Anyone who has ever watched Dr. Phil or Maury knows all about unhealthy relationships and how the experts advise us to free ourselves from them. Once we realize that this person has broken up with us, or that the relationship is abusive, or that we ourselves are clinging in a way that is not appropriate, we know what to do. We don’t call, text, email or post our personal business on Facebook. We end the relationship directly and in person; we don’t give in to the temptation to contact them again, even though the sound of their voice might give us a rush of pleasure temporarily. We know in our souls that as difficult as it might be to end the relationship, the truth is that anguish and unhappiness are sure to return if we resume with this person.
But, what if the unhealthy relationship isn’t with someone else, but with one’s very self?? How do we “break up” with a side of ourselves that is clearly unhealthy and not what God calls us to be??
I think the answer lies in applying the very same techniques we would use with another person, and the things we should avoid doing with others, we should avoid doing to ourselves.
First, avoid being impulsive and instead try to slow down your reactions to situations. Find your internal “pause” button and use it liberally, with the intention of delaying as long as possible between an event and your reaction to the event. Think: is what I am considering in my highest good? Is this a productive response? Am I willing to accept the consequences of my reaction? There is no merit in simply acting in the moment when we would be better served by simply sitting on our feelings.
Second, avoid clinging to unhealthy interactions with or images of yourself. Clinging is any behavior that demonstrates holding on, not letting go of what clearly is not in your highest good. For some, this clinging can be to the illusion that we aren’t good enough, that we aren’t as attractive as everyone else, or that because we don’t have this or that advanced degree that this makes us not smart enough. Intellectually we probably know better, but on an emotional level, we cling to these fears and everything that happens in our lives is viewed through these lenses.
I think it’s the same consequences when we cling to someone else: clinging causes distancing. The more we cling to a fear-based view of ourselves, the further we get from God’s view of us. The result is a very real lack of intimacy with God and with others because if we can’t come to trust that we are good, whole and effective according to God’s infinite plan, we will not be able to nurture others who struggle with these same limitations. The fact that we can be compassionate and more comprehensive in our understandings of others’ weaknesses should be proof enough that that is what God wants from us…and that mercy is also intended for ourselves.
Besides avoiding the impulsivity and clinging, what else might we do to “break up” with that part of ourselves that no longer serves our highest good? If we were breaking up with someone else, we might go to match.com and find someone new and better. When it’s a self-image that needs to be changed, we need to find ways to peel back the layers of the spiritual/emotional onion and find that purity we once held clearly in our minds when we were kids. Maybe we do this by calling a trusted friend or family member. Maybe we do some serious journal writing about our attachments to false images of ourselves. Perhaps we engage in the process of spiritual direction with a compassionate spiritual director.
Finally, but certainly not last, visualize yourself through the eyes of someone who loves you or has loved you unconditionally. Visualize yourself in a relationship with the One who called you to life, who is completely in love with you, who is never quick to condemn you, who, for all your resistance to the Power of Love, has nothing but affection and blessing for you. If God chooses to see you as part of His infinitely wise and compassionate plan for humanity, then surely we can find the strength to “break up” with our false selves in order to enter more deeply into relationship with who we were meant to be.
If we’re trying to hold onto an image of ourselves even though you know it’s a hopeless situation, we are resisting the inevitable. When it’s time for an unhealthy relationship to end, even if it’s hard, we simply cannot fight the overwhelming grace. The time for unhealthy relationship with ourselves is past: it is time to surrender to what is really true. And although only God sees the full brightness of our divine nature and giftedness, we can choose to embrace it even when we can’t always see it.