Tuesday, 28 December 2010

How to say goodbye: cutting ties with people you love!

When you make a commitment to personal development and improving your life in every possible way - sometimes others cannot keep up your pace and it becomes inevitable that you leave people behind. This is one of the dark sides of self improvement! Of course, you only realize the magnitude of this realization when you're faced with the prospect of cutting someone loose. The crux is: You outgrow the people who once meant the world to you. These people are sad to see you change.

I first experienced this concept when i was in my late teens and ventured off to a Buddhist monastery. I had visited this local, community monastery on a school trip years before and something about it just stuck. (Despite, the fact that my friends and I messed around constantly and paid absolutely no attention to the spiritual quest whatsoever). Years later i returned to try and understand what had struck such a chord with me. In my child, ADDness it was a miracle that anything stuck at all, so there must have been something spectacular about this place.

Unfortunately, my interest in Buddhism was the funniest thing in the world for my mother, who took every opportunity to mock and belittle me behind my back with anyone who would indulge her. I had been brought up with no religion, so it was not as if i was rejecting her sacred beliefs. Her nastiness was a cheap shot and hurt me so much. I remember thinking what a miserable, spiteful and hard-done-by woman my mum was and that she was far more in need of some noble truths and personal enlightenment than i could ever be. Needless, to say - i continued to study Buddhism and meditation. Needless, to say, my mother continued her bitching.

It was my first experience of the kick-back, i had attempted to rise above my spiritual station and i was being urged to 'get back in line'. In hindsight, i totally understand the kick-back reaction - You, as an adventurous soul, are looking around at everything you had once shared with your friends and family and you now say:

'Is this it? Is this all the world has to offer?'

At which point, you slap on your walking boots, stuff full your backpack and go look for a place where it doesn't rain all the time. You've heard of such place, you've seen it on TV, a friend of a friend went there once and recounted their travels. You are basically rejecting the very core of others' existence when you go and look for more.

Those who are left behind can become insanely jealous. Chances are, they too have realized their existence is a little shit in some aspects. Maybe they too have noted that they are poor, or shallow, or suppressed, or lack opportunities, or always sad. Perhaps they'd always wanted more, but didn't have the confidence to chase a dream. Perhaps they didn't have the stamina to fight the negativity. Perhaps they didn't realize that any of what you are doing was actually possible.

Toxic interactions

To hold you back - people like to remind you who you once were. A jealous relative at a family gathering might remind you (and everyone else in the room) that you had totally flunked at school, used to wet yourself every night, were once scared of the old church in the village and everyone at your school nicknamed you ET because you were so ugly. When you get annoyed, they will not apologize as they were merely 'having a laugh'. They will point out that you are the problem and suggest that your progression in life had caused you to lose your sense of humor. They'll probably round off with a nice left hook, something to the tune of 'you've change' and 'you think you're so special now.' To which you have to respond (at least in your head) 'DAMN FUCKING RIGHT I HAVE!'

They'll also try and stamp on any boundaries that you might have put up to protect your new identity, your new habits and your new life. I had a childhood nickname - i didn't want to be called it anymore as a young professional adult. We sometimes forget in the West that names are such important things. In many countries you can tell almost everything from someone's full name: gender, age, race, religion, tribe, rank and class/caste. Personally, i didn't want to known by a name that i probably shared with a large number of pet hamsters. But no one made the slightest bit of effort to reduce the usage of a nickname. It was as if my objection was taken as some kind of silly fad.

After many situations and often over many years, you get to the point where you just cannot interact any longer. There comes a time when you have to start saying goodbye to people. These ghosts of the past become toxic to you. Trying to hold you back at every turn. The abyss between them and you has become so wide and so deep that you feel utter frustration whenever you see them, the friction is horrendous and they treat you like a poisonous thorn in their side. Exchanges are strained and awkward. You end up being annoyed, offended, cheated and inexplicably enraged after each interaction.

