“It is no good trying to keep up old friendships. It’s painful for both sides. The fact is, one grows out of people and the only thing is to face it.”( Somerset Maugham)

Last Saturday I was at a party and I mentioned to a couple that I might want to write a book about “Leaving.” How it is hard to move on from a bad relationship or situation but sometimes you just have to do it.

And we talked about how some people just can’t leave. No matter how many times they get bashed or trashed, choked up or put down, they stick around.  

The ability to move on is a capacity worth cultivating.

 But as in all psychological change, before you can truly take off you have to understand what is stopping you. You have to become aware of the “resistance.” Insight breeds change, awareness begets action and the truth shall set you free.

Picasso said that you first have to “Destroy in order to create.” If you want good things to happen in your life, you may first have to shut down a bad situation.

 So why are you not shutting down the old and starting the new?  What is the resistance?  Why is hard to leave?  Here are some reasons for why you might be stuck.

  • You feel compelled to stay until you can fix the situation
  • You feel guilty for abandoning someone or hurting someone
  • You don’t know who you are without this affiliation
  • You fear being alone and don’t feel confidant that you will find another person or place
  • You are good at pretending that it is not as bad as it really is
  • The situation is all you have known for a long time
  • You think if I just do X,Y,or Z it will get better. You are hopeful but gullible
  • You think the problem is you or your fault and you therefore you should take responsibility
  • You do not know who will love you if you leave
  •  It takes energy

Let’s take these one at a time and see if we can stimulate your exit.

  • There is something called repetition –compulsion which basically means you can’t or won’t leave until you feel you have mastered the problem. In general, stick-to-it-ness is good, but toxic interpersonal situations are not good. Walking away from a chronic, unfixable mess is the superior choice.

  • Guilt is insidious, overpowering and often irrational. It does not serve anyone for you to stay and continue to get battered. If you worry about hurting someone else with your exit, know that a bit of injury can foster strength, resilience and character.  They will survive.

  • Identity is a huge pull. We want to belong, to have a definition, to know who we are and affiliations provide this. But you can make new affiliations that are better for you.

  • I once heard someone say that it is better to be alone with your self than alone in a group or relationship. There may be a phase of loneliness when you leave, but you can learn to reach out and make things happen with other people in other places. Join things.

  • Denial can be healthy. It can involve a Mind Shift  (Mind Shift is covered in our book The Creativity Cure) wherein you learn to focus on the positive and not wallow in the negative. But taken too far, denial can get you into trouble.  Best to face the demons or the demonic predicament before it takes too much of a toll.

  • Familiarity is a comfort. It really is. But while you revel in the old ways, it can insidiously undermine your stamina, happiness, health and true self.  Just because it always was does not mean it always has to be. Your family, for example may not know who you are at all. Old affiliations can get in the way of a good future. Best to enter a strange and unfamiliar state and see who you can become or who you really are.  Like learning a new language that you were always meant to speak. Wordsworth did say, “That having been must ever be,” but he was referring to having things in mind and memory. Move on.

  • If you do X, Y or Z it might appease for a while. Or you might think it does. The problem is that when you accommodate a selfish or sadistic person, this does not humble them into treating you decently. Rather it can make them feel even more deserving or feed their capacity to be cruel. The other tricky thing here is that you are a good and forgiving person and you feel at peace with yourself when you do what you think is the right, moral, altruistic thing. So it is hard to live with yourself if you are not “giving.”  Certain forms of giving are a mistake, because they just encourage people who are conscience-challenged to exploit.

  • Ah, hope. Hope, idealism, optimism. Such desirable states of mind.  And let’s not forget forgiveness. Okay, but in the process of hoping that the perpetrator will stop perpetrating, while you have maintained the idea that he or she will get a conscience or some good character, you have become bedraggled and perhaps hopeless your self. Holding them up wears you down.  Know who or what to believe in. Some people never change.

  • It is good to take a rigorous inventory and figure out how you might have contributed to the situation. This is healthy and ethical too. But sometimes it really and truly is not you; it is THEM, the other. Right/ wrong, good/ bad, black/ white. There are times when there is no gray.  And you have to be able to see what’s what, who’s who and what gives. And what is sad but true.  Some people would much rather feel bad about them selves than bad about someone else.  Don’t let that be you.

  • There is love. There is love.  As in the song by Peter, Paul and Mary

  • Putting out energy breeds more energy. Find your get up and go and don’t stop. My freshman year roommate once told m (she was full of energy and great at everything)  “If I sit down I might never get up.” Manic defenses – being busy to avoid feeling things- are another story, and not all bad, even if they are about avoiding truths. She was impressive.

Move on even if you cannot resolve the matter. It is tempting to try to figure out why it didn’t work, what you could have done, where you went wrong, “if only I had…” but many people and situations are not amenable to logic. Their behavior does not make sense and never will. It might make sense to them, but many people do terrible things and feel utterly justified. If they lack insight about their impact on others or lack compassion or conscience, you are not going to be able to enlighten them. There is nothing you can do about them.

But there is so much you can do about you. As one psychoanalyst I know used to say, “What are YOU going to do with what THEY do?” 

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