Sometimes hope is harmful.
I know this may sound like a strange thing to say, but it’s true.
It’s especially true for people who grew up in toxic families, where we are conditioned from a young age to be blinded to the fact that the other family members are dysfunctional. We think the problem is with us, because that’s what they want us to think. If they can keep us believing we’re the f-ed up ones, they can shirk any responsibility for their own toxic behavior. They want us to think it’s our problem, when it’s actually the very opposite: they are the unhealthy ones. And they’re very, very good at convincing us.
I stayed in relationship with my family for years longer than I should have. I thought if I just loved them enough, if I changed enough, if I performed enough, if I forgave enough, they would just wake up one day and stop being toxic. Needless to say, I was delusional.
I thought it was actually my responsibility to stay in that relationship. They’re even responsible for planting that sense of responsibility. Phrases were wielded repeatedly throughout my childhood and young adulthood to drive home this message, such as, “you don’t run out on your family,” and “we may not be perfect but we’re your family and we’re all you’ve got,” and the less blatant (but still implied) message: Who else would want you? We’re stuck with you because we’re related. Poor us. We’re doing the best we can but you’re lucky we’re such good people and we don’t just abandon you for being so awful.
As an adult, I’ve wrestled with finding safe community wherein I can “out” myself as an RA survivor and a person with DID. I’ve tried over and over and over again to find people who are mature enough to handle knowing about my history without letting it define our relationship. People who want to know me for me, not for a good story or as a curiosity or as someone they are compelled to rescue. Relationship after relationship has blown up in my face, and it always ends with them blaming me in some way for essentially being “too much” for them, when the reality is often that they were the ones unwilling to face their own tendencies for co-dependency. (Note: I’m not saying I didn’t make mistakes in any of the relationships. I did. Everyone does. Please keep this in context.)
In my head I classified all of this as me holding onto the hope that maybe – if I just kept looking long enough, trying hard enough, modifying my relational interactions enough – I would find safe people with the capacity to “handle” me.
Today I recognize both of those situations – the one with my parents, and the one with searching for a tribe – as damaging.
There’s a time to let go of the hope that someone, or something (e.g. a situation) is going to change.
My mom is a narcissist. She’s not going to change. She doesn’t want to. And as long as she controls the rest of the family – and they let her – they aren’t going to change either. Holding onto the hope that she’d change, that the family would change, actually kept me in a damaging and dysfunctional relationship for many years longer than I should have stayed in it.
As for my friendships, the truth is that 99.9% of the people I’ve met (and know) in person can’t handle my past. They don’t have the capacity to know all of me without going offline sooner or later and choosing not to face their part in it.
I’ve started to put together the fact that today, I love myself enough to stop repeatedly putting myself in situations that gut me, for the sake of hope.
Hope is a wonderful thing. But not when it continually puts you in a vulnerable position wherein you suffer the same damage, over and over again, and nothing changes. If this is happening to you, it might be time to let it go.
The good and scary thing about it is, you are the only one who can decide where the line is. If you’re not sure, listen to the people in your life who you know are safe and healthy.
My T told me for at least a year: Jade, it would be really good if you could step back from your relationship with your family for awhile. It doesn’t have to be forever – just while you heal. Then once you’re in a better place you can decide what kind of relationship you want to have with them. But I didn’t listen to her, for a good long time. I didn’t think I could, didn’t believe it was necessary, was in total denial about the destructive role my family was playing in my life.
But then there came a day when I had really, truly, had enough. And that’s when I made the choice to listen to the healthy person in my life who could see things that I could not.
I’ve never regretted it.
And these days I do not seek an in-person community who can know me as I am, in all my raw form. I just don’t think it exists. As sad as that is, and as lonely as I have been, it’s been an act of self-love to stop putting myself out there so willingly. That may sound strange or backward, but even up until recently I’ve been far too willing to let other people know me, at the risk of being completely wrecked when the relationship hadn’t been appropriately vetted yet. I have recently (finally) been able to take a step back and say: I keep doing this thing (trying to find friends who can handle all of me), and it keeps not working. Hey, maybe I should stop doing this thing.
I hope you understand what I’m trying to say. No one can decide when you’ve had enough of something, but you.
But don’t be afraid to let go of hope if it’s time. There are better things you can spend your time on than a narcissist, a situation that’s out of your control, a damaging way of relating to people, etc.
Sometimes hope is harmful.
The good news is: you can walk away, and go live your life. And make it f-ing awesome. I believe in you.