Since childhood HOPE, always hunting for the excellent up ahead, has always been part of my life.
That said, I remember a season when things took an altogether darker turn. I found myself a prisoner of a toxic relationship that left me feeling life was hopeless. It happened gradually, and I didn't notice until one day I found myself utterly stuck and helpless. As if, there was no way to get me out of the situation and live a happy life.
If I hadn't taken steps to overcome these feelings, I could easily have ended up drifting down into deep despair. My interest in the goals and activities I loved lost and feeling powerless to pursue my dreams for the future.
I started to keep a record of how I felt after interacting with this toxic person, that was the turning point. Once I saw the facts in black and white, I knew I needed to take action.
The first thing I did was extract myself from the relationship. The next thing I did was to reverse my learned helplessness. At the time, I was working in a Pastoral Care role and was keenly interested in the work of Martin Seligman and mainly learned optimism.
How learned optimism helped.
First of all, it’s necessary to understand what learned optimism isn't. This type of intervention isn't about using positive affirmations to overcome a difficult situation. While positive affirmations have their place – much more is needed to overcome deep-seated feelings of helplessness. Learned optimism is a way of training the brain to think differently, to see the possibilities of good ahead.
The toxic relationship had taken it's toll and relearning to think more optimistically did not happen overnight. It took some practice, and to ensure I got my HOPE mojo back, I enlisted the support of a friend, to keep me accountable. She was also a trained CBT therapist, so I knew she'd recognise quickly if this self-care intervention were not working. With time, I improved. And my feelings of helplessness – even the most intense ones – were overcome.
How do you spot a toxic person?
First, here are two ways that great friends and connections benefit and help you:
They make you become a better version of yourself. When you're with them, you never feel they want to trip you up, harm you or turn you into something you are not.
They help you become more connected and able to connect with other people. You no-longer withdraw, you learn better connection, and there are no more feelings of being owned or possessiveness.
On the contrary, you could be dealing with toxicity if you are experiencing any of the following.
You always have to save this person and fix their problems?
You are covering up or hiding for them?
Do you dread seeing them? You feel drained after being with them?
You get angry, sad or depressed when you are around them?
They cause you to gossip or be mean?
Do you feel you have to impress them?
Are you affected by their drama or problems?
They ignore your needs and don't hear 'no'?
Did someone spring to mind when you read these questions? If so, then perhaps, like me, your first step is to part ways with the perpetrator. You don't need to be mean or feel guilty about it, they don't bring out the best in you, and you are making space for those who do. You're hunting for the good stuff.
What I learned is that I was stronger than I thought. And so are you.
If your willing to fight through the obstacles, you will soon see that viewing life through more optimistic eyes is a key to living a happy, emotionally healthy existence.
In what ways could you "hunt for the good stuff"?
Reference: Discovery Health. Learned Optimism Yields Health Benefits. American Psychological Association, 1997 Learned Optimism Test.