Toxic Relationships: How to Let Go When It’s Unhappily Ever After

Toxic Relationships: How to Let Go When It's Unhappily Ever After

If life ran like a storybook, the person we fall in love would not be the person who broke us. Sadly, we humans tend to be a bit more human than that. We fall in love, we commit, we get hurt – over and over – and we stay.  People need people, but sometimes the cost is a heavy one. When it’s a toxic relationship, the breakage can be far-reaching.

Love is addictive. So is the hope of love. All relationships can be likened to an addiction, but sometimes the power of this can be self-destructive. When relationships become loveless, hostile, stingy or dangerous, you would think they would be easy to leave, but they can be the hardest ones to walk away from.

A bad relationship isn’t about being on the downward slide of the usual relationship ups and downs. It is one that consistently steals your joy and follows you around with that undeniable clamour that this isn’t how it’s meant to be.

Knowing when to let go.

Sometimes the signs are clear – emotional and physical abuse, constant criticism, lying, cheating, emotional starvation. Sometimes there is nothing outstandingly obvious – it just doesn’t feel right. Perhaps it did once but that ended long ago. The signs might lie in the loneliness, a gentle but constant heartache, a lack of security, connection or intimacy or the distance between you both. 

Whatever it involves, there are important needs that stay hungry, for one of both people in the relationship. The relationship exists but that’s all it does, and sometimes barely even that. It doesn’t thrive and it doesn’t nurture. It is maintained, not through love and connection, but through habit. 

Sometimes there are circumstances that make leaving difficult. Sometimes though, there’s nothing in your way except you. Some of the signs that you might be addicted to the relationship are:

  • You know it’s bad, but you stay.
  • You want more for yourself, but you stay.
  • There are important needs in you that are so hungry (intimacy, connection, friendship, love, security, respect), and you know in this relationship they’ll stay that way. But you stay. 
  • You have tried ending the relationship before, but the pain of being on your own always brings you back.

What to do when leaving feels as bad as staying.

Leaving any relationship is difficult. Leaving a bad one isn’t necessarily any easier. The shift from powerless to empowered is a gentle one, but lies in the way you experience the relationship. It often takes as much resourcefulness, energy and strength to stay in a bad relationship as it does to leave. With a shift in mindset, experience and expectation, the resources you use to stay and to blind out the seething hopelessness of it all can be used to propel you forward.

  1. Be present.

    The pull to live in the past (the way it was/ the way I was) or in the future (it will get better – I just need to find the switch) can be spectacular, but the energy to move forward exists fully in the present. It’s always there, but you have to be in the present to access it. To do this, fully experience the relationship as it is, without needing to change it or control it. 

    This might be scary, particularly if the environment you are in is hostile or lonely, but the only way to be okay with leaving what you have, is to fully experience how broken it is.

    No relationship is perfect. All couples fight and hurt each other and say and do things they shouldn’t. That’s a normal part of living and loving together. The problem comes with having to repeatedly live in the past or the future to tolerate the present – the abuse, the harm, the insecurity, the jealousy, the loneliness and the grief of the relationship as it stands – just so that it’s easier to stay.

  2. Keep track.

    Keep a record of how you feel in the relationship, the good and bad. If writing isn’t your thing, take a photo of your face at the same time every day. You’ll see it in your eyes. Photos and journalling will capture the intimate, day to day detail of you in this relationship. Set a time period – weeks or months – and at the end take a look over your photos or your writing. Can you see patterns? What do you notice about the things that hurt you and the things that feel good? The frequency? The intensity? What do you see in the photos? Can you see the life in you? Or has it been drained away. Is this the person you want to be? Or is it a faded, sadder version? This can help to see your experience in the relationship for what it is – stripped of the filters and the softening that comes with time. 

  3. Be aware of what’s happening in your body. It’s trying to tell you something.

    The connection between the mind and the body is a powerful one. If you shut down the messages that are coming from your mind, your body will take over. There will be signs in the way you hold yourself, the sensations in your body (heaviness, heartache, tension) and the way it works. Has your body slowed down? Is there physical pain? Does it ache? Does it feel heavy? Restless? Tired? Drained? Do you feel your body withering, scrunched or as though it’s holding back? If your body could speak, what would it want you to know?

    Try this exercise:

    Finish this sentence: 

    ‘My body is …’ (tired/crumpled/hurting – whatever fits for you)’.

