I did not understand that a person could lose their sense of self much less lose it from being in a dysfunctional relationship. The term ‘dysfunctional relationship’ is thrown around quite a bit as well as the term ‘toxic relationship’. I know that I was in relationships that you might call toxic or dysfunctional, and for a long a time I felt like that relationship was something that was being done to me. Yep, I claimed my victimhood, at least at the very beginning of my healing journey.
Whether a relationship is dysfunctional, toxic, or whatever negative label we put on it, chances are something is keeping us in it. We are getting something out of it. Shame is a powerful force and it too can work on us and keep us in a relationship that is not good for us. All relationships have their ups and downs. There are glorious mountain-top experiences of joy and connectedness and the valleys that are so low that we wonder if it will ever be possible to see the light of day.
Functional relationships are those where people can effectively deal with problems, truly forgive each other for the hurts, and move on together. More than likely, there will be problems again but they won’t be the same problems, coming up time and time again.
Dysfunctional relationships are those where we repeat the same problems and issues over and over again, where nothing gets truly resolved. Are you still paying the price for a mistake you made years ago? Are you so afraid of being alone that you ignore things in hopes to keep the peace? Do you experience unrelenting feelings of shame when you think about another failed relationship or marriage? Have you changed yourself so many times to try to make your partner happy that you feel like a block of Swiss cheese full of holes?
I did, and it Sucks!
Losing yourself does not happen all at once. It is a series of small decisions or compromises that you make where small pieces of you die—slowly and over time. Compromise is part of all relationships, but unhealthy compromise is soul-killing and crazy-making; and it results in you feeling lost. Your feelings can tell you what is killing your soul, what is driving you crazy and what is unhealthy. Perhaps you drink too much in order to make your partner happy. Perhaps you stop seeing family members that your partner finds annoying. Perhaps you are afraid to stand up for your core values in hopes to keep the peace. Maybe it is forms of intimacy that leave you feeling like an empty used shell.
If you are like me, you end up asking yourself “How did this happen to me?”
Losing yourself in a dysfunctional relationship starts to happen when you stop listening to your gut, and then when you find a way to numb that nagging feeling that is telling you something is wrong. There are so many ways to numb ourselves and some of them even seem to be positive. Some of us use our careers to numb ourselves. We work harder and harder to provide; all the while hiding from our problems at home. We may seek substances and other behaviors to help us feel numb… slowly, over time, until we no longer know who we are.
And, if things could not be worse, we think we are the only person who has ever lost themselves in a dysfunctional relationship. Shame tells us we are bad and it freezes us in our tracks and silences our small and quiet pleas for help.
You are not alone. Talk to a trusted friend. Find a counselor.
Be brave and take that first step on your healing journey.
I was there too. I took that first step, and then another, and another.
Allow Carence and THE ANTICS to help show you how.