People We Encounter
by Marcus Antebi
Article at a Glance:
We cannot just blame the people that we interact with throughout our lives for the problems that we have. Things are not that simple.
When we’re children, we very often can’t react appropriately to those we encounter. In many ways we’re powerless to do so. If we’re lucky, then the damaging effects that troubled people have had on us will be very limited. But many of us encounter people who deeply struggle and inflict damage on ourselves and others because of their own psychological woundedness.
When we grow up, if we are unhealed and unaware we will continue the patterns that occurred in our childhood. We even perpetuate patterns that occurred in our role models’ lives. And we can find ourselves still powerless even as grownups.
If as children we were surrounded by damaged people, it is likely that we will still have damage in our own psyche that needs to be resolved. Resolution of such psychological damage takes lots of time. But we don’t have to sit and suffer until we fix all our problems. We still have to get up and take actions that are often contrary to what we feel we are programmed to do.
We have to become aware. We have to learn step-by-step how to take new actions. We also have to learn that it doesn’t make a difference why we might be surrounded by negative or harmful people. And it doesn’t make a difference why somebody, maybe someone in our close circle, damaged us. What matters is how it affects us now and whether or not we have the option to let those people go.
A person close to you who is toxic will affect your chemistry the same way that a candy bar will. It’s too difficult to make your defenses so great that people who suffer will not harm you. Eventually they will. That doesn’t mean that you’re supposed to abandon everyone you love. You may need to separate yourself from some of them for a period of time; it depends on your circumstances.
The thing that inspired me to write this was thinking of a moment in my life where I found myself once again attracted to a specific type of person. She was mysterious and she was attractive. And there was something about her other than her beauty—she looked as though she was oozing with mental or psychological wounds. She was a beautiful, beautiful woman with a deep heart, but she saw herself as “damaged goods” to men. Sadly, neither of us were doing the necessary mental and emotional work to facilitate healing in ourselves or in each other.
When I got near her I felt as if I’d smoked 12 packs of cigarettes. Maybe I was projecting, but it threw me off my center just to be in her orbit. And I was a tough guy my whole life. I said to myself, “I am not going to let a broken person break my will or break my toughness. I’m gonna go for it because I’m invincible.”
An older friend of mine facilitated an intervention. I told him my story. Then he just said to me, “Marcus, you have to make a decision whether or not you really think that this is your love story. And you have to recognize that the behavior of this person indicates that she is still very deeply unconscious. The things that she will bring to the table will bring you into the same darkness. And there’s nothing that you can do to change her.
“If you want to lift yourself up right now and change the pattern in your life then you’ll recognize that this situation is toxic. Even just by avoiding this type of situation one time, you are doing healing work. Rejecting something that isn’t really healthy is the beginning of finding the love story that is healthy. And although it will be so painful to let go, it will be far more painful to stay in. Stop wasting time. Stop intoxicating yourself. Abstain from ‘junk food relationships,’” he said.
I heard him. It took all the strength that I had within me to not be drawn to that woman the way that a moth is drawn to a light. When I stepped away from the situation, it took about two months for the effect of the intoxication of the relationship to wear off. After some time I realized that I had really dodged a bullet.
My next romantic relationship had its troubles, but it was far better than the previous one. I had made progress. We must seek progress when it comes to our romantic relationships. We may find ourselves in a situation that makes it so that we’re drifting backwards, but we need not judge ourselves harshly if and when that happens. We can just recognize what happened and make better choices moving forward.
In addition to toxic romantic relationships, we need to look at other relationships such as those with coworkers, friends, and employers. We must ask ourselves if we are doing things that are making such relationships toxic. We must write about (through journaling, etc.) and talk about such relationships in our lives. We may need to let go of certain relationships, and perhaps even abstain from all intimate relationships at certain times in our lives. It may be necessary to be alone for a time in order to pursue psychological self-improvement.
I had two periods of my life where I was celibate for three years. I had no dates and I had no real romantic contact. I hadn’t made a conscious choice to do so—it just happened that way. I look back at those times as being similar to juice cleanses. I was fasting; I was cleansing my mind of toxic behaviors. Over the long run, it turned out that those times in my life were very useful to me.
I remember having heard the saying, “I would rather be alone than be crazy.” It may have been during the years of my life that I was attending romantic and love addiction meetings that were based in 12-step recovery. It still saddens me a bit when I think about how difficult it was for me to ascend into loving relationships that weren’t rife with addictive behaviors and unconscious traumas.
I look back and realize that it was always difficult for me to create relationships marked by intimacy, maturity, and reliability. I often failed at appropriate giving and receiving in situations that required attention to what my own needs and the needs of my partners were.
Relationships require that we enter into states of meditation. We have to concentrate, focus, and be present. We have to open our consciousness and become awake. The journey to such a state of being oftentimes is a journey through ancient pain. It requires hard work.
I remember being told that in selecting relationships that I should shoot higher than where I was at at any given time with my own mental health and recovery program processes. My wife is so much greater than me at intimacy. My wife is so much better with her feelings than I am. My wife is so much better at loving. My wife is a more normal person than I am. And I like being the underdog and the dunce.
I’m inspired to work harder. I'm inspired to try harder. I feel confident of the reasons why she still loves me although I’m so far behind. One of them is because I work hard at things that I do and I won’t quit. I will work hard on my relationship and I will never get too tired to give it my all. And if I make a mistake, I know today that I am trustworthy enough to be able to be honest with myself and come back to her and say, “Darling, I made a mistake.”
But perhaps it’s unfortunate that my wife loves me more because of my sense of humor than because of how sensitive I am. I came into this relationship desensitized from the hardships of my life. But through my practices and through my concentration and focus on love, my feelings are thawing.
I waited for my whole life to be able to have access to emotions that were shut down completely. Now they’re coming in waves. This is because I have chosen to be in a relationship with my goddess. It’s because I’m driving away anything that I think is darkness. And it’s because I choose to work on my relationship in the right ways that my feelings are coming back. My healthy relationship is cleansing my body.
My relationship is yet another type of metaphoric medicine to heal me. I avoided going through the healing process my entire life because I couldn’t handle it. So I distracted myself with drama: I distracted myself and created chaos.
The journey to finding and allowing your love story to unfold is often a journey of rejecting what is antithetical to love. But it’s a beautiful journey for you to experience. Make sure that in your journey that you are writing (journaling, etc.) and reflecting constantly on how you treat others.
Be aware that you’ll never be perfect at any one thing that you try to do. This is especially the case when it comes to matters of love and relationships. But aspire to be the best that you can be whenever you’re in difficult situations, relationally and otherwise.