    Now, keep your ending but replace the words, ‘My body is’ with ‘I am’ or ‘My life is’.

    Notice what happens when you do that.

  4. How do you avoid the truth?

    Notice what you do to shift away from your reality. Are there unhealthy behaviours you do to stop from feeling bad? Or maybe there are healthy beahviours that you do in unhealthy ways?

    Try staying with the discomfort rather than avoiding it. Contained in the pain is the wisdom, courage and strength you need to find the happier version of yourself and your life. 

  5. Give it a deadline.

    It’s easy to forget how long you’ve been living with what you don’t want, hoping that one day it will be better. Pick your ‘one day’. Let it be six weeks, six months – whatever feels right for you. In that time, give the relationship everything you’ve got. When that ‘one day’ comes, be honest and act from a place of strength, self-respect and self-love. The answer will be in front of you.

  6. Become selfish.

    The way we think about selfishness is broken. Selfishness is about recognising what you need and doing what you can to meet those needs. Sometimes there will be fallout, but there will also be fallout by ignoring what you need and letting the noise shout you down. You matter. What you need matters. It always has. Sometimes that will mean putting yourself first on your list. This is even more important if it is the only list that has you anywhere near the top.

  7. Be honest about your part.

    Is there anything you can do to put the relationship back on track? It takes guts to open up to what you might need to do differently, but it’s important. If you’re not sure, ask your partner. Of course, just because your partner names things he or she would like you to do differently, it for you to decide whether this is a direction you want to move in. If the response is ‘Yeah actually. You can stop asking me where I go at night. K?’ then you can either respond with, ‘Sure baby – it’s totally fine with me if you leave the house smelling like man musk and secrets. Just come home when you feel like it hey. Do you want me to keep dinner for you?’ Or, you can Google, ‘Somewhere I can live without idiots.’

  8. What’s your role in the relationship?

    It’s likely that there will be a rhythm in the relationship that keeps it breathing the way it does. You and your partner will each have a role that keeps each other’s behaviour possible. This in no way means either of you are to blame or that either of you deserve to be treated the way you are. What it means is that over time you would have fallen into a way of being together that makes the dysfunction easier and more tolerable – a healthy adjustment to an unhealthy situation.

    It’s common in relationships for one person to be the ‘reacher’ and one to be the ‘retreater’. In healthy relationships, this is balanced or the roles shift around. There’s an easy flexibility. In unhealthy relationships, these roles become polarised. The more someone retreats, the more the other reaches, and this is where the roles become fixed.

    Explore your roles. Which one of you is ‘the commitment phobe’, ‘the non-communicator,’ ‘the abuser,’  ‘the critic’, ‘the disinterested one’? And who is ‘the ‘enabler’, ‘the victim,’ ‘the helpless one,’ ‘the reacher’, ‘the rescuer’, ‘the justifier’, ‘the fantasiser’. Try shifting out of your role. This will shift the dynamic and either force change or make the dysfunction all the more glaring – and easier to walk away from.

  9. Let go of the fantasy.

    The fantasy of what could be will keep you stuck. Every time. It could be better – so much better – but just not with this person. How do you know? Because you’ve been trying. And you’re tired. And there’s nothing more to give.

    The fantasy stands between you and reality and throws flowers at your feet so you never look up and see things as they are.

    The more you fantasise about what could be, the more the reality is embellished and changed into something reasonable. The fantasy will persuade you to hold on for a little longer, and always at the cost of moving forward. Lose the fantasy that things will be different. They won’t be. If you could have lived the fantasy with this relationship, you would have done that by now. Let your fantasy instead be one of all the losers who have ever crossed your path sprawled on the couch, wearing saggy Star Wars underwear as they gaze at your photo, listen to Adele and regret like mad ever losing you, while you eat tacos, listen to Beyonce and not miss them at all. There you go.

  10. Accept what is.

    It’s paradoxical, but the more you can accept where you are, the greater the capacity for change. This will let your decisions be driven by information that’s real and accurate, not a glossed up fairy tale image of what could be. Accept your reality as it is – your relationship, your partner and what it means for you. When you accept the truth, you live the truth. This will expand your courage, strength and capacity to decide whether this relationship is the best option for you – or not. You will have a clarity that will propel you forward, whatever that might mean for you.

