Recently I had several people tell me that they couldn’t possibly set limits on a relationship because the person causing trouble was a long time friend or was a family member. Even though my clients and friends were mistreated and this mistreatment was nothing new, they all felt that they had to put up with this behavior in order to consider themselves kind, loving, and tolerant people.
Tolerating bad behavior with the assertion that it is loving and kind is neither kind nor loving toward the self or to the other person. The person who does this not only says, “Yes, treat me like dirt,” but also says to the culprit, “Yes, your behavior is completely acceptable and you should keep it up. This is how our relationship works.”
Is this really what friends and family do for each other? Some family and some friends, apparently. But this does not mean that it is healthy to tolerate such behavior. Yes, everyone is flawed, yes, everyone has bad days, yes, everyone acts at their worst when under stress. I am not talking about the flawed person who works on themselves to make their impact on others the best that it can be but blows it on occasion. I am talking about people who have no interest in taking responsibility for themselves and the impact they have on others.
These are the selfish people that we are told by colluding family and friends that we must accept for being where they are. Sure, accept them, but Don’t Hang Out With Them. DON’T make them your intimate partner. Don’t think you have to be with them in order to be a loving, spiritual person. That is the Rescuer Trap in full force! Instead, set boundaries so that you are not so affected by their toxic behavior. Instead go find people that can express that love and kindness to the degree that you can. Find people who have grown as much as you have in self-love and self-worth. Welcome into your tribe those that understand the difference between self-absorption and self-knowledge.
The Rescuer Role assumes unconsciously that we are better than others. The Rescuer assumes that the other person in the relationship is so flawed that he/she deserves special treatment and excuses. The Rescuer unconsciously sees the other person as a Victim. If we finally decide to leave a situation that is draining or toxic to us, the Guilt Tripping starts, and we are told (and we believe) we are bad people for taking care of ourselves. We are selfish and unloving, and even unspiritual for being so cruel to the Victim! The Rescuer Role and Drama is reinforced.
Step off the Drama Triangle. That means looking at the other person in the relationship and seeing them as capable of change as you are. That means looking at them as having had made choices in life to get them where they are at. That means looking at the standard that you hold for yourself and only choosing people with similar standards to be close to you. The key here is the freedom to choose. If you had free choice, is this what you would choose for yourself? Choice limits us. We human beings have limited time and energy. If we choose people we don’t like, who drain us, who annoy and anger us, then we don’t have room for people who uplift us, make us smile, and inspire us. Not only that, but in these toxic situations if we choose to not set healthy limits, we are also choosing to collude in keeping up the other person in an unhealthy state.
This is such a good point: “These are the selfish people that we are told by colluding family and friends that we must accept for being where they are.” We can be so programmed that “acceptance” is the highest priority that we forget that we ALSO have a choice not to be around the crazy makers. Thanks for the great reminder!
Yes, Jenna, I think we Empaths tend to feel bad for the other person when we set limits because we feel how hurt and confused they are. However, it’s important to practice compassion for ourselves, too. If someone’s behavior is just too much, we have the right to set limits so we can be happy and healthy. It needn’t be a complete wall–but having that option to say No is critical!
Very enlightening article Elaine.
My narcissist friend “claims” that he spent his whole life (he is retired now) putting other peoples needs before his. (I am not able to validate that, so this is probably another false statement on his part, and in reality it is most likely the complete opposite) He stated it is now time for HIS needs to be the focal point. So in his mind this “selfish” mentality is justifiable. (and that there is no need for him to change)
I have to admit, I have been stuck in the “Rescuer Trap” with him, and it’s full force. I am slowly getting away from that trap. The saddest part is that he has established very “unrealistic goals and dreams”. In his mind, the are not unrealistic, and he is convinced that they are possible. He claims to have so many great ideas, and that he just doesn’t “know” someone to get his ideas heard by society.
You are absolutely correct, when you state that empath’s like myself, need to find people that can express that love and kindness to the degree that we do.
A narcissist can never exhibit true love or genuine kindness. This is because humans are objects/tools to them, and even a narcissist knows that you can never truly love an innate object. (which is what human relations equate to them)
These are things I am started to realize, which will hopefully allow me to move on, and form healthier bonds and friendships.
This post speaks to me… I am 24 now, and from the ages of 18-21 I was in an absive relationship with an alcoholic. Assuming a caretaker role as a highly sensitive empath, I felt as if it were my job to assume my partner’s responsibilities in life, or in his case, irresponsibility. I did not give any boundaries to behavior I thought was unacceptable. I was too fearful to speak up and assert myself. The most difficult part of the relationship was gaining the courage and strength to end it. I am now currently involved in trauma work and am processing my own trauma from childhood where I was not taught to stand up for myself. Thank you for helping me understand more deeply how “the friend and family tap” affects empaths.
I am so sorry you were caught in an abusive relationship, but I am really happy you had the strength to leave it, and are now doing the hard work of recovery. Thank you for your feedback on my article–I am glad it was helpful. You definitely are not alone!