[Native Advertisement]Usually when we write about relationships it is about strengthening them, increasing resilience, and finding balance between a cop’s work and time off. We describe how and why to put effort into family and friendship to form lasting ties. This article is a little different; today we’re going to focus on letting go, knowing when to cut your losses and walk away!
Humans are social creatures, desiring and meant to be in relationships with others. Most of us share this pull toward relationship and have spent a lifetime searching for and connecting with others. Most of us will marry or otherwise join into a long-term, monogamous romantic relationship at some point or other in our lives and, when one of those relationships ends through separation or death, will seek out another.
Likewise with friendship. We search for those with similar interests, outlooks and experiences, who provide affirmation and camaraderie, and with whom we can share trust. Whether exuberantly extroverted, with dozens of besties to feed the need for companionship, or reservedly introverted and content to (occasionally… very occasionally) hang with a select handful of truly deep friends, these social bonds are critical to our mental and physical health.
As long as they are emotionally healthy themselves, that is.
We all have our psychological baggage, the collection of negative emotional issues formed in the past and carried with us through life to let influence our present. This baggage might have come from family, friends (or enemies), past romantic relationships, the environment you grew up in or came to occupy, how you are wired emotionally, or some combination of the above. Emotionally healthy people recognize the issues of their past and how they can impact decisions and relationships today, and consistently rise above them to crat a functional and happy life. They own and control their baggage, aware of its existence but able to minimize or avoid its harm.
And then there are the toxic people. For our purposes here, let us define a toxic person as one who, by acting out certain pervasive personality traits in the form of habitual behaviors or destructive decisions, consistently creates a serious negative impact on others physically, financially, mentally or emotionally with whom (s)he is in relationship.
The toxic person, as the phrase implies, is like poison to others with whom they are in a relationship. It is easy to say, “Just leave!” to someone tied to one of these people, but it’s really not that simple. They may be a longtime friend or close family member who is truly loved, despite their toxicity. They may not have always been toxic – people go through difficult times, after all, and often default to dysfunctional or destructive behaviors under pressure – so abandoning them may not be the first or best option. And if they are a spouse, parent, sibling, or child, letting go of such a deep bond is nearly impossible. Instead, learning to set appropriate boundaries for yourself while keeping lines of communication and help open as long as possible may be a difficult but preferable choice. It may even be the impetus someone needs to get help or make positive changes.
But sometimes letting go is a must! Sometimes that friend, relative, or even close immediate family member is too much, too damaging, too far gone and refusing to turn around, or even hell-bent on your destruction if that’s what it takes to meet their emotional demands. Almost all of us have been sucked into a toxic relationship at some time or another, or discovered too late that what we thought was a healthy one was deceptive on the surface. It happens to all of us and, believe it or not, it happens to cops, as well. LEOs might even be more susceptible.
Police officers spend much of their days confronting, counseling, consoling, and arresting toxic people. Consider how many of the people you come into contact with each day who are damaged in one way or another, and how that damage leads to the behaviors that demand your attention. And still, a lot of cops go home at the end of the day to homes and relationships just as chaotic and dysfunctional as the ones visited on shift, drawn into family dramas, taken advantage of by someone they care about too much to draw a line in the sand or tell “NO!”, and wondering if they are somehow drawn to chaos or subconsciously compelled to rescue the broken and needy.
For some cops, the answer is YES, the impulse to rescue and fix is strong, and a sense of duty and obligation taken too far is itself dysfunctional. To give up is seen as surrender, to set boundaries as cruelty, and to admit their own needs as weak. All of these beliefs are misguided and damaging. [Native Advertisement]
When leaving – not salvaging – a relationship is the goal
Leaving behind a spouse/significant other, close family member or friend, or even your very own child can be excruciating. Doing so should never be taken lightly, for your own good and theirs; for these people, learning to set clear boundaries with the hope for full reconciliation should be the first step. Should those boundaries fail or the destructiveness increase, and leaving behind someone you may truly love or feel intimately connected to is on the table, being absolutely sure before saying goodbye is critical.