  11. Fight for you.

    You have to fight for the things you love and the things you believe in, but one of those things has to be you. What would you say to someone you love who was feeling the pain or the deadness that you are feeling? Inside you is more courage and strength than you will ever need. You are a queen, a king, a fighter, a warrior, you are powerful and beautiful and everything good in the world – and you deserve to be happy. But first, you might have to fight for it. Fight for you the way you would fight for anyone you love – fiercely, boldly, bravely.

  12. Stop making excuses.

    Be honest.What do you want from this relationship? Have you ever had it? How different is what you want from what you have? And how long has it been this way? If you are loved, it feels like love. Even in the midst of a storm, a loving relationship still feels loving. Despite the stress, the exhaustion, the things you do or say – a loving relationship has an undercurrent of safety, security and respect, even when times are tough. If it doesn’t feel good for you, it’s not.

  13. Replace ‘can’t leave’ with ‘won’t leave’.

    Claim back your power by replacing ‘can’t leave‘ with ‘won’t leave‘. Sometimes circumstances mean that it’s difficult to leave. Whatever you choose to do, do it from a place of strength, not from a place of helplessness. If you stay, let it be because you have made the decision that this is the best option for you at this moment in time, not because somebody has claimed ownership of your life. Keep your power and your independence of mind, whatever is going on around you. There’s only one of you and you’re too important to let yourself fade into circumstance or the manipulation.

  14. Not making a decision is making a decision.

    You might decide to put off making a decision, to give it some time. Make no mistake, this is making a decision – to stay. Own your decision and experience fully what that decision means for you. Don’t live on the outskirts of your reality by claiming to be somewhere in between committing to the relationship and leaving it. You’re one or the other. In it or out of it. Claiming indecision might feel okay in the short term, but in the long term it will just keep you stuck, without the energy you need to move closer to what will be healthier for you.

And finally …

If the relationship feels bad, then it’s bad for you. That’s the only truth that matters. Fight hard to keep your relationship intact, but when there is no fight left, the truth will be staring you down like a hunted thing.

All relationships will go through make it or break it times, but healthy relationships recover. They grow closer and become stronger and more resilient. Relationships have a limited amount of resources available – emotional, physical, financial. Sometimes the relationship will be barreled around by a storm and this might use up a vast chunk of the resources that have been banked over time. If the relationship is healthy, it will only be a matter of time before this is topped up. If it isn’t, it will shrivel up from lack of nourishment and eventually die. 

Only you can decide whether to stay or go, but be mindful of your reasons. Sometimes the bravest, most difficult, and most life-changing things lie not in what we do, but in what we stop doing. 

400 Comments

Lauren

I am just coming out of a long, destructive relationship. With a man , that mentally and emotionally sucked the life out of me and has bled m dry. But I loved him.And went back over and over .Why??? Fear of being alone. B fore he came along I was alone many years. He did have some goodness. He has BPD . I am not young and fear never finding anyone.The end has dragged on for weeks.This time am not going back when he sudd enly decides he still wants me.

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Destroyed by madness

Lauren,
I am in the same boat as you~ Mine spouse has BPD and drained me in all aspects of life!
I out a stop to it. We also went back and forth over the last several years.

Stay strong, you are not alone! People like the ones we encountered are selfish, self centered and are soul drainers.

Learn to love you and you be selfish, don’t be a victim.

Make the free ride stop!

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Christine

Great article and I’ve read many. I am trying to take the first steps to try and become strong enough to leave my 3.5 yr relationship. I am being used and abused sexually and emotionally by my bf and I look back at his messages and go: why? Why are you letting him !? I feel weak and stupid .. people say he is bad for me snd they don’t know half of it. I am too embarrassed to tell them

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joe

i hope shes ok ,wherevshe is ,i know she regretts what happened ,9years together ,i cant just let go .we done alot together .been threw alot .even tho the situation she put me in ill always be here for her.im sure we can fix things up ,but sitting here dreaming aint doing me any good ,everyone needs a second chance ,like that they learn from there stupid mistakes ,iv learned

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Nick

All the comments are from women. I’m a guy and I am stuck in a very toxic relationship. I need to get out of it. Men are people too. The woman is mean, demanding, cruel even. I don’t know why I put up with it.

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Christine

We sometimes forget woman can be abusers too. Abuse happens to men and women. Why do you stay and let her ?

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Stella

Amazing text and really helpful. It resonates a lot with what I am experiencing and I was able to clearly see what path I should take. Thanks for much for sharing.

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Betty

How long were you guys together?

