I recently had to make a very difficult and painful decision to sever my relationship with a family member. I won’t get into specifics here, because it is ultimately a family issue. Just know that this was not a decision made out of anger or spite, and it was made after setting a firm boundary on what was appropriate, warning what the consequences would be, and yet that boundary was not respected.
As a woman, parent and spouse, I make my decisions regarding relationships of any type based on certain criteria:
- Is this a healthy situation for me or my family?
- Is there mutual respect and consideration for feelings, opinions, values and preferences?
- If there are issues, can they be resolved in an amicable manner?
There are also some tell-tale red flags, behaviors or tendencies that I pay attention to, such as:
- Racist, xenophobic, sexist, anti-religious and other defamatory statements aimed at specific groups, such as minorities. My husband and I don’t support or engage in that kind of thinking, nor do we want our children exposed to it.
- Abusive language or behavior – emotional, verbal or physical. It doesn’t matter which one it is - it creates irreparable damage. And if you do it to me, how can I be sure you won’t subject my children to it at some point in the future? My responsibility as a parent is to protect them from harm. My responsibility to myself is to protect me from harm.
- Disregard for the feelings, opinions, values and preferences other people express. You don’t have to like or agree with anything I (or anyone else) says. But there are ways to respectfully dissent without being insulting, and there are also times when it’s prudent to just stay silent.
- Lack of empathy. If you can’t relate to the feelings another person is having – even when you’re the cause of their pain – there’s some psychological work that needs to be done. Probably the most important thing I can teach my children is to empathize with others. Empathy is the root of compassion and is the foundation for leading a spiritually centered life.
- The refusal to apologize for wrongdoing or take personal responsibility for actions. It’s not a weakness to say, “I’m sorry, please forgive me.” It’s a strength of character.
We all have our good and bad days. Sometimes we say and do thoughtless, stupid or insensitive things. Most people can forgive an occasional issue or lapse of judgment. But a consistent pattern of negative behavior demonstrates – at least to me – that there is a sickness within the heart. While I can empathize with that, I also do not want to be continually subjected to it. At some point, you have to stand up and say enough is enough.
Being compassionate doesn’t always mean giving someone else an out. Sometimes it means taking difficult, direct action in order to help them realize the truth of their situation. Some people eventually get it; others won’t. The ones who get it are the ones who truly evolve as people, even if it comes as a result of a great loss. The ones who don’t get it will continue to be angry and blame others for their lot in life.
…Living a life of our own choosing involves the unquestionable willingness to endure the slings and arrows that could come your way when you respond to your inner knowing rather than to the opinions of your family….You don’t belong to you immediate family; you’re a member of the HUMAN family. You don’t own your children, nor are you a possession of your parents. You’re not obliged to fulfill the wishes or a destiny dictated by kin. It’s important to consciously know that you’re here to create your music, and that you don’t have to die with your music still in you.
It took me a long time to realize this, but I’m here to sing my life. It may be a sad song at the moment, but I own it completely.
(Photo credit: judysfunnyfarm on Flickr)