One of my readers recently asked: How do you stay connected to loved ones who aren’t on a journey of curiosity and growth?
I’ll frame this more generally by addressing these question too:
- How do you maintain relationships with incompatible people who expect you to stay connected?
- How do you manage shifting relationships while on a journey of growth?
- How do you deal with feelings of guilt arising from letting go of incompatible people?
To answer the first question, my answer is pretty simple. I really don’t.
If they reach out to me, I’ll be civil with them, but I don’t see the point of investing in such relationships. I’ve tried to invest in such relationships in the past and concluded that this wasn’t going to work. The compatible isn’t there. The mutual support isn’t there. The flow of energy isn’t there. So why continue to invest?
Sometimes people don’t like what I’m into. Or they see my pursuits as threatening. Or they try to talk me out of new explorations. If it becomes clear that I don’t have their support for being who I am and living the life I want to live, it’s equally clear that I shouldn’t continue to invest in such connections.
That was disappointing at first. My initial response was to play it cool and be aloof, even though I still valued such relationships on some level. But that wasn’t sustainable. It leads to clinginess and neediness and a host of other problems as well. It’s harder to feel good emotionally and stay motivated and disciplined when you lower your social standards.
In the long run, I concluded that it was perfectly fine for me to want and need strong, compatible connections with other people. I just had to find the right people. I had to let go, let go, let go, of connections that were unfulfilling and dissatisfying.
There really are a lot of intelligent, heart-aligned, growth-oriented people in the world. But you may not see this abundance if you get clingy with mismatches.
The more I leaned away from misaligned connections and surrendered to the fact that they would never become what I really wanted them to be, the more I allowed myself to mourn the disappointment. I accepted the feeling of loss. I let hope die in those cases – because it was false hope.
I leaned into trusting my feelings and intuition, which told me that compatibility really matters.
In my 20s I had some limited experiences being around growth-oriented people, and it was refreshing. I felt like my spirit was being fed by a nurturing energy source that it sorely needed. Those were peak experiences, but I so wanted them to become everyday, normal experiences. At the time I didn’t even see how that was possible though.
Fast forward to today, and I connect with growth-oriented people every day as a normal part of life. I’m married to such a person too. But because I didn’t start with this, I can still relate to what it’s like to think of this as too good to be true.
Where are all the non-growth connections now? They’re pretty much dead because I haven’t invested in them for so long. I don’t feel any energy flowing through them. There are relatives that I haven’t seen, talked to, or emailed in many years, even decades, for instance. I let those connections fade.
I realize that in some cultures this would be seen as crazy, cruel, or anti-social, or a betrayal of family values. But I’m actually very pro-social. I like people. I just want to invest in relationships where the compatibility is high, the mutual support is strong, and the flow of energy feels intuitively right. The results are better for all involved.
When I think about incompatible relationships that I let go of over the years, I don’t feel much resentment or disappointment. I tend to feel more gratitude towards them than anything else. I see those relationships as valuable learning experiences. They helped me better understand what matters to me in life. They helped me clarify my values. They helped me define my social boundaries. So I find it difficult to feel much negativity towards them. I mostly feel appreciation when I think about them, if I feel anything at all.
I think that’s because I really like my life today. I like the people in my life. They’re interesting, creative, weird, fun, and deep.
I think many of us are a little too resistant to rejection. Sometimes rejections are done more harshly than necessary, but the general practice remains important. To reject means to dismiss or refuse. It means to say no. Some rejection is necessary to sculpt our characters. We must say no to the misaligned, so we can invite and embrace what does feel aligned. Otherwise we become blurry, ill-defined blobs instead of self-realized human beings.
I sometimes think of my social life as a journey. This involves movement and travel. I see relationships as fluid and flexible. They come and go. Some people move further away while others move closer. Some relationships will be short-lived. Others will endure longer.