Like i did with my ex-husband, i offered him a second chance to change but he refused saying there was no problem. My path was difficult but clear like yours.

There are instances where people do change, if they truly understand what they have done and dedicate work towards changing. My Daughter and her husband have been quite happy for the last 5 years since going to counselling together ,as it was just a wake-up call he needed, it really did make their relationship stronger.

However like my ex,if you feel you have truly tried giving him a second chance, its best to walk away.

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Marie

This article was extremely helpful. Been in my marriage for 17 yrs (dated for 10 before), and I’ve never felt good about it. He has been emotionally/verbally abusive and yet I still want his validation. I realize I have some self-esteem issues. I am educated with a successful career and yet here I am longing for his approval and spending most days unhappy and uncomfortable. He has adhd and I’m constantly walking on eggshells. I’m financially stable since I had been the primary breadwinner up until the last few years and could leave, but don’t. This article truly gave me perspective and action steps.
Thank you so much. I’m in tears as I respond to this.

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Deborah

I’ve been in my relationship for 20yrs. Married 13yrs. 4 teenage kids later. I’m always walking on eggshells. He wants a maid not a wife. He’s emotionally abusive. I feel I want to leave but wander why it’s hard to go. We both had trust issues. We both cheated in the past but I recently found more evidence that he denies.We also have culture difference. He’s from Mexico. How do I let go and walk away?

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Julie

I have now tried leaving my ex so many times but he keeps coming back to me. He won’t let me go. I am weak because I’ve gone back every time but I am not happy! Why is it so difficult to leave. I’m sick of myself!

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Fearful50

I feel the exact same way. I am well aware that my relationship has become toxic but I keep going back to him thinking that it could work out. I’m afraid and believe that I might not find someone else or I fear having to start the whole dating thing again after vesting a whole year with this man. I fear that because I am now 50 years old, It won’t be so easy to find someone else. I hate myself for allowing this man to treat me the way he does sometimes. I dismiss things that I would have NEVER tolerated before.
Just crazy, I need to get out of this funk!

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Charla

WHY is always the question!! Here i am AGAIN at 3am screaming at myself WHY do you let him continue to manipulate his way back?? Our relationship, or lack of, has never really been happy or healthy. He has never been faithful especially right at this moment but I still cling to his all powerful words WE’RE GONNA GET THROUGH THIS….I know exactly how you feel and the self loathing is unbearable 😫

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Jeannina G

I have been in a relationship for 13 years and just last jan I found out he was talking to another woman from his job, I looked up my phone records and her number was on his every day they would text all day and when he would get off of work they would talk for hours at a time, I work 12 hour shifts so he had plenty of time to do this. He lied and told me they were just friends and that he would stop talking to her, that she was not important enough to even care to stop talking to her, he said I would never see her number on my phone, he berthed me to forgive him and to give him a chance to make it right. I decided to give him a chance, ate all I love him everybody makes mistakes and I wanted to give him a second chance. Fast for forward to this jan. He was still doing Everything right , he was calling me on his lunch calling me on the way home from work, very loving and affectionate towards me ,I had a tracker on his phone, he knew this. we even had lots of sex , but my mind always wondered cuz she works with him, so I put in a secret camera, and bam I just do happened to open the camera app at 9am on the morning and I see them walking to the from doorand he kisses her then she leaves. I know he slept with her, I had gone to work at 630 on the morning and she came over. Im still in shock and devastated 😢, I told him to be honest with me , he said he thought he could get away with having a side chick, that he would Newberg leave me for somebody like her. I just need the courage to leave the thought of starting all over and being alone hurts so much but I know I have to leave this relationship , I asked him why would you just leave me? His answer because im a good woman that does everything for him. Help

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Annette S

Sounds like he enjoys having a Moma that takes care of him, even sexually. He may love you, but his actions hurt you. Your trust has been destroyed. Unless you can live in an open relationship, you must leave. The door to happiness in another relationship cannot open as long as you hold on to him and compromise your own personal desires for security within your relationship with him. Once a cheater, always a cheater. Maybe he says this is one he couldn’t leave you for. What happens when she gets tired of his refusal to leave you, and he goes on to the next one. What if she’s the one he could leave you for. Take the leap and leave. Open the doors of your heart to the possibility of new love. Is being alone really worse than this torture?

