For a long time, we have allowed crazy, dysfunctional, unhealthy people in our lives. Now we are in recovery and we are learning to say, “No” to people and behaviors that are detrimental to our well-being and our growth. We start deciding whom we want and no longer want in our lives. We cut ties as need be with those whom we can no longer associate. As for those people we want to keep—the healthy, positive, loving ones—we choose to continue building relationships.
The dysfunctional people whom we still love, particularly family members, we may also choose to have in our lives, but we need to set boundaries so we do not let them control us or let us slide back into codependent behaviors.
Boundary setting can be difficult for us. It can also be difficult for the people with whom we try to enforce the boundaries. Once we set the boundary, we need to know what we will do if the other person will not respect it. We have to be prepared not to have that person in our lives if that is what is best for our well-being. The other person may find him or herself unwilling to accept the change we have made. He or she may feel threatened by the change in us. People may be upset because we will no longer take care of them, allow them to manipulate us, or wallow in their misery with them. They may offer us ultimatums or threats to end the relationship if we do not do what they want. We tell them to stop manipulating us. They may then leave, or if need be, we may tell them we no longer want them in our lives.
Estrangement is difficult to deal with. Even if we make the decision not to have someone in our lives, it does not mean we have to stop loving that person. It just means we love ourselves by not allowing that person to hurt us. We can continue to pray for that person, and we can wish them well in our hearts. If we bump into them on the street, we can say “Hello” so they know we do not hold anger against them, but at the same time, we do not budge on the boundaries we have set.
Sometimes the estranged person is an ex-spouse, a child, a parent, a sibling, which makes matters extremely difficult. We wish things were different, but we have to remember that we cannot change that person. We cannot fix them. We cannot force them down their own road to recovery. We must focus on ourselves. We trust that in the end everything will be the best for them. Perhaps that will mean eventually they will come back as changed people. Perhaps it means we will never speak to them again. We still hold the person in our heart in love, while we remain thankful that we had the courage to change.
Irene Watson, MA, is author of The Sitting Swing: Finding Wisdom to Know the Difference, and co-editor of The Story that Must Be Told: True Tales of Transformation, and Authors Access: 30 Success Secrets for Authors and Publishers. She is a workshop leader, managing editor of Reader Views, and president of a non-profit Higher Power Foundation. Irene lives next to Barton Creek in Austin, TX, with her husband Robert.