Letting go and knowing when you need to are important life skills, as is the ability to maintain and set healthy boundaries. All three of these behaviors are challenging to women (and men, for that matter) who grew up in unloving households, didn’t have their emotional needs met, and developed an insecure attachment style. They may resort to building their own version of the Great Wall of China to avoid confrontation and conflict, preferring to deal with the status quo rather than take on an issue; even though they think they’re standing outside the fray, they often have trouble extricating themselves completely. Alternatively, they may equate boundaries with abandonment and hang on for dear life, even when letting go is what’s called for and they’re utterly miserable. Both styles leave you stuck and make changing up your life and becoming happier that much harder.
Becoming aware of your own behaviors and your own unwillingness to tackle what needs taking down is key to healing and moving forward in life. Here are five behaviors that you need to say au revoir to in order to make your life happier and healthier.
1. Appeasing people
Fearful children often grow up to be anxious adults, intent on keeping the peace at any cost. Appeasement—along with taping your mouth shut and denying your feelings—can easily become the default response because you’re afraid of the immediate consequences of asserting yourself. You might be worried too that, somehow, it’s all your fault that things are going wrong as well so you decide that this time, you’ll just ignore it and make nice as if nothing happened. But it’s a losing strategy that keeps you personally stuck and if the person with whom you’re disagreeing is manipulative, you’ve just placed yourself squarely in his or her sights. Appeasement doesn’t work for hostile nations either so you should be aware that you’re just making yourself more vulnerable to continuing hurt. The way to resolve conflict is to try to talk it through, not wave a white flag and hope for the best,
2. Tolerating verbal abuse
Children who grew up in households where verbal abuse was part of the daily fare don’t consciously tolerate verbal abuse as adults but they may have trouble recognizing it. That sounds counterintuitive but they may be desensitized to it or may have “normalized” it, especially if they haven’t yet come to terms with how their childhood experiences have shaped them. Criticism that is personalized (“You always” or “You never”), the use of denigrating or marginalizing words or descriptors (stupid, ugly, lazy, slow, slovenly), and any expression that is specifically aimed at hurting you or making you feel terrible about yourself are forms of verbal abuse. The silent treatment—refusing to answer you, treating your words with contempt and laughter, pretending you haven’t said anything—is also verbal abuse, if of a different stripe. Recognize the difference between constructive criticism and abusive language by looking at the speaker’s motivation: Are his or her words meant to help or hurt? Tone matters a great deal too. Keep in mind that people who are verbally abusive usually deny their intent and often claim that what they said was meant to be constructive. Words aren’t supposed to leave you shredded and bloody.
3.Making someone a DIY project
If you’re in a relationship with someone—it could be a friend or a lover—who you think needs a makeover and you’re waiting for that change to happen so that the connection can become what you want it to be, please think again especially if he’s perfectly happy just as he is and has resisted your suggestions that he become “more” of what you want. You can’t remake people and if the person isn’t interested in changing, just continuing to try to remake him is a recipe for disaster. The only person who can be your DIY project is you. If the person isn’t enough for you, be honest and read the writing on the wall. You’ll be happier in the long run.
4. Thinking about what you have invested in a relationship or situation
Everyone does this because humans are notoriously loss averse but some people do it more often and for longer than others. The fancy name for this is the sunk cost fallacy and it’s the thought process that has you focus on what you have already invested—it could be time, emotion, energy, or money—in a situation every time you think about leaving it. Your thinking is likely to sound a bit like this: “I’ve been in the marriage for ten years and, if I leave, that ten years is gone and down the drain.” You can substitute the word marriage with other words like relationship, friendship, or job and switch out the words ten years for some other number or substitute money, effort, or whatever else. Of course, that investment of whatever you’re fretting about can’t be retrieved anyway—that’s why it’s called the sunk cost fallacy—but just focusing this way is probably enough to keep your feet rooted to the floor. It will effectively stop you from making the very changes in your life that could matter. The answer? Recognize the fallacy at work and focus on what change will bring you in time instead.
5. Buying into hyper-criticality—your own or someone else’s
What we hear about ourselves in childhood—whether it’s the consistent recitation of our strengths and gifts accompanied by a smile or hugs or the litany of our weaknesses and failures—becomes internalized as the foundation for our sense of self. A well-loved child believes herself to be worthy and has little tolerance for those who marginalize or put her down. The insecurely attached child, especially if she’s been subjected to a barrage of belittling statements or has been made to feel that nothing she does is ever good enough, internalizes those messages as self-criticism. This is the habit of mind that ascribes setbacks or failures to basic character flaws that can’t be fixed: “I didn’t get the job because I’m a loser,” “I didn’t get invited because I’m no fun,” “The relationship failed because I’m unlovable.” People who self-criticize are often accepting and comfortable with people who tally up their flaws on the daily or make fun of them.
Recognize hyper-criticality whether it’s running on a tape in your head or coming out of someone else’s mouth. You need to fight against accepting it. Focus on your strengths and capabilities and start talking back to that internalized voice because it’s nothing but a left-over piece of your childhood. Expect more of the people you hang out with it and remember that it’s not your job to be anyone’s punching bag. Practice zero tolerance for mean behavior, no matter the source.
Becoming consciously aware of the unconscious, reflexive patterns of your own behavior is a first step to moving on with your life.
Photograph by Eddy Lackmann. Copyright free. Unsplash.com