I now notice patterns in my relationships. And it’s not the productive and heart-warming characteristics of my connections which are etched indelibly in my heart and soul. It’s the patterns that I repeat that are self-defeating, hurtful and self-centred, over and over and over again.
It’s a certain “person” I seem to collect and immediately determine that, unlike others who have gone before me, I can “fix” them, change them, dare I say it, save them?
As I go headlong into a relationship with this person, wanting them to like me, wanting to feel I have a unique closeness with them, I choose not to notice. As I sit witness to their criticism of another, hurtful and judgmental, as I sit witness to their disregard and insensitivity to others, as I sit witness to morals and values which are uncomfortably different than mine, I tell myself I’m different and special. That what I see done to others would never be turned upon me. I am feeding my ego–consciously and unconsciously–a dialogue of unique self-importance and denial.
I get tricked because it works for a while: sometimes for months, sometimes for years. I fail to notice that they’re not changing, despite my energy to be the missionary in their lives, to enrich and save them from themselves. I flex, excuse, ignore the discomfort and warnings. My defensive dialogue now includes storylines to protect them from others who may be critical or judge. My ego rationalizes that they need me more than ever, that I hold a special place of immunity in their world and my self-assigned pedestal will protect me from who they really are.
And then, at some point in the friendship, the truth becomes bigger than my ego. I have to start noticing, and it hurts. There are secrets and invitations that I am not a part of. I bear witness to disingenuous compliments and feel the subtle sarcasm. What I wanted to desperately believe was a close and committed relationship seems adrift and almost inconsequential. I begin to feel that I have positioned myself to be taken advantage of and hurt. I am a victim. It is feeling and sounding familiar to me. That’s the pattern. I have decades of broken “close” relationships. I am a slow learner.
My breakthrough moment came during lunch with a wise and deeply spiritual friend. As I recounted the injustice done to me by a supposed dear friend, complete with a breaking voice and tears, she gently took my hand and said, “She is your teacher.” My gut wrenched with a flash of anger that she wasn’t being supportive and investing in my victim narrative. As I sat defeated and looked into her soft blue eyes, the anger turned to light and understanding. This friend was one of a lineup of teachers whom I hadn’t listened to and learned from. This pattern of ego-feeding relationships would keep challenging me until I learned the lesson.
I needed to learn humility. I needed to admit that when I saw a friend treat another badly, it would eventually be my turn. I wasn’t special at all. I needed to know that any relationship which fed my ego would be fraught. I would eventually end up hurt or disillusioned, or both. I am learning, better late than never, that rich and committed friendships are based upon reciprocity and consistency so that I feel safe and equal. I am learning to respect differences which complement the relationship and to move away from those who challenge or threaten the supposed bond. I am honouring my core values so as not to deny, discount or otherwise ignore words and actions that are in conflict with who I am.
My teachers show up when my ego overtakes my humility. I now have boundaries and clarity of purpose in what and how I engage. I can maintain my empathy and sensitivity to others while tuning into my intuition. I can empower myself to make safe and healthy relationship decisions. I know the difference between givers and takers.
It is said that when the student is ready, the teacher appears. In my experience, long before I was ready there were teachers. Until finally, one day . . . I was teachable.