When I was a child, my father habitually manipulated his children to feel sorry for him. As a complementary activity, he subtly coerced us to behave in certain ways that he claimed would make him happier. The tagline was, “If you love me, you’ll . . .”
My training was that when you loved people, you did things that you didn’t necessarily want to do, things that you, in some dim but emerging awareness, knew violated your integrity and sense of self.
As an adult who learned a thing or two about psychology, I came to realize that his behavior was that of a self-proclaimed victim who used this role to dominate others. I learned to spot specimens of that type and refused to give in to their strategies.
Recently, though, someone made some classic Victim-as-Dominator moves on me on the false premise that I had wronged him. The stakes were very high. Either I gave in, or our friendship would be over.
When an acquaintance attempts to dominate you, the cost of refusal is relatively low. This, however, was someone who meant a lot to me, someone I loved and whom I thought loved me.
After a certain amount of anguish, I turned to meditation and mindful contemplation. I came to understand that for the sake of my integrity I needed to turn down the invitation to be dominated and coerced by him. To be untrue to myself for the sake of friendship would render the friendship meaningless.
My decision put my feet on high moral ground, but my heart was in tatters. I needed to heal it with something more effective than the bandage of “You did the right thing.”
I’m not a regular Bible reader, but I remembered a famous Biblical passage about love and looked it up. This verse in Corinthians 13:4-8 says as much to me about love as anything I’ve read.
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.”
When I read it, I found my cure. I recognized that what I thought was love on his part was the familiar “I will love you if . . .” Though the relationship had had many high points, his demand had no element of love in it. It isn’t what I want to either give or receive in my life.
In the end, this experience is a gift. I’ve removed a toxic relationship from my life and received clarity. My New Year’s resolution is to shine that clear light on all of my relationships—because I want to live a life in which I experience and share love.
Have you had a positive experience in letting go of a damaging relationship? I’d love to hear about it.