Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Having a Hard Time

I've been thinking a lot about toxic people and negativity. If it isn't already obvious, I've had a really hard time the last five years. I've been that toxic person everyone tells you to stay away from.

I destroyed myself trying to become the wife my husband wanted me to be, dealing with having to abandon my child every day and work while watching our money vanish without knowing why. I found out my husband had a vasectomy after "trying" for several months to have another baby and fearing our failure was my fault. I subjugated all my hurt and insecurities in order to support him through our couple's counseling, thinking our marriage was getting better and healing, finding out his surgery worked and I was pregnant again, only to have it all blow up in my face beyond any redemption. I went through a divorce that completely undermined any shred of self-esteem I pretended to have.

I made a nuisance of myself to the few friends who would listen...until it got too much for them and I learned to shut myself up. I fought far beyond the limits of my own strength to preserve my faith, pretend to be strong for my children, stabilize my finances, deal with stress-related health issues during my pregnancy, try to heal from that, and finalize the divorce. Once I got through that, I had to navigate the leftover effects of fear, and the attempts at emotional onslaught through and to my children.

By a little over a year ago, it mostly settled out and I thought my efforts finally met some success and peace. But then my job went crazy, and I lost it, tried to take that loss and turn it into a chance to go back into my first field, discovered that wasn't possible, and found a (very good but not dream) job, where I have been ever since. I haven't even touched on the emotional turmoil I have gone through with trying to overcome my fear and open my heart to dating.

Now that I'm on the other side of all of it, it feels a little easier to forgive myself. It also seems impossible that most of that could have happened in only five years. No wonder the last year has found me almost completely without motivation to try with ANYTHING any more. There isn't one aspect of my life that hasn't been a fight.

Listing it like that shows me the amazing protection I have had from my Father in Heaven, the support I have had from my mom and a couple of friends, and my inner strength that I can't see when I just look at today. I am very aware of how much of a burden I have been to people in my life, how events and my struggles have left me largely stripped of all close friends but my parents, and how my normally slightly cynical but ultimately optimistic personality has really taken a beating.

It has also given me perspective to reanalyze everything I believe about God, and my relationship with Him and His children. I so often see quotes like the above about "toxic people" and "negativity," and how we should diligently shut away anyone who fits that description. We have to "think positive" and "accentuate the good," which normally means we smile through our pain and pretend that others' pain doesn't exist. We think if we can shut it out, deny ourselves sorrow, we can be happy.

But I don't buy it any more.

When we members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are baptized, we covenant to "mourn with those that mourn" and "comfort those that stand in need of comfort." We are taught to be like the Savior, a man who was a "man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief." We are taught that wisdom is inextricably connected to sorrow, that by sorrow we learn wisdom, and how to connect with and serve others.

No one truly knows our sorrows except ourselves and God. But that doesn't excuse us from trying to listen, to help carry the burden of others. Granted, we are not supposed to run faster than we have strength, we can't solve others' problems, or become so mired in them that we lose strength. But if we have a connection to God through the Spirit, we can use that connection to draw His power, tap into His strength, and truly let Him work through us.

Of course, boundaries are sometimes necessary. Like every single gospel principle, there is balance that must be found. But it is easier than you might think to discern when to set a boundary and how to open your heart. It is better for us to experience sorrow, so that we can know how to serve, and know how to discern good from evil. But there are two kinds of sorrow. There is sorrow that brings us closer to God through humilty and compassion, and there is sorrow that spins us away from Him through pride and rancor.

When we try to mourn with those who mourn the consequences of their behavior, rather than mourning the damage done, we find ourselves caught up in a spiral of depression that only winds downward. Yet, rather than freezing such people out of our lives completely, there is usually* a way to set a boundary on the sorrow while loving the person. Clear and direct communication sometimes offends people, but it also opens an opportunity for them to sorrow to repentance.

For example, if you have a friend who is always having a bad time, and always trying to pull you into her depression, you can simply say something like, "it seems you have been struggling with this for some time. How can I help? Have you found a way to heal?"

Naturally, there is a period of grief where trying to comfort someone is not yet appropriate. All you can do is mourn with them. You can't tell someone else how long they are allowed to grieve. But by asking that question, you are putting the power back in their hands, hopefully turning them towards God, and showing them that they don't have to feel this way forever. If they are honest with themselves, they may respond, "I'm not sure that there is a way to heal, yet. It just hurts so much," or they may respond, "I'm not sure, maybe if I tried {this}, it would help." And you can tell them that you are always there to listen, and help how you can.

Just as they are the only ones who can evaluate their own strength and when they are ready to try to climb out, you are the only one who can evaluate your own strength and whether or not you can help them. I only plead that the default reaction of shutting them out of your life be done away with. Ask God if there is any way that He can strengthen you to help them, ask the Spirit to guide you to the actions that will best help them. They aren't "toxic people," only toxic situations in which they find themselves.

We all have hard times. We all sorrow. It is good and healthy for us to learn how to deal with pain and sorrow in ourselves and in others. We can do that without wallowing in it, without taking pleasure in pain or drama. And if you can't help them, you CAN turn them to the Lord for help. He has infinite power, and infinite strength. He's the only one who can help, ultimately.

As you practice drawing on His power, you will become stronger, better able to comfort those who need comfort, and better able to testify of Jesus Christ and His healing.

*I hope that from past posts, it is clear that I don't advocate NEVER setting boundaries. Learning how to set boundaries is something I could write a whole book about, but someone already has. If you have a problem with "toxic people," read it.


  1. Very much agreed. "Setting boundaries" can sometimes be a form of scurrying past the Samaritan.

  2. I have a daughter-in-law who told me she'd been raped by a foster father and that she had cancer in the first 6 months I knew her. Both were bald-faced f***ing lies.

    That was 14 years ago and I cannot begin to express the chaos she has worked in our lives and that of our grandchildren (her children).

    I have had to walk away from her for my own sanity and serenity. Well, and to keep myself out of prison because I get homicidal when I hear her voice. That has necessitated detaching from my beloved grandchildren because she won't permit them to visit us very often and has lied to them about us, manipulating their feelings towards us. Truly evil.

    But I've felt more at peace since I made that decision. My heart aches for the kids, but I've had to turn that over to God and hope they know in their hearts that we're not awful people bent on their destruction.

    I've made that decision before but not with people who meant so much to me. I think, SR, you and I are caring people who feel it almost a sin to avoid other people in the way you describe.

    But I'm learning, slowly, that if I'm not okay, I'm no good to anybody. And there are people who truly do make me not okay when I'm around them.

  3. I think many of the quotes, like the first one, "Respect yourself enough to walk away from anything that no longer serves you, grows you, or makes you happy", are in essence saying, "serve others only if it is convenient & easy". We have a covenant responsibility to mourn with those who mourn; even if we don't understand, even if it is hard, even if it "ruins our day". I love the suggestion you made: How can I help? Have you found a way to heal? Support of that type would have gone a long way in the situations I have faced in my life, & would have helped me far more than the "get over it" attitude that was offered instead.


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