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Kenya

Wow, this happened to me two years ago. My husband is the reason that she works at the same employer and they still work on the same team. He expects me to trust him that nothing is going on but just like you, my mind wanders every day. I know how devious they both were to keep the relationship a secret for four years, but I’m supposed to believe him now that nothing is happening? I’ve realized that our relationship can’t progress or get any higher we are functioning and maintaining out of habit just like the article states. I also caught him by my own means.

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Anna

I 100% understand how you feel. After 7 years of a toxic relationship, feeling physical sickness as a result, I have had to let go. I love the guy, but cannot endure anymore stress as I am not coping and it’s affecting my ability to work. Likewise, it is having flowing effects with how I deal with issues with friends and family, and I am constantly being out down, told I have daddy issues etc. As painful as it is, I’m starting to realise it’s not worth it sometimes. It’s not worth having half a life, because the other half of you is numb, hurt, or mentally absent. I recommend moving forwards. Don’t think about (future) friendship or love with them. Honestly, this won’t help one but. Just focus on how you feel right now. After dismissing my own feelings for years, my counsellor of a few weeks told me to just focus on the present- be present. She also said listen to yourself, because you have the answer. Do not dismiss your own feeling as deep down you know the truth. Sometimes your mind has to override your heart. Just keep living, but do not spend your time waiting for this person. I have spent months, if not years waiting and I have lost so much time and am no longer that young. Stay strong. You must stay strong and just try to get through each day. It will get easier. You will always love this person, but eventually in a different way, and you are likely to meet a better version (for you)of this person if only you believe in yourself. Do not dismiss your emotions.b It’s not worth being unhappy so frequently.

Alternatively, if they’re willing to, and you’re able to get to that stage, participate in therapy with them and alone. If you don’t get this opportunity, see a therapist on your own and focus on yourself. You sound like a lovely person that is hurt and caught up in a toxic relationship. it’s not at all your fault, as sometimes life isn’t particularly friendly. But trust that it will get better if you give yourself time. I’m sending my love your way.

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Gina

Honestly this is the only article that is realistic and helps. It really feels like you know what it’s like to be in the shoes. The advice are all very very helpful, and to the point. They all helped me leave my ex-husband. Thank you so much. You’ve changed lives.

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xxx

im stuck and at the first stages of wanting to leave. ive been in a relationship for 11.5 years and just found out hes been cheating the last year, we dont live together but we are engaged. this is the second time ive found out hes been cheating, what do i do???? he has no job, i work 40+ hours a week and support him. please help me, i am afraid to leave and be alone and start all over again, i am 30!

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Indecision

30.. so much potential! You are accepting less that you deserve. Love won’t fulfill you if you have to be constantly on guard. The hard times with kids etc are even harder without trust. I’m 31 and accepting less than l deserve. I want kids but am realising that the foundation l have with my partner won’t survive the tests that come with children.. l think our relationship will end soon.

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Faye

Good for you! I am looking for my strength to get out of an abusive 18 year marriage. Good luck! 💕

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Rachel

My relationship started being madly in love with that man since 2014, and knowing he is not interested, as I already got rejected while trying a vague approach. Still it wasn’t so clear for me if he liked me or not because he is of flirty nature. So by 2018, when I got totally obsessed and destroyed by that situation of not knowing and ongoing obsession, I reached out and told him about my feelings.
He answered that actually he’d been in love with me before 2014 but I was mean to him so he erased me from his mind and behaved like never liked me since…
So little by little, even though he was very closed to my affection, very locked, with time he opened up a little, at least we had sex, the best sex ever possible on this earth, really. We kept seeing each other for two years, arguing a lot and all the sex led to pregnancy… we felt the magic of this event and wanted to keep the child but at the same time were very very scared so eventually I had an abortion as planned. He couldn’t be there for me emotionally, because he was traumatised apparently he experienced this event as being my decision and he felt powerless and sad about it. So he couldn’t even help me walk from the hospital, couldn’t give no support, he was in freeze mode. This relationship continued after, with still very bad arguments, much blame shifting etc, me always feeling insecure, stressed and worn out even just by seeing him, although I really wanted to…
This relationship was also a deep feeling of union, a strong physical proximity, and I do really love him and would have loved to be with him.
After many times of heart, mind and body breaking arguments and misunderstandings, we had a final one last week. I decided I couldn’t take it once more or I would literally die of exhaustion and of this unbearable feeling of injustice and misunderstanding.
He told me he had put our relationship to trash because the last time we saw some friends, he felt like I was flirty as usual, because I am who I am and I am always flirting with men… while I literally actually never flirted with anyone except him since 2014…His jealousy problem stems from a deep fear of abandonment, so he attacks before anyone attacks him, incapable of a secure bond, incapable of holding space, unable to engage truly in this relationship. At the same time, he is very conscious of many many things, very sensitive and loving, really, and this situation is so unbearable mostly because of this. Because there are a couple things he just won’t aknowledge in himself and blames me instead, endlessly.
For two years I’ve been in this turmoil of a relationship, hoping endlessly that we will arrange this, that he is conscious enough of his flaws and patterns to be able to evolve… but he is still blame shifting and unconsciously manipulating me into believing that I am the problem, that I am not trustworthy as a woman and that I always seduce men which hurts him so much…
My dream is that he would heal from his problem and we could be together one day ..
I am a sick person for hoping that ?

