22 May 2014

Love at a Distance: Toxic People and the Geographic Cure

If there is a particular person in your life that is repeatedly choosing not to honor you and is causing you more sadness or pain than they are joy - it might be time to release that friendship back to God and trust that it is not where you belong.
~ Mandy Hale

May is National Mental Health Awareness Month.  Join me in blogging to erase the stigma of mental illness so our loved ones can seek the help they need.



S
anctuary.  We all need it.

Yesterday, I was out looking at a possible sanctuary (i.e. property for sale) so didn’t have time to post.

Another word for sanctuary is “geographic cure.”  For those in Al-Anon, this is a familiar concept. 

But it’s less a cure and more of a treatment process.

The Ugly Side of Mental Illness
During this month of mental health awareness, I’ve talked mostly about depression, how I as a sufferer of depression feel and cope (or not) and some ways to be a true friend to someone who suffers from depression.  But mental health is like Janus: there are always two faces to it.  One is the face of suffering.

The other is the face that causes suffering.

Someone who suffers from depression is already operating at less than full capacity in terms of energy, self-esteem, emotional resiliency, etc.  But then you put that person in a relationship with someone who also suffers from some form of mental/emotional illness and you’d better be prepared for the organic matter to hit the oscillating mechanism!  If that relationship is symbiotic, the potential for heart aches and years of therapy is even higher.

This is where the geographic treatment comes in.

I Love You. . .at a Distance
The geographic treatment basically says,

“This relationship has become so toxic, the only way to find peace
and sanity is for me to move far, far away.”

The great thing about this method is that you do get some breathing space.  You don’t have to subject yourself to daily mental and emotional beatings.  You can close the door, draw the blinds, and truly rest and re-charge.  You can find a new “family” that is more supportive. 

You can ramp up the healing process with your therapist because now you can concentrate on doing your psychological “homework” and not expend your precious supply of energy on effective but outdated defense mechanisms.

But it’s only a treatment. 

My geographic treatment usually includes nature and a book.
Image credit: Books Direct
Because once you go back for a visit, you encounter the same hurtful lines, the same negativity, insults, and verbal abuse.  This happens because you’ve begun to change, but the other person hasn’t.  And it’s too easy to fall into old patterns of reaction when the other person refuses (or simply is unable to) learn the steps to your new dance.

So you have to limit the number of times you “dance” with that person.  In the beginning, you may not be able to see them for months.  For the first few weeks, even a phone call may be out of the question.

And that’s okay.

Because your mental health is just as important as how you treat your loved one who also suffers from some form of mental illness.  And if you’re ever going to learn better ways of communicating, more effective coping mechanisms; if you’re ever going to learn to forgive and love that person in a healthier way ~ you need to take care of you. 

And you need a sanctuary in order to do that.

The Golden Rule of Mental Health
More compassion, not less, is key to treating those who suffer from some form of mental illness.  Guilt tripping, screaming, passive aggressive behaviors are not effective and can actually be damaging to your relationships with people who do not suffer from mental illness.

I know this, sadly, from experience.  My poor defense mechanisms protected me while I was growing up.  But they no longer serve me well now that I’m older.  And it took years to even get to the point where I realized, “Oh.  This isn’t how healthy, integrated adults act.  Maybe I need to find someone who can help me learn new ways to cope.”

Tuesday, while I was writing about granting accident forgiveness and learning to be a more effective parent, it struck me that I was advocating a more positive attitude and outlook than I currently have towards my mother. 

And I immediately felt guilty. 

Shouldn’t I be treating her the way I want to be treated?  Shouldn’t I be more compassionate towards her since in many ways, she can’t help what she says and does ~ she’s not integrated either?  As a Christian, I’ve had some people tell me that I need to offer it up, turn the other cheek, and remember the 4th commandment.  And then I reminded myself of something my therapist told me:

“If they tear you down more than you can build them up,
it’s time to walk away.”

I don’t care who you are, what your relationship is, or what role you play.  Abuse, in any form, is never okay.  Bullying, whether it’s done in a school yard, in the office, or in your home, is never okay. 

You don’t have to offer that sh#t up.  That is not what He meant.

My relationship with my mother right now is…unruffled.  But it won’t remain that way and I know this.  She suffers from two forms of emotional illness and she’s not getting effective treatment for either of them.  (And yes, there are idiot therapists out there ~ you should be just as picky about your mental health provider as you are about your heart surgeon.) And so I find myself needing to re-start the geographic treatment again.  Not quite as severely as I needed to fourteen years ago, but it has to be done. 

For both our sakes and definitely for my sanity.

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

Have you ever taken the “Geographic Treatment?”  Did it help?  Why or why not?

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