I disagree with those who strike out into the midst of the billows and, welcoming a stormy existence, wrestle daily in hardihood of soul with life’s problems.Seneca, Moral Letters, 28.7.1
One of the strangest phenomenon I have witnessed and experienced as a human being is the propensity to choose to be in a romantic relationship with someone who is as or more toxic and dysfunctional as a former abuser, be they a parent, an ex, or someone else. I am perfectly capable of comprehending the psychological reasons that explain why but at the same time I have been absolutely bewildered in the past at times when I realized I had done that exact thing. It isn’t at all unlike the phenomenon of people perpetuating drama, gossip, and general pot stirring behavior only to complain about drama, gossip, and pot stirring behavior having been an issue that hurt them deeply or to find themselves being hurt deeply by it. In those things, people are, quite honestly, walking into turbulent circumstances and expecting something less than turbulence.
We all know what it is to see someone walk into a perfectly predictable situation and be somehow surprised by the outcome. Every story on the big (and little) screen and every story gracing the pages of a book banks on our ability to be entertained by the perfectly predictable even when we claim to be surprised because even the surprises and cliffhangers are predictably present. We only tend to tire of a particular trope on TV or in real life when we find it boring or too predictable while never realizing how predictably we are behaving when we ignore the red flags in ourselves and others.
Maya Angelou wisely wrote once that when someone shows you who they are, you should believe them… the first time. And yet too many do not believe. Why? Truth default is one of the reasons why, which I will get into on another post at some point, but the other big reason why is that we are drawn to what is comfortable. Yesterday I wrote in ignorantia neminem excusat about the things that one learns in a childhood home filled with dysfunction, fighting, abuse, or other trauma and how that is, in fact, attractive, comforting, and confused for love.
It is a subconscious choice to be drawn there, undoubtedly, but once you realize there is something wrong, it is a conscious choice not to address it, to stay in it, and to accept it as the final destination.
The wise man will endure all that, but will not choose it; he will prefer to be at peace rather than at war.Seneca, Moral Letters, 28.7.2
There is a difference between enduring the storms and foolishly choosing to sit in them for no reason when there is a way out. When some challenge in life comes upon you that you cannot control, like an illness, accident, or sudden change in circumstance, by all means do your best to find the peace in your lack of control and fight the good fight with resilience and strength to get out of it. However, when you find yourself realizing that you’re in a storm, whether it is a toxic work environment or a dysfunctional relationship, remember also that ignorance excuses no one.
Once you realize you’re in a stormy place in your work, your relationship, or your internal life, there’s no excuse to stay there if there is a way for you to change or leave it.
It helps little to have cast out your own faults if you must quarrel with those of others.Seneca, Moral Letters, 28.7.3
The problem with ignoring the difficulties you’re facing is that wilfully ignoring them will never make them better and will also not excuse you from the consequences and fallout from them. So you have to make a change. You cannot control anyone but yourself, obviously, so you can only change your own reactions and address our own dysfunctional thoughts and behaviors because once you see the way your actions, your choices, and your thinking have contributed to the storm, you no longer have the excuse to ignore them. But once you change, if those in the storm with you do not themselves choose to change as well, they will always be the anchor that ties you to that storm and keeps you in it.
Too many people believe they have an obligation to remain anchored in a storm for the sake of love. To maintain close relationships with anyone who keeps you anchored, brings you back into the storm, or brings the storm back to you is to choose the storm over peace.
You have the right and responsibility to step away when you have learned to discard your dysfunction in order to protect your peace and the peace of anyone in your care.
The problem many of us face is the prospect of leaving the storm alone while leaving others to face the wind and rain. We don’t like to walk away from people we have invested ourselves into or relationships we have invested time into. But it is the way to break the patterns and teach those who come after you how to live in peace, how to love yourself, how to accept nothing less than respect, fulfillment, and love.
Perhaps you didn’t know that the person you’ve been with for a decade was narcissistic and abusive when you met and fell in love and got married; you do now and now you are accountable for making whatever changes you must to protect yourself and your children, even if that means breaking apart a marriage to teach your children to not tolerate abuse.
Perhaps you didn’t realize that you were acting out the dysfunctional patterns you learned from your parents; you do now and you are accountable for finding a way to be better and for mending things with your partner and or your children so that those patterns can be broken.
Perhaps you didn’t realize that you were acting out of your insecurity and attacking those by whom you feel threatened; you do now and you are accountable for sussing out the root of your insecurity and fear and healing it.
When I think back to where I was for so long having lived only a life being controlled, manipulated, neglected, and abused, it was terrifying to think about leaving because I knew that if I could just maintain a certain level of self sacrificing humility that I would remain enough in the eye of the storm to survive. And I did survive, passing out of the hurricane into the eye often enough to feel like I was, in fact, free of the storm.
But while the eye of the hurricane is a safe place to be, it is still in the middle of the storm even if it is a momentary peace.
Leave the storm. It’s worth it.
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Holiday, R., & Hanselman, S. (2016). The Daily Stoic. Penguin.
“SENECA – Moral Letters to Lucilius V.8.Pdf.” Www.docdroid.net, http://www.docdroid.net/SpwJztN/seneca-moral-letters-to-lucilius-v8-pdf#page=3. Accessed 7 Feb. 2023.
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To everyone who has found themselves in a storm they’re struggling to get out of, I can promise you it won’t be easy to fight your way past the winds and rains and waves, but I can also promise you it will be worth it.
To everyone looking for what you need to get out of a toxic or dysfunctional home or relationship, I believe in you. Do not give up.
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