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Monica

I can totally relate and would love to have you as a friend, we could support each other! Talk to me on my Snapchat: miss_keettlynn.

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Anna

Please refer to the response written above your own in the comments section of your page. I am going through something similar and wish to share my experience with you. I feel for you and send my love your way. I’m in my early 30s and have spent many years in a relationship not too dissimilar to your own. I wish you the best of luck and truly hope you do what’s best for you today, if not for the future. Though I realise you probably wrestle with this answer everyday, I believe that you may, deep down, already know the true answer to your questions. Do not hesitate to write back if you feel the need to talk it through. Take care of yourself and please out yourself first. Please do not feel like you’ve failed if you choose to leave the relationship and move forwards. If you choose to stay, it may be worth going through some form of therapy, either alone or with your partner if they accept. I wish I could give you a huge hug right now.

Reply

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We teach our kids to respect adults and other children, and they should – respect is an important part of growing up to be a pretty great human. There’s something else though that’s even more important – teaching them to respect themselves first. 

We can’t stop difficult people coming into their lives. They might be teachers, coaches, peers, and eventually, colleagues, or perhaps people connected to the people who love them. What we can do though is give our kids independence of mind and permission to recognise that person and their behaviour as unacceptable to them. We can teach our kids that being kind and respectful doesn’t necessarily mean accepting someone’s behaviour, beliefs or influence. 

The kindness and respect we teach our children to show to others should never be used against them by those broken others who might do harm. We have to recognise as adults that the words and attitudes directed to our children can be just as damaging as anything physical. 

If the behaviour is from an adult, it’s up to us to guard our child’s safe space in the world even harder. That might be by withdrawing support for the adult, using our own voice with the adult to elevate our child’s, asking our child what they need and how we can help, helping them find their voice, withdrawing them from the environment. 

Of course there will be times our children do or say things that aren’t okay, but this never makes it okay for any adult in your child’s life to treat them in a way that leads them to feeling ‘less than’.

Sometimes the difficult person will be a peer. There is no ‘one certain way’ to deal with this. Sometimes it will involve mediation, role playing responses, clarifying the other child’s behaviour, asking for support from other adults in the environment, or letting go of the friendship.

Learning that it’s okay to let go of relationships is such an important part of full living. Too often we hold on to people who don’t deserve us. Not everyone who comes into our lives is meant to stay and if we can help our children start to think about this when they’re young, they’ll be so much more empowered and deliberate in their relationships when they’re older.♥️
When we are angry, there will always be another emotion underneath it. It is this way for all of us. 

Anger itself is a valid emotion so it’s important not to dismiss it. Emotion is e-motion - energy in motion. It has to find a way out, which is why telling an angry child to calm down or to keep their bodies still will only make things worse for them. They might comply, but their bodies will still be in a state of distress. 

Often, beneath an angry child is an anxious one needing our help. It’s the ‘fight’ part of the fight or flight response. As with all emotions, anger has a job to do - to help us to safety through movement, or to recruit support, or to give us the physical resources to meet a need or to change something that needs changing. It doesn’t mean it does the job well, because an angry brain means the feeling brain has the baton, while the thinking brain sits out for a while. What it means is that there is a valid need there and this young person is doing their very best to meet it, given their available resources in the moment or their developmental stage. 

Children need the same thing we all need when we’re feeling fierce - to be seen,  heard, and supported; to find a way to get the energy out, either with words or movement. Not to be shut down or ‘fixed’. 

