“There comes a time in your life when you walk away from all the drama and people who create it. You surround yourself with people who make you laugh. Forget the bad and focus on the good. Love the people who treat you right, pray for the ones who do not. Life is too short to be anything but happy. Falling down is a part of life, getting back up is living.” ~José N. Harris
Letting go of relationships that impact your well-being and make you feel unsafe may seem like a simple act for many, but for those of us who are cut off from our emotions, it is a challenge even to know how we feel around other people.
Some of us have lived with a feeling of unsafety since birth. It was our normal from the beginning. It was in our first homes and in our first relationships.
This was my experience for most of my life.
I was born into a house where my mum had felt unsafe while pregnant with me. That fear she felt living with her in-laws and my dad was real. She had an arranged marriage at twenty-two and had no idea her father-in-law was an alcoholic.
Her first experience of alcoholism was mine too, but I was a newborn. I have memories of her being too scared to go into the house. My body still remembers how this feels.
So I came into this world on high alert, waiting for an eruption to occur at any given moment. I remember being terrified in my crib. This experience wired me to be sensitive to energy. As a baby I could feel the tension and would almost hold my breath around my family.
I learned early that people were unsafe. I learnt about fear and how to contract my body. For me, fear was normal, and I felt constantly on the lookout for any perceived threat.
My poor little body didn’t know how to survive, and my parents were preoccupied with dramas in our house, so I learned survival skills like freezing, not speaking, and pleasing my adult caregivers to keep the peace. When they were calmer, I got connection and love and was able to survive.
We all learned young how to survive in the family we were born into, and our nervous systems were wired accordingly.
As I got older and came in contact with people I felt unsafe with, I would do the same—freeze, rescue, or please others and silence myself. It crushed my self-esteem and made me quite the doormat for other people’s drama. It made me suicidal, as I wanted to escape the pain yet felt trapped in these patterns.
I let people talk to me awfully. I let people work out their trauma on me. I saw my parents doing the same and didn’t know it wasn’t normal. I thought being a punch bag for other people’s trauma was okay.
I didn’t know how to express my truth or have boundaries.
As I got older it became obvious to me that I had become a magnet for toxic relationships. I was constantly reliving these unsafe feelings from my childhood.
I gravitated toward people who needed me to help them with emotional regulation, just as I’d learned to do as a child. These relationships drained me and kept me in a constant cycle of pain, yet I was almost addicted to these interactions
I had become so needless and wantless myself that I didn’t know who I was without these people. I would get a dopamine high from getting their love and acceptance for a small moment after making them feel better.
I was always chasing the love and safety I longed for in my childhood home.
I was attracted to people who required rescuing due to their own trauma and addictions. I was either trying to save them or letting them persecute me.
I would say nothing when they blamed and shamed me without justification, internalizing their blame—just as I had as a child when my dad persecuted me for all the stress he felt. “If Dad says everything is my fault, then it must be,” I thought.
I saw it as my job to take care of other people’s emotions. If they were sad, I would help them feel better, and if they were angry, I let them take it out on me, as I always had done. If someone was angry with me, I believed it must have been my fault.
One day, I came across the drama triangle, and it made me look at my relationships in a whole new way. A drama triangle has three points:
Persecutor: blames others for their pain
Victim: feels powerless to a persecutor
Rescuer: tries to rescue others to manage their emotions
I found myself in the role of victim and rescuer for many of my relationships. I felt powerless to other people’s emotions and behaviors. Like I just had to accept them.
The time came for me to take responsibility for my own happiness and build my strength to end this pattern I had been in my whole life. No more being a victim to other people’s trauma.
After hitting rock bottom, I finally started to invest my time, money, and energy in myself. I started small with little acts of love—walking in nature, meditating, exercising, and cooking myself healthy, nutritious meals.
I started to notice feeling calm and relaxed in my body. I became aware of my own feelings and needs. I began to connect with the voice within me, which I couldn’t hear previously. It was always overpowered by other people’s voices.
This voice guided me to begin to say no to certain events and prioritize my own time. This voice guided me to get therapy, read books on healing, and join support groups.
There was no way I could make my relationships healthier until I had a healthier, more stable relationship with myself. Building this foundation is what gave me the strength to make more difficult decisions further down the line.
Over time I became more grounded in my own energy, something I had never experienced before. I noticed which relationships felt safe and when I was getting what I was giving.
It also became apparent which relationships didn’t feel good and negatively affected my well-being.
When I began this journey, I was in a workplace where, unknowingly, I was highly triggered on a daily basis. Once I started to incorporate self-care before and after work and during my lunch breaks, it became apparent that this job had to go!
I had never expressed my truth in relationships, not even the ones I felt safe in. I just kept it all in and came up with my own stories and assumptions about how the other people felt about me. I drove myself crazy like that.
I began to change this behavior by expressing my feelings in relationships I felt safe in. I realized how communication can make relationships healthier and more fulfilling.
Self-expression in relationships created true Intimacy. I had always hidden my true self away.
I had been single for most of my life because of my previous patterns, but after building a foundation of self-love, I was able to form a relationship with a man who is now my fiancé, who gave me what I’d learned to give to myself—unconditional love and safety.
As my relationship with myself grew, so did my strength to walk away from relationships that felt unhealthy for me. Some of these were easier than others. I had never been okay with hurting people’s feelings, putting my needs first, or causing trouble.
I was always the good girl. It took courage not to be.
I became the one who was seen as selfish or the troublemaker in the family.
After growing and experiencing relationships in which boundaries are respected, you cannot accept it when people ignore your boundaries and have complete disregard for your feelings. I realized it’s not healthy for someone else to avoid taking responsibility for their actions, blame you, and focus solely on winning an argument.
You cannot ignore the drama in a drama triangle when you step outside of it.
Some people just do not want to respect your boundaries because of where they are in their own healing journey.
You will realize that walking away from some people you have loved your whole life is essential for your own well-being, whether it be for a short period of time or forever. You cannot keep putting yourself last to continue a relationship that does not feel good for your health, no matter who they are. Especially when your inner voice is shouting at you to walk away.
Many family systems run on the drama triangle with us each taking on our role. But when we step out of it, we give others the opportunity to grow and emotionally regulate themselves.
It is natural for your family to have a reaction to changes to the family dynamics. But it is not your responsibility to ease that discomfort for them. That is down to each individual.
My self-love journey empowered me to heal my nervous system from past trauma and stress. My body did not function properly anymore because of the wear and tear from my relationships. I finally listened.
I invested in body-based treatments such as cognitive breathing, craniosacral therapy, trauma-release exercise, and qi gong. These modalities helped my nervous system heal from the past.
It took bravery and courage to step away from the toxic relationships in my life, but it’s been my greatest act of self-love to date.
Begin to tune into the relationships in your life. How do they make your body feel? What is your body telling you? Is it time to set a boundary, express your truth, or step away?
If that all feels too scary right now, just focus on building that foundation of self-love. And recognize that you don’t deserve to be blamed or shamed for someone else’s issues, and it’s not your responsibility to fix or save them.
In time, as your love for yourself grows, so will your strength to put yourself first and no longer accept relationships in which you are not treated with kindness, love, and respect.
You are worthy of relationships that make you feel loved, energized, and happy. Most importantly, you are not responsible for rescuing anyone else or being the place where they project their pain.