When Someone You Love is Hurting Themselves

March 11, 2010

It’s important to realize that when someone you love is hurting themselves, they’re doing just that. They are not hurting you. They are not tearing your world apart, pissing you off, causing you to lose sleep or causing you deep sadness… you are.

When these things happen, our reactions vary. Some of us get angry… how can they be so selfish? How can they do this to me? After all I’ve done for them? Some of us get incredibly sad… how can someone that I love, with such a bright future end up on this path? We blame ourselves… What did I do, what could I have done different?

And we fight like hell to change it.If I’ve learned anything from my initial Buddhism “wetting of the toes,” it’s that the cause of all suffering is our resistance to accepting things as they are. Accepting that we all die. We all grow old, relationships end and the people that we love and care for may not end up living up to our hopes and expectations for them. Perfectly talented and brilliant individuals whose futures seem incredibly bright, will throw that all away. They may get pregnant underage, drop out of high school, steal… they may do drugs and eventually find themselves hooked on the mother of all drugs, heroin.

While it may be difficult, it’s extremely important that we realize in these situations we are the only ones hurting ourselves. By expecting them to be someone and something they are not. By resisting the truth of who they are and what they’ve done, we find ourselves stuck in a painful cycle… we torture ourselves further and further until we wear ourselves thin.

I’m not suggesting that you stop caring and I’m not speaking out of place. What I’ve come to realize over the past several days is that we are the only ones in control of whether or not we stay strong, sane and healthy or completely fall to pieces over what someone else is doing to themselves. All that we can do is offer our love and support and understand that it may not be taken. That person may choose not to change, by their own power or the power of something that has full control over them.

By making this realization, we free ourselves from the cycle. Some people may choose to continue offering their support to this person for days, months, years… it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you realize it’s on you to cut this person and their problems from your life when they become toxic. When you’ve done all that you feel you can, it’s time to let go.

Note: I also wanted to add some information on the power of mindfulness. When terrible things happen to someone that you love it is absolutely natural to feel sad or angry. The practice of mindfulness means simply being aware of those thoughts or feelings, but not acting on or reacting to them. Simply treat them as a passing cloud in the sky. Acknowledge their presence and allow yourself to feel them. Then continue on with your life. Do not engage in a downward spiral of thoughts or make yourself wrong for feeling them. Just let them be.

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