When It’s Time To Walk Away

Letting go is one of the most difficult things we can do as sensitive humans.  We want to provide the benefit of the doubt to others because we find it hard to understand those who are callous or indifferent, emotionally bankrupt or feel they can use others as whipping posts.

We know those who never seem to grow beyond being the “victim” and expect to solicit our sympathy or empathy, because in the way of those adept at victimizing themselves and therefore others, they know we are easy targets for their dysfunction.  In fact, they’ve been doing it for so long, they often don’t realize they’re doing it. And when you or someone close to them questions them, they grow immediately defensive or, worse, turn it around to deflect attention away from their glaring behavior.

Even though these emotionally broken people are friends or family, we must learn to walk away from their antics.  Staying or enabling this behavior costs us dearly.  It drains us emotionally, makes us begin questioning our own behavior — as if by protecting ourselves is somehow wrong or hateful.  In fact, it’s the opposite.  We must learn, no matter how many times we’re faced with such emotional manipulation, that in order to stay healthy and protect our own well-being, we must disengage. Often this will trigger desperate attempts to lash out, but we have to stay strong in our resolve.

We teach others how they’re allowed to treat us.  When we disengage, we’re stating, “No. I don’t choose to volunteer in your cycle of victimization.”

A situation of this type took place this past week among my circle of friends. The person in question is otherwise smart, charismatic, and performs a lot of seemingly selfless functions in our community.  However, as soon as there are any breakdowns in communication, he resorts to self-victimization.  He is the long-suffering friend who feels that a simple stumble in the process means he must martyr himself once more for the cause.  In this way, he marginalizes those who also strive diligently to make sure things run smoothly.  He is quick to play that victim card.  What’s amazing, at least to me, are the number of people who respond by coddling him, sympathizing, or outright pandering to his behavior.  This is considered a negative cycle of enablement.  The enablers get something out of being there and agreeing with the victim, and the victimized individual soaks in their enabling, encouraging them to repeat the pattern.


I was once such a person.  I wanted to “fix” everyone.  In the end, those relationships ended very badly because I grew so disgusted with myself for sacrificing my own well-being for the false well-being of others, when in reality what I was doing was enabling that behavior.  My self-esteem took the hit every time.

Victims don’t want to be “fixed.”  That’s not always true, but for many it is.  They don’t understand what negative results come from that behavior, that continually repeating the pattern only reinforces that self-imposed feeling of helplessness.  “Help me!” they cry.  And we rush to their side.  “Tell me where it hurts!” you implore.  And then their pain becomes yours, even if their pain is really caused by their own actions.

Today, I disengage from this friend who believes that self-victimization is healthy and that since I didn’t respond as he tried manipulating me too, I must not care for him as others do.

The truth of it is: I DO care for him, enough to disallow myself to be drawn in to his destructive cycle.  Only by doing so can I show him that what he’s doing is harmful. Only by doing so can I stay neutral and make clear by my actions that I don’t choose to be used that way.  Does that mean our friendship is done?

Of course not.  However, my own well-being and self-esteem is valuable to me and necessary so that I can be available when somebody actually needs me, not when their need is manufactured and false.


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