The act of goodbye

In order to say goodbye there are two obvious ways (1) The Fizzle Out (2) The Big Bang.
I've used both and i would recommend utilizing the fizzle first!

The Fizzle Out:
Start loosening ties by throwing a little bit of distance into the equation - don't answer your phone every time it rings, don't text back straight away, if you have something big going on in your life - keep it low, don't ask for their opinion on things. Then gradually extend it further - take a week to respond to an email. Decline an invitation for event. Be totally polite but stand your ground on an issue where you would previously have lied down and taken it like a cat on heat! Gradually.... slowly by surely... you will build yourself a position of power and reduce the control others have on your life. For example: I am still in touch with some people, but on no circumstances do i invite them around to stay at my house for a week like i used to. I guess they're wondering what happened to their invites. I guess they'll have to keep guessing!

The Big Bang:
Give the fizzle some time (and by that i mean 'many months' rather than a fortnight) if it doesn't work - then its time to bring out the bazooka. Sometimes a huge argument will lead to a 'goodbye' please do your best to let it not come to this. If you have a big fight, chances are you'll let rip and won't do yourself any favors. You need to have an assertive, succinct conversation and spell out the following:

- This is what i feel is happening
- Here are some examples (just give 2-3 that happened recently)
- This is how it made me feel
- This is how things could be improved
- This is where we could go from here
- I love you, i care for you, i respect you - but this situation is making me X, X and X

Make the communication as short and to the point as possible - a few paragraphs if you're writing it. Deliver this information as matter as fact - as possible. Don't coast down the road of being a victim as this will dilute your whole case (for this reason - i would strongly recommend that you write it). Unless something really drastic happens after you do this, you need a clean break so make a commitment to cut all contact. Don't go down the road of yo-yoing, as it will break your heart.

Here's another footnote that people won't tell you before you do this: The response you receive will not be good! In fact, you may not even get a response at all. People who have used passive aggression, manipulation, mocking, emotional abuse and other 'dark arts' to control you in the past will NOT appreciate your assertiveness, your critical analysis, the fact that you're throwing the problem back at them and most of all: that you end the communication with respect, compassion and love. You have clearly stated that you are the bigger person in this exchange.

Remember that you are rebelling on an epic scale and rebels always end up taking some flack for their chutzpah- and you will too. This is where the playground tactics really come out in force. Friends and family may issue informal 'sanctions' against you, you may be outcast from whatever group you were once a member and the story of the 'goodbye' will be twisted in every conceivable angle to make you the enemy of the state.

On the flipside - this is all good news. Not only have you got these toxic morons out of your life (and in a humane manner) they've even been kind enough to demonstrate once and for all exactly why you needed to lose them. You may end up saying goodbye to people who you would rather still be in contact with: like the adorable Uncle of your vile and vicious Aunt. So think about it very careful before you burn all bridge - use the fizzle approach first. You can also be cut out of wills and lose out economically - for me, it was a price worth paying. I could always just earn more money, but my sense of peace was worth more than that. But, to be fair, it was something i considered a great deal before cutting some strings.

All part of growing

A plant will start its life in a seed tray until it sprouts, at just a few inches tall it gets moved to its own pot, in quick succession - the plant gets re-potted into bigger and bigger pots as it outgrows its surroundings. Usually, the plant only blooms when it is finally planted in the ground in the big outside world. Whilst the seed tray and plant pots do not bitch and whine about the fact they've been discarded for more suitable measures - people do! But look at it as a positive.

- The bigger you grow, the more you will outgrow your surroundings and therefore, the more kick-back you'll get from whoever was in the previous chapter of your life.

- The more chapters of your life there are, the more people you'll piss off by reaching ever further.

- By the end of your life, you should aim to have a stadium of people who you've pissed off an surpassed :-D

- The more times you have to do this - the easier it is to handle.

My first experience with the monastery was heartbreaking. My first dip into the clear blue pool of self-realization had been thwarted with laughter - but now I am philosophical about the whole thing, almost viewing the negative responses as a sign of my own progession.