Thursday, November 13, 2008

Emotional Detox, part 3

Continuing to ask yourself questions...

Get centered. Find an internal reason to end the toxic situation or relationship. When you can break off for a reason that is about self-preservation, instead of punishing or otherwise getting back at others, you will find an inner core of strength. When it’s about you, no one can successfully attack you, manipulate you, or guilt-trip you into remaining in the toxic mess. Alternately, if you have to remain in the mess for a while (say, a team project at work that’s in meltdown, but has a deadline and will presumably be over then), getting centered can help you gain some clarity and hold some inner peace during the process.

I decided that the amount of time I spent being angry at Holly was unacceptable to me. I have many things I want to accomplish, and I wanted time and energy to do them—time and energy I was wasting being angry. A few days after this realization, a small event prompted something of a confrontation between me and Holly. Because I had an internal reason to hold firm, I was able to deflect any argument. I came at it from a place of internal strength, which made all the difference. 

Focus on the how, not the why. Instead of pointing fingers, blaming and shaming, having a major showdown, or lashing out in retaliation, focus on your own behavior and what it will take to get clear. If you are dialed in on your own personal reasons, as in the previous step, then the way out will become clear. 

Toughen up. If the situation demands defusing, disentangling yourself, or an unavoidable confrontation, be prepared. Keep that big-picture view, focus on your personal reasons, and stick to what you’ve planned for getting out of the mess, if possible. When communicating with others, keep your comments focused on yourself. Yes, it may hurt the person when you break off, but their happiness is not your responsibility

I like to imagine I’m putting on a Teflon cloak, kind of like Harry Potter’s cloak of invisibility. Arguments, anger, and manipulation simply slide right off. The “confrontation” Holly and I had ended with me simply asking her not to contact me for a while. She wasn’t happy about it and tried to convince me otherwise, but I was coming from a place of personal peace in my request, so I was able to remain firm. 

I haven’t spoken with Holly in over 6 months now. It took some time for me to discharge my pent-up anger, and now I’m happier (and healthier) for it. I see her at various social events, and I say hello—I don’t shun her, and I made sure that I never put our mutual friends at a point where they would have to take sides. I wish her well, and when anyone asks me if I will ever be friends with her again, I say I don’t know. For now, it’s best for me to not get emotionally involved with her.

As a New Year approaches, I challenge you to take stock of your life. Where can you reclaim your emotional wellness? What aspects of your life need a little detox? What kind of person will you be when you shed the negative and move forward?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Detox, part 2

How do you break free and detox your emotional life? How do you get back in control? 

Take the big-picture view. Find a moment to be alone in a safe, supportive location, and take some deep breaths to relax a bit. Close your eyes and visualize floating above yourself, zooming up until you’re all the way in the atmosphere of the planet, leaving your emotions down on the ground. In your mind’s eye, look down at yourself from orbit. You’re stepping out of the whole mess and looking back at it. What do you notice about yourself? How are you behaving? Do you like what you see? What would someone else notice about the situation? Step outside yourself and take an objective view.

In the case of me and Holly, I was shocked when I realized I was going behind her back and complaining to others (something I am still not proud of). I did not like this picture of myself, and it was truly eye-opening to see it. 

Do the math. How much of your time and energy are you spending dealing with or responding to the person or situation? 

When I was most angry and frustrated with Holly, I was stunned to find that I was spending up to 2 hours a day (at least 10 hours a week) either dealing with her, complaining about her, or just being angry. 

Ask yourself the important questions.

  • Is it worth it to stay in this situation/relationship? (The answer might be “yes,” especially if it is time-limited.)
  • What is best for me?
  • What are my goals or purpose for this relationship/situation, and are they being met?
  • What else could I do with that time and energy?
  • If I was just dropped into this situation or relationship today, without having known all the history that precedes it, would I still be in it?
  • If I met this person today, would I like him or her?
  • What am I tolerating here that isn’t serving me?

A friend of mine broke off a toxic friendship when she sat down to dinner with the person and thought, “If I met you today, I wouldn’t like you enough to get to know you better.” Another colleague asked herself, “How many times are you going to let this happen to you before you stop being in this situation?”

During a session with Meg, I asked her what her purpose was for being involved with her son’s soccer team parents group. Her reply was that it was so her son could have fun. When I asked if the current situation was helping her achieve that goal, she said, “No, it’s not,” with a noticeable sound of wonder in her voice as this realization came to her. Getting back to her primary goals helped her see clearly how the situation was draining her energy, getting her off track, and not supporting her son’s enjoyment of the sport. She was able to gracefully extract herself without hurting anyone else’s feelings, and she retained a sense of clarity and peace throughout the process.

Tomorrow: More important questions, and a strategy for getting clear.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Detox your Life, part 1

Hello lovely readers! I recently completed an article that had been in progress for some time, and I'm going to print it here, in parts. It's about detoxing your emotional life by shedding negativity in relationships and situations.


Many of us have experienced toxic relationships (perhaps with a “frenemy”) at some point in our lives. Toxic relationships leave you feeling angry, frustrated, irritated, confused, miserable, and drained, and yet you can’t seem to say “no” the person. You can find toxic relationships at work, among friends, and in families.

Some time ago, I woke up to the fact that a friend of mine (I’ll call her Holly) was starting to profoundly irritate me. The cause of our friction was a fundamental personality difference: I am usually very positive and optimistic; at the time, Holly was unrelentingly negative and constantly complained about everything bad in her life. As time went on, I became ever more sensitive to her whining, and I started complaining about her to other friends. I spent more and more time being irritated, then frustrated, and then downright angry at Holly, and it drained my energy.

A coaching client of mine, Meg, was involved with the parents’ group for her son’s soccer team. There was a clash between the parents and the team coach, and the situation quickly devolved into name-calling, backstabbing, and a lot of anger and fighting all around. She was absolutely exhausted by it, and she used several of our coaching appointments (during which we had intended to work on building her business) to talk about this situation and how she could deal with it.

We’ve probably all felt trapped in a toxic relationship or situation from time to time. If we’re lucky, the situation is short-lived or resolves itself, and we can move on with no hurt feelings. Sometimes, though, the toxicity really takes hold and just drags on and on, draining our energy and happiness. It can be damaging to stay in a negative frame of mind for too long—we spend energy and time dealing with the bad stuff, which steals away what we need for the good things in our lives. 

How do you break free and detox your emotional life? How do you get back in control? 

(More tomorrow!)