Our job isn’t to stop their anger, but to help them find ways to feel it and express it in ways that don’t do damage. This will take lots of experience, and lots of time - and that’s okay.♥️
The SCCR Online Conference 2021 is a wonderful initiative by @sccrcentre (Scottish Centre for Conflict Resolution) which will explore ’The Power of Reconnection’. I’ve been working with SCCR for many years. They do incredible work to build relationships between young people and the important adults around them, and I’m excited to be working with them again as part of this conference.

More than ever, relationships matter. They heal, provide a buffer against stress, and make the world feel a little softer and safer for our young people. Building meaningful connections can take time, and even the strongest relationships can feel the effects of disconnection from time to time. As part of this free webinar, I’ll be talking about the power of attachment relationships, and ways to build relationships with the children and teens in your life that protect, strengthen, and heal. 

The workshop will be on Monday 11 October at 7pm Brisbane, Australia time (10am Scotland time). The link to register is in my story.
There are many things that can send a nervous system into distress. These can include physiological (tired, hungry, unwell), sensory overload/ underload, real or perceived threat (anxiety), stressed resources (having to share, pay attention, learn new things, putting a lid on what they really think or want - the things that can send any of us to the end of ourselves).

Most of the time it’s developmental - the grown up brain is being built and still has a way to go. Like all beautiful, strong, important things, brains take time to build. The part of the brain that has a heavy hand in regulation launches into its big developmental window when kids are about 6 years old. It won’t be fully done developing until mid-late 20s. This is a great thing - it means we have a wide window of influence, and there is no hurry.

Like any building work, on the way to completion things will get messy sometimes - and that’s okay. It’s not a reflection of your young one and it’s not a reflection of your parenting. It’s a reflection of a brain in the midst of a build. It’s wondrous and fascinating and frustrating and maddening - it’s all the things.

The messy times are part of their development, not glitches in it. They are how it’s meant to be. They are important opportunities for us to influence their growth. It’s just how it happens. We have to be careful not to judge our children or ourselves because of these messy times, or let the judgement of others fill the space where love, curiosity, and gentle guidance should be. For sure, some days this will be easy, and some days it will feel harder - like splitting an atom with an axe kind of hard.

Their growth will always be best nurtured in the calm, loving space beside us. It won’t happen through punishment, ever. Consequences have a place if they make sense and are delivered in a way that doesn’t shame or separate them from us, either physically or emotionally. The best ‘consequence’ is the conversation with you in a space that is held by your warm loving strong presence, in a way that makes it safe for both of you to be curious, explore options, and understand what happened.♥️
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#mindfulparenting #positiveparenting #parenting
When children are struggling to physically control their bodies, we support them in ways that strengthen. If they’re struggling to write, for example, we don’t punish or shame them. We guide them and show them by doing ‘with’. We also lift them up, ‘I know you can do this. Keep going. You’re getting better and better.’ We also don’t wait for perfection. ‘You wrote a number 4! Nice work you!’ We sit with and do with, over and over. We also give them a break when they get frustrated or upset.

It’s the same for behaviour. Big behaviour comes from big feelings or attempts to meet valid needs. (And all needs are valid.) It is this way for all of us. When we’re upset or angry, the last thing we need is for someone to tell us we can’t be, or to lecture or shame us. Kids are the same.

With kids and teens though, there can be a sense that we need to ‘do’ something in response to big behaviour, so we lay down punishments or consequences with a view to teaching a lesson.

But - unless the consequences make sense (punishments never do), they risk teaching lessons we don’t want them to learn:
- that the environment is fragile and won’t tolerate mistakes. 
- that secrecy and lies are a safer option than coming to us. 
- shut down. They put a lid on expressing big feelings. The feelings will still be there, but they aren’t getting the vital guidance from us on how to calm them (through co-regulation). The risk is that they will eventually call on unhealthy ways to calm the fierce stress neurobiology that comes with big feelings.

Consequences have to make sense. Maybe it’s to repair or reconnect. Discipline has to teach. It’s not about what we do to them but about what we nurture within them. Is that trust and the capacity to learn and grow? Or is it fear or shame.

Often the only response that’s needed is a loving conversation with us. ‘What happened?’ ‘What were you hoping would happen?’ ‘What did you need that you didn’t get?’ What can you do differently next time?’ ‘How can you put things right?’ Because if discipline is about learning, the most powerful consequence is the strong, loving conversation with us that lights their way and speaks softly to the safety of us.♥️

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