value, meaningful experiences, and and effective tools for growth: What’s not to love? 

Best,

Kathleen Stutts, M.Ed., LPC

Facilitator of Growing Self’s Denver Therapy Group

Current Groups @ Growing Self

Powerful, Affordable Groups to Improve Your Life

Denver Therapy Group

Are you ready to transform the way you feel about yourself, your life, and your relationships? Our Denver Therapy Group experience is designed to help you understand yourself, grow in your strength and self-confidence, and help you have healthy, happy relationships. (Available in-person only).

Online Design Your Life Group

If you’re ready for a fresh new chapter in your career, your health, your relationships, and life satisfaction, our online Design Your Life Group can help you get clear about your personal and professional goals, and create a path to attaining them.

Online Personal Growth Group

Everything in your life can change, when you do. This powerful online coaching group experience will give you new insight into yourself, help you feel good about yourself and your life, and teach you skills and strategies for developing healthy, meaningful connections with others.

Online Breakup Support Group

The aftermath of a bad breakup or divorce can feel as isolating as it is painful. Our online breakup support group will connect you to others on the path of healing from heartbreak, and give you support and resources to heal, grow, and start a new chapter.

How to Stand Up for Yourself and Still Have Friends

How to Stand Up for Yourself and Still Have Friends

Can you have healthy boundaries, and still be “nice?”

Have you ever felt taken advantage of, not heard, or just unappreciated? So many of us know what it’s like to be ignored in meetings, to be interrupted when we’re talking, or to feel invisible at a party. It’s no fun to be walked all over. Yet this is a very common experience. As a life coach and therapist, I can’t tell you how many clients I’ve worked with that have experienced just that and don’t know what to do about it.

There are several misconceptions and fears around speaking up for oneself that block us from being assertive. And, let’s face it, most of us haven’t had anyone sit down and teach us the tools and skills involved in setting boundaries.  But boundaries are, in fact, some of the basic building blocks of assertiveness, confidence, and even self-worth. They are the invisible bubbles we create to help us be safe, happy and respected.

If you are like most clients I’ve worked with and, really, most people, you might think being assertive and setting boundaries is selfish, will make you look like a braggadocios bully, or even leave you without any friends (or all of the above, am I right?). So let’s correct some of these fallacies about boundaries once and for all and clear a path to assertive living!

Misconceptions, Fears and Realities About Healthy Boundaries

Misconception #1: Boundaries are Selfish

The classic example of setting a boundary is saying “No,” whether that looks like letting a colleague know their behavior isn’t okay with you, not giving a friend what they want, or letting a family member experience the consequences of their own behavior. You might be thinking, “But if you are a good friend you don’t say no,” or “Isn’t it selfish of me to ‘abandon’ someone I care about?”

Here’s the good news:

The Reality: Good, generous, kind people set boundaries. By protecting us from being spread too thin or just put in uncomfortable situations, saying no and setting boundaries allows us to give more of what we can. Boundaries free up our resources to help those we care about more effectively. In fact, setting boundaries with our loved ones gives them the opportunity to become more self-aware and grow. In short, boundaries help us and others be our best selves.

Misconception #2: Boundaries are Aggressive

We’ve all had the pleasure of knowing a social bully. He’s the loud office mate who overpowers everyone else in meetings or the girlfriend around whom you always find yourself feeling small and meek, intimidated. Often, being assertive gets confused with being aggressive. But wait…

The Reality: Calm, Humble People Set Boundaries

Aggressiveness involves infringing on the boundaries and rights of others and usually steps on other people’s feelings.  It is a highly emotional, intense state of being associated with the fight in our flight or fight response. Setting boundaries assertively, on the other hand, requires we be calm and unemotional in order to communicate clearly and detach from the outcome (something we’ll talk more about a little later).

There is a spectrum of assertiveness. On the one extreme, there is aggressive behavior. On the other is passive behavior. The “sweet spot” of healthy boundaries happens somewhere in between the two. Here’s a handy diagram to help clear things up:

Aggressive ———————Assertive———————Passive/Aggressive—Passive

Misconception #3: If I Set Boundaries, People Won’t Like Me

Yes, I know, you’ve probably experienced setting a boundary and losing someone. The pain of that lost relationship lingers with you and seemingly forever solidifies the mantra “I’m never putting my foot down again! Look what it cost me.” The truth is that sometimes being assertive or setting a boundary does filter out unhelpful relationships from our lives. And, regardless of the healthiness of the relationship, it hurts.

The Reality: Likable People Set Boundaries

It’s also true that people like to know where they stand and what to expect. Setting boundaries requires us to be consistently authentic. This predictability makes people feel safe and naturally drawn to you. Respecting your own boundaries also builds the respect others have for you. After all, healthy people are drawn to healthy people.  If you desire more healthy, fulfilling relationships in your life, a good place to start is by focusing on your own, healthy boundaries.

Want to Have Healthier Boundaries? Where to Go From Here…

Remember those mysterious tools and skills I mentioned earlier? Now that we’ve begun to clear some of the obstacles in your path to assertive living, let’s give you a toolbox to take on your journey.

Tips for Setting Boundaries

  1. Be Specific and Clear: An effective, helpful boundary ensures you and the receiver are on the same page and creates a built-in safety net for any inevitable, pesky push-back. A good rule of thumb is to use an if/then I statement that includes a consequence. For example, “If you don’t stop talking to me in an angry tone, I will leave the room.” It’s always a good idea to set a consequence that affects the receiver more than yourself if possible and — I can’t stress this enough! — one you can stick to!
  1. Make Boundaries Realistic: Don’t set yourself up for frustration by setting a boundary no normal human being could satisfy with consequences only a heartless robot could enforce. For example, rather than stating “If you ever cancel plans with me again, I won’t speak to you for the rest of my life!,” try “If you stand me up again I will be very upset and tell you how I feel.” Don’t bluff; give yourself permission to be where you are and set a boundary you can own.
  1. Let go of the Outcome: Finally, know that setting boundaries is not an effective way to manipulate or control. Those are actually great examples of poor relationship boundaries! When you set a boundary and know how you will respond if it isn’t respected, you are taking care of yourself.  For example, if you tell your partner “If you don’t pay bills on time for the next month, I will take over our financial responsibilities,” be ready to accept it if your partner gets you stuck with another late fee. Letting go of the outcome doesn’t mean not feeling emotions such as disappointment or sadness. Rather, it means knowing you are prepared to manage these emotions and respond in an effective, helpful way that honors your boundaries.

So, go ahead, try out something small. Your path is clearing up nicely. We’ve pulled up the weeds and you have a good starter-kit in your toolbox. You’re on your way to assertive living! You know how to find me if you’d like a companion as you go through your journey.

Kathleen Stutts, M.Ed., LPCC

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