Spiritual Practice: Cutting off Toxic Relationships
How is breaking off a relationship a spiritual practice? Read on!
Shouldn’t we all try to live at peace with one another? The answer is yes, of course we should. Yet, there are people and even institutions who don’t have your best interests at heart. They can actually become crippling to your soul, and when they are revealed as toxic, sometimes the best thing you can do is cut them out of your life.
I have a friend who was once a part of a very controlling church. When she thinks about it now, she shakes her head in wonder and says, “I was drinking the Kool-Aid!”
For you younglings, this is a reference to the Jim Jones cult, where in Jonestown, Guyana, 909 followers were killed by murder/suicide when they “voluntarily” drank cyanide-laced Kool-Aid. My friend’s church wasn’t as cultish as the Jonestown group, but it had some very controlling features like needing approval from leadership to date someone, etc. It was definitely heading down the Jonestown road.
I was thinking about how churches can become controlling and toxic when differences of opinion aren’t tolerated and everyone is forced to believe a certain way. I’ve had many friends hurt by being part of the “inside group” of a church, then when they don’t tow the party line, they suddenly find themselves on “the outside.” The hardest part is their “friends” don’t want to hang out with them anymore. It is devastating.
But churches aren’t the only ones who have this cult-like, controlling, or toxic behavior. I’ve seen it in businesses, marriages, and even friendships. Often, you don’t know you’re drinking the Kool-Aid until you leave that place/relationship and get some distance from it.
One example of a corporation with Borg like tendencies (you know, “resistance is futile” …Star Trek…) is the behavior of a local, unnamed hospital. Hospitals send recruiters to nursing schools for an employment fair before the students graduate. But this particular hospital sent recruiters a month before the others came, then told the applicants, “If you agree to take a job with us before you graduate, then change your mind, you will be blacklisted from ever working for us.” This kind of proprietary behavior is downright evil. It doesn’t give the nurses a chance to compare offers from other hospitals. When a corporation uses threats to control behavior, it is a “cult-like” practice. Making a choice to work there is choosing into a toxic work environment. Trust me, it won’t be good for your soul.
This toxicity is easiest to see in marriages or romantic relationships. Usually, the controlling behavior involves money and/or jealousy. If your partner is keeping a tight rein on the finances, questioning you every time you go somewhere, or using anger to control you, you are probably drinking the Kool-Aid.
I made the mistake of mentioning to my middle-aged hairdresser that I’m a licensed therapist. I don’t usually mention this fact, for a good reason, because she then felt free to tell me too much information about her and her boyfriend. “He gets mad and jealous whenever I go anywhere,” she said. “And he wants sex all the time; isn’t once a day enough?” I wanted to scream, “Run! Run away from him as fast as you can!” But, she was still wielding scissors near my head.
I’ve also seen this same dynamic in friendships, usually in women. If your friend gets jealous and you feel like you have to lie to him/her about spending time with other friends, you’re drinking the Kool-Aid.
So, how do you know if you’re in a toxic relationship at home, work, church, or with friends?
- When someone tries to change your personality by using manipulation, anger, or guilt, to make you into someone you are not.
2. When you don’t feel free to express your own beliefs or opinions.
3. When someone tries to limit your access to money, time, friendships, options, or your own body.
4. When you feel like you can’t talk to anyone about these problems: You can’t go see a counselor or talk to anyone about your issues.
If this blog is making you uncomfortable, sit with it for a while.
Ask yourself “Where do I feel this discomfort in my body: stomach, back, head…?
Ask your body, “What are you trying to tell me?”
Ask the Divine, “What do I do now?”
You may need to seek the help of a trusted counselor, spiritual director or wise friend for help in disentangling yourself from a toxic situation, but your soul will expand and rejoice if you do!
So, is breaking off a relationship a spiritual practice? You bet it is when your soul is suddenly free to breathe and grow after being bound and suffocated by a situation or another person.
I’d love to hear what you think about this idea and/or any times you’ve left a toxic situation and what it was like for you.
Photo: Woman at top