In the long run, everyone grows. Some grow more consciously and deliberately, while others grow reactively in response to changing events and circumstances. The coronavirus situation is a growth experience for all of us. Some have woven this change into their journeys consciously. Others are mostly reacting to what arises. But we will all grow from this one way or another.
I have friends that are not super growth-oriented, definitely more reactive than proactive, and we get along okay most of the time. But I don’t usually invest much in such relationships. I prefer connecting with people who are on conscious journeys. It’s fine if they’re not clear about where they’re heading, as long as they embrace the overall idea of investing in learning and growth.
But the stubborn stick-in-the-mud types who have fixed mindsets? Where are they in my life today? Most days they just aren’t part of my reality. I have to stretch to even identify them. I don’t see them in person. I don’t see them on Zoom calls. I don’t see them in my email inbox. At best I might overhear a conversation out in public that strikes me as very limiting or ignorant, but then it fades away as I move past it.
I think I don’t attract such people into my life because I don’t invest energy in thinking about them most of the time. And if I do think about them, I mostly feel that gentle flow of appreciation, but it’s really just a trickle of energy. I don’t have spikey feelings in this area most of the time.
I also feel that investing in incompatible relationships is irrational. I don’t see the logic in pouring my energy into a connection that isn’t working, even if the other person wants to and even if social norms tell me I’m supposed to. My life has gotten better by rejecting social norms that didn’t work for me, so I tend not to give them much weight. The social norms I grew up with were full of irrational baggage that I discarded, like going to church every Sunday. Some social norms can have positive effects, such as by making communication easier and fostering good teamwork, but you always have to be cautious of them when it comes to expectations that push against rationality.
Being loyal to social mismatches is just more baggage to release. It doesn’t matter if they’re relatives or long-term friends. A mismatch is a mismatch.
I don’t think I could have a good life by elevating loyalty to social norms above my own mind, heart, and intuition. I trust my own thinking, my own feelings, and my own path with a heart way more than what society tells me or what relatives expect of me. My relatives can live their lives how they see fit, but I won’t invest in relationships that don’t feel aligned to me.
When people conclude that I’m incompatible with them and want to move away from me, I let them go. I prefer not to chase after them and get whiny about it. I trust them to make their own decisions, and if they aren’t feeling the connection, who am I to question them about that?
Since I hold myself to this standard, I don’t feel guilty if someone else reacts negatively to my moving on. They can process those feelings how they see fit. I may feel some compassion for how their frames may be making a transition difficult for them, but I’m not going to wallow in their self-pity if they go that route. Otherwise I’d open myself up to emotional manipulation.
Other people don’t get to use their feelings to manipulate me. I will let them wallow in the pit of despair for as long as they want, but I won’t join them there.
I frame this as an issue of maintaining rational social investment standards, maintaining rational boundaries, and trusting my mind, heart, and intuition. I don’t give power to social norms. I don’t give power to other people’s reactions. And I don’t succumb to guilt because I’m doing what I feel is best.
I could feel guilty if I felt I violated my standards, especially in a way that caused someone harm. I can’t feel guilty for violating someone else’s standards – especially standards that I disagree with.
So if someone else holds that standard that I must behave in a way that feels misaligned to me in order for them to feel okay, that’s on them. They can expect that I will violate their standards to follow my path with a heart.
This happens, even with people I don’t know well. When I got into exploring open relationships, about 11 years ago, some of my blog readers felt betrayed. Some felt betrayed when Erin and I broke up. This year some felt betrayed when I shared my feelings about Trump. Some even felt betrayed when I stopped having Google Adsense ads on my site in 2008, calling me crazy for abandoning the business model they sought to emulate.
Do you think I felt guilty about any of this? Of course not. That’s because I was exploring and expressing what feels aligned to me. I could feel guilty if I violate my own standards, especially if I cause harm to someone else by doing so. But I can’t feel guilty if I honor my standards, even if someone else feels that I violated their expectations.