For less intimate (but often still valued) relationships, letting go won’t carry the same emotional impact. Still, knowing when red flags are starting to fly and it’s time to pump the brakes on the friendship is important – and surprisingly difficult. Sometimes, since there is less closeness, it is easy to ignore the warnings until you find yourself once again chin deep in drama.
In either case, knowing when to say “When” is what this article is about.
Recognizing the Signs of Trouble
When counseling clients in her office or teaching relationships skills anywhere, Althea has come up with Relationship Red Flags that signal the possibility a bond may need to be broken. It is important to understand that the existence of the red flag doesn’t necessarily mean the relationship must or should end. Problems can often be fixed but, if requests or attempts to address the issue(s) are repeatedly rebuffed, the other person refuses to see the problem, sees it but refuses to change, the issues are pervasive and their consequences damaging with little or no hope for change, then it may be time to throw in the towel.
The red flags are:
Verbal, physical, and/or emotional abusiveness: Despite intervening in abusive relationships all the time, knowing the signs of abuse, and counseling those who seek help and guidance to escape, many cops still find themselves in equally abusive relationships. Cura te Ipsum (from “Physician, heal thyself”), an admonition to examine and fix the failings of your own life before attending to those of others, comes to mind. We must recognize and confront abuse directed at us and, if necessary, flee it.
Successful relationships require safety, and abuse destroys safety. When it’s clear the abuse is to be a permanent part of the relationship it is time to break free.
Repeatedly violating your requests, limits and boundaries: What someone consistently violates reasonable requests you make or the personal boundaries set they are telling you clearly that what you want simply doesn’t matter. They are bullies whose goal is to force your submission to their will.
Dishonesty/Lying: Ask most people what they most need for a healthy relationship and trust will almost always be at the top of the list. When trust is repeatedly violated emotional (and sometimes physical) safety is compromised, and when the relationship is marked by repeated dishonesty and deceit, is there really any hope for it?
Clinginess/Neediness: Most cops are natural rescuers and the drive to protect the less strong is inherent, admirable, and serves a valuable purpose. The danger, however, is being susceptible to needy, clingy people who’ll gladly suck you dry and leave an empty husk behind!
Being someone’s personal “hero” is certainly exhilarating … until it becomes a burden. This is especially likely if their neediness is pathological (i.e., they have a psychological need to be rescued over and over again, a fear of abandonment, or they seem to have no capacity to solve any problems themselves).
Teasing, ridiculing, taunting or badmouthing others: We are not talking about good-natured teasing or viewing the world with a sense of humor or sarcasm, but rather dingo it with the intent to hurt or diminish someone else, elevate their own status or ego at the expense of another, or sow destruction in their wake. Big difference!
When someone’s humor is mean-spirited, or everyone is seen as worthy of their cutting spite (which will surely include you, sooner or later), this is a person to keep at arm’s length… or further.
Doing all the talking and none of the listening: Do you find yourself focusing on their problems, their worries, their interests, their ideas and their world without ever allowing the focus to fall on you? Healthy relationships cannot sustain that level of one-sidedness for long. Intimacy and friendship require reciprocity; when you are merely a sounding board whose world never becomes their focus – even when you try to steer it to the forefront, or ask for their consideration – you are in a one-sided relationship that will drain your emotional banks without ever making a deposit.
Always looking for a favor: This should be a serious concern for those in law enforcement. Cops need to guard against those who see their value only in their position and how it can be exploited. Eventually, every officer meets that person… the friend whose kid got pinched “and isn’t there anything you can do?,” the neighbor with the laundry list of complaints he “just knows” you can pull a string or two on, the relative who calls at 3AM from some jail hundreds of miles away begging you to “talk some sense into this cop! I only had TWO BEERS, I SWEAR!!”
Favor seekers always want free advice, the use of your (imagined) influence, or access to your stuff they’re too cheap to buy or rent themselves. Fine, once is a while, until it is obvious you are only as good to them as what they can get from you.
With any of “red flag” it’s usually good to try and change behavior first. Sometimes they will be horrified at their insensitivity and truly change. But if your attempts are met with refusals or hostility, reevaluation of the relationship is in order. Leaving even a one-sided or abusive relationship can hurt, it’s true, but sometimes staying in one hurts much more.