“I heard you weren’t with Nick any longer. Sorry to hear that. Are you with anyone now?”
“I’ve gone out with Alex a few times.”
“Are you back with him?”
“Nooo…we’re just talking. But that’s okay. When I compare how Alex hurt me to how Nick hurt me, I’ve learned to appreciate Alex more.”
I’m sure if any of us had a conversation like that with someone, we would think there was something terribly wrong. Words like enabler, relationship addict, and codependent come to mind.
I ran into an old friend unexpectedly last week. We used to work together at the last church where I was on staff and hadn’t seen each other in quite a while. He left a few years before I did and in the interim, he had joined and departed the staff of another church in town. I asked him how he was doing.
“In process,” he smiled.
“I heard you weren’t at the last church any longer. Sorry to hear that. What are you doing now?”
“Just kind of hopping around from place to place.”
“Are you back on staff at…?”
“Nooo…I just contract with them. But that’s okay. When I compare the wound from ‘Church A’ to the wound from ‘Church B,’ I’ve learned to appreciate what’s going on at ‘Church A.'”
One of the things I’ve learned over the last few years is how much I needed to be needed. We all have a desire to know we bring value to life and to others’ lives, but I had a distorted view of how this played out for me. This unhealthy drive resulted in dysfunctional relationships not only with people, but also with organizations.
We see relationships as something that is typically between one person and another. But we can also have relationships with organizations: employers, sports teams, governments, faith communities. I’ve learned that the same dynamics between individual relationships can also be present in our relationships with organizations. And just as personal relationships can be subject to dysfunctions, so can our engagement with organizations.
We all know people who go from one bad relationship to another in chronic fashion. They can’t be alone and end up in a cycle of unhealthy affairs. We watch this drama unfold before our eyes and wonder how they can’t see the pattern for themselves when it’s so obvious to everyone else. I was that guy.
For a number of reasons, I had become dependent on organizations and their leaders for affirmation and approval. I let myself get caught in a cycle of dysfunctional organizational relationships that also damaged my personal relationships and my own soul.
It took a while for me to realize that just as relationships with people can be flawed and dysfunctional, so can relationships with organizations. But the solution doesn’t lie with the organization, it lies with me.
After years of recovery, counseling, and introspection, it took everything within me to realize that I didn’t need a thumbs up from an organization or a person or anything external. There was only one person I had to convince of my value: me!
We all know this, but I need to remind myself every day – almost every moment – that the only thing I have control over is myself. If a relationship isn’t working, the only option and responsibility I have is to identify what issues are mine to own and deal with those. After that I can choose to stay in the relationship or I can choose to exit from it. What I can’t do – in fact what I have no right doing – is trying to control or make an effort to fix whomever or whatever I’m in relationship with. My shit is mine to own. Someone’s else’s is up for them to own. They may never own it, but that’s not for me to worry about. It’s also not for me to live with.
And so I had to take some scary steps to extricate myself from unhealthy relationships and learn to stand on new ground. It hasn’t been easy and there have been moments where I’m tempted to reengage in the dysfunction I allowed myself to exist within for so long. But, I’ve learned to fight back when the old beast rears its head. I just can’t allow myself to go back there.
If I choose to stay in an unhealthy relationship, that’s on me. What I’ve had to overcome in the last few years is how often I stayed because of my own dysfunctional need to be needed. It took me a long time and a string of relational failures to wake me up to the responsibility I have to deal with my crap and learn boundaries both with people and with organizations.
Today, I struggle less with what drives my desire for relationship and more with a desire to embrace my own uniqueness and be the best version of myself I can possibly be. It’s still my desire to be in great relationships with people and with organizations. But, I’ve learned and am learning what my healthy boundaries are and am increasingly uncompromising about them.
These days, I find my social circle getting smaller. The breadth of my interactions is far less than it used to be. But I’m also finding those interactions to be much deeper and healthier. They’re truly beautiful relationships filled with quirks and difficult moments and grace and awkwardness and love.
They’re also a lot more satisfying.