Now watch this: After trying out Instagram for a while, I’ve mostly stopped using it because I find it boring, stupid, and pointless. It’s just a dreadful match for me. Let’s see which avid IGers feel betrayed now…
For those who love Instagram, I’m happy for them. They should be free to post all the cat pics and yoga poses they want, with a proper handstand pic being the ultimate lifetime achievement. I love writing though, and IG is pure shit for that. It’s not a good platform for me at all. Does anyone really need to feel betrayed by my making a choice that’s right for me? Of course not, but some will anyway.
People are going to feel betrayed repeatedly if you live consciously and make your own choices. They’ll expect things of you that are unreasonable and irrational. They’ll have emotional reactions based on your decisions. I suggest that you let them. It’s not a problem per se unless you make it a problem. Just accept it as a normal part of life.
Do NOT under any circumstances let someone dig their emotional hooks into you and manipulate you emotionally. That will hold you back tremendously. In fact, this is one of the most problematic issues that many of my readers struggle with. They fall into the trap of turning against their own inner guidance and let someone else control them through emotional manipulation. Beware this trap – it’s nasty. It can suck years of your life away if you’re not careful.
Let people process their reactive feelings, even if they make a big, wild stink about how difficult it will be for them. Don’t frame their reactive feelings as your doing some kind of harm to them. Their own irrational frames and expectations are causing these reactions. Give them the gift of allowing them to process their reactions. With luck it will lead to their upgrading their frames and accepting your freedom to make aligned choices for you.
What if someone really goes over the top with their emotional manipulation, such as by threatening to hurt or kill themselves because you don’t play by their rules? If someone did that to me, I’d probably get really pissed at them. I might cuss them out for even suggesting that. I wouldn’t change my course though. If they hurt or kill themselves, that’s on them. I still don’t see myself feeling guilty about it, although I’d probably be very disappointed in their irrational behavior if they went that far. But in the end, I would let them go.
This has actually happen to me personally, and it has happened to people I know. Someone I knew once threatened to kill himself because I took a course of action he strongly disagreed with and which negatively affected him. He owned a gun, so I took it seriously. This was years before I started blogging by the way. I didn’t back down though. I felt disgusted by the very notion that someone would do that, but I saw it as his choice. I knew I was making the right decision, and that is how it turned out in the end. He recovered, and I think it was better for him all around too. The relationship wasn’t working for either of us, and we had to move on from it. The fact that he threatened suicide actually just made me more certain that moving on was the right choice.
If this sort of thing were to happen again today, I’d frame it as a test from reality. I’d frame it as a character sculpting challenge too. I’d take the threat seriously, even if I didn’t believe that the person would go through with it. But I would still refuse to be emotionally manipulated, even if it meant someone else reactively taking their own life.
My ex-wife Erin had to endure an even more serious test when her abusive boyfriend not only threatened to kill her but also her whole family if she ever left him. And she still ended up leaving. Many years later that guy shot himself dead with a shotgun in a standoff with police, who were actually just coming to his house to do a suicide check because he made an offhand comment about potentially harming himself to a coworker, who called it in.
You can frame such situations however you see fit, and depending on the severity of the threat, I wouldn’t fault you for backing down if the stakes seem too big to handle. But most situations that my readers deal with are a lot milder, and they blow them up into big hurdles. So if you’re dealing with less than a mass murder threat, perhaps take a hard look at how you’re handling this situation. Are you behaving rationally? Are you really listening to yourself? What will it do to your character to let someone else emotionally manipulate you for years and years?
Guilt also heals. Even if you do feel guilty, you’ll probably get past it eventually. How long do you think the guilt will really last? How long will the emotional manipulation last if you don’t move on?
If you betray someone’s expectations of you, you can let them have their reaction and not feel guilty about it. This may take some practice and some rational framing upgrades, but you can do it.
But don’t betray your own inner guidance. Don’t betray your own rational intelligence. Don’t betray your path with a heart. If you aren’t feeling guilty about self-betrayal, maybe you should listen to your feelings more closely.
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