Dealing with Disappointing Relationships

We who grow up in unhealthy families tend to have high pain tolerances and low frustration tolerance. The contrast between our ability to endure and our ability to cope is striking. Bones heal. Bruises fade. Hurtful words stay forever. We adjust accordingly.

We’re chameleons, but we adapt maladaptively.

Children require a sense of control and will therefore blame themselves for the repeated failures of adults. We heard, “I wouldn’t have to do this if you would just…” Their choice = our fault.

We learned to compensate for their shortcomings, compliment their strengths and tolerate mistreatment in the desperate hope that it would result in our needs being met.

We secretly long to receive love as powerfully and completely as we give it but we will settle for any bit of acceptance. Throw us a few crumbs every so often and we’ll continue to kill ourselves in pursuit of approval.

We learned to respond to apathy and selfishness by consistently lowering our standards. We came to view having hope as a set up for being let down and learned to live without it.

“Blessed are those with low expectations, for they shall never be disappointed.”

Bullshit. We who expect too little from others demand too much from ourselves. What we call being independent is really our fear of relying on others. Low standards and the fear of getting our hopes up are a recipe for depression and self loathing.

Deep within our heart of hearts…we silently wait for someone to come through for us, protect us, and restore us (if ever we felt whole). We’re astonished that they can’t see that…when the truth is:

They’re not even looking.

They’re self centered just as the people who taught us to deny our true selves. We gravitate toward such folks because they feel familiar and we know how to be with them. We find ourselves perpetually connected to people who will at best conditionally love us.

The easiest way to avoid yourself is to make someone else the center of your universe.

We’re still searching for a different ending to the same story and giving someone else the power to write it for us. It takes a lot of courage to grab your own pen.

We are unwittingly self deceptive. We maintain two images of the people we crave love from: Who they are and who they could be. We reason as children do, that if we just love them enough and do everything right, that they will become the people we need them to be. In this way, we seek to earn love.

Which of course, never works.

Only at the end of the relationship do we see what we blinded ourselves to. All roads lead us back to self. Our greatest denial is not owning the truth – that only we can set ourselves free. The perfect partner will not complete us. The right friends or boss or mentor will not take away our past. How we relate to ourselves and to a Higher Power determines the course of all other relationships.

Being disappointed by others is a kick in the gut. We resent it all the more because it feels unjust – we’ve already had enough for three lifetimes thank you very much.
The obvious but painful truth is that we disappoint ourselves.

I advocate respect. We don’t have to change how we feel about ourselves in order to treat ourselves fairly. Self respect and dignity are vital to change. We cannot transform what we do not first accept exactly as it currently is.

Don’t make self acceptance contingent upon the acceptance of others. You owe you more than that. Take responsibility for your needs, and tolerate mistreatment from no one, especially not from that inner critic in the back of your head. Treat yourself as you would a real friend.

Jim LaPierre

About Jim LaPierre

Jim LaPierre LCSW CCS is the Executive Director of Higher Ground Services in Brewer, Maine. He is a Recovery Ally, mental health therapist and addictions counselor. He specializes in facilitating recovery (whether from addiction, trauma, depression, anxiety, or past abuse) overcome obstacles, and improve their quality of life. Jim offers a limited amount of online therapy to those with very flexible schedules.