*Drama /ˈdrɑːmə/ noun
Origin: early 16th century: via late Latin from Greek drama, from dran ‘do, act’
An exciting, emotional, or unexpected event or circumstance:a hostage drama
Hands flailing, loud emotional outbursts, animated facial expressions. I come from a big Italian American family, so I am familiar with drama. However, there is a difference between animated and expressive cultural practices – and toxic relationships that affect your emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual well-being. For those of us from very expressive ethnic backgrounds, identifying the differences can be tricky – especially if we grow up with an unhealthy concept of “normal.”
If your relationship dynamic has included frequent verbal explosions and/or muddied boundaries, or if your relationships leave you feeling upset, distracted, or emotionally drained, chances are your relationship is unhealthy (with yourself, as well as others). Chronic emotional pain and divisiveness aren’t cultural — they are signs of behavioral dysfunction.
1. Look for Unhealthy Relationship Patterns
If you are in a relationship where you feel distracted, annoyed, stressed, upset (or all of these), start to observe the behavioral patterns. In acute cases, you know you are living in an enmeshed or dysfunctional relationship with a loved one if your interactions with them result in depression, anxiety, anger, acute frustration, fatigue, overeating/not eating, killer headaches, stomach upset, back, neck or shoulder pain, and even sleep insomnia — you get the idea. All relationships have their issues, but chronic negativity should not be a way of life. Relationships aren’t supposed to “hurt.”
When you realize you are in an unhealthy relationship, be careful about blame. You’re not totally innocent in this scenario. People only treat you negatively when they are allowed to do so. So focus on healing the only person you have influence over — yourself.
2. Take Personal Responsibility
Change can only begin when you recognize and acknowledge your thoughts, behaviors and reactions in a relationship and toward yourself. Take ownership of your flaws — remember, as humans, we all have them. Stop trying to feel superior, swallow your pride, and stop the finger pointing. Nobody is perfect. Then, make a promise to replace the habitual behaviors and thoughts with healthy ones. That’s where a professional therapist can help.
You may feel victimized, or perhaps even guilty for the “noise” you will receive for making changes in yourself and the relationship. After all, your attention may have always been on trying to fix what is broken. In my own case, I was the “habitual fixer,” always being called to put out situational “fires” for a loved one. I was constantly emotionally and physically drained and frustrated – not to mention my own little family, who worried for me whenever a “crisis” emerged. I feared the worst when I had to “pull out” of the toxic relationship, but it was time to focus on healthier, healing relationships – especially with myself.
Not everyone finds “making a break” painful. Some people actually feel exhilarated. Not me – historically, my mind has taken a few guilt trips. Like many empaths, I’m a recovering “people pleaser,” so I found the process extremely painful. It’s not in my DNA to hurt people, but I discovered I was — by hurting myself, my husband and children each time an upset wrecked emotional turmoil in our home. Life is about joy, and I was always upset or worried. Like facing fears on a diving board, I just had to take a deep breath, dive in, and make proactive healthy changes.
Relationships can be complicated, but we are never fully innocent in an unhealthy dynamic. Withdrawing out of unhealthy patterns isn’t easy, but it can be done. Withdrawing may not mean permanently cutting things off – but taking the time to heal and learn how to function in a happier, healthier way. By simply making the choice to improve your situation and happiness, you are no longer helpless – you are bravely on your way to healing.
Regardless of where you stand in a dysfunctional relationship, don’t dwell on the past — it’s already happened. We have a tendency to get “stuck back there,” with our memories, or worrying about the future, all the “what ifs.” The Monkey Mind is great at taking up real estate in your head. Shake those thoughts off, and focus your attention on fixing things NOW. If we switch our mindset and see the present as all we ever have, the burden to fix what isn’t presently tangible disappears. That’s life far more simplified.
3. Get Professional Help
If you feel overwhelmed or overly distressed by your relationships, you can always seek the services of a licensed professional counselor. We all know the adage that we can only change ourselves, but it is sometimes difficult to do just that without some help. We need to identify our negative habitual thoughts and feelings in order to heal. Only then can we learn how to deal with others. Professional therapists can also:
- Help you identify any possible root causes within yourself that leave you emotionally distressed
- Teach you how to set healthy boundaries
- Guide you on how to end relationships that are too toxic for your well being
If you’re struggling with therapy, there are complementary ways to become more mindful of honoring yourself (see #5). Once you learn to love yourself, it’ll be easier to end toxic relationships and easier to find new, healthier ones. Take it one step, one breath, at a time.
4. Educate Yourself — and Find Support
Find out all you can about your particular circumstances. There are plenty of resources. If you have a counselor, ask them to recommend books and articles about your relationship issues. Knowing that others have similar circumstances will help you realize that you aren’t alone in this process. You will also learn how others handle similar issues and circumstances with professional help.
5. Ahimsa: Learn to Love Yourself
Ahimsa means non-violence, and it starts by taking a break from toxic interactions and focusing on yourself. If you are always looking outward to others to feel better about yourself, you will never be satisfied or truly happy. Happiness starts from within. It will take some time, but once you find that inner happiness, people will notice — and you’ll suddenly meet people who love and support that new, healthier person. Here are a few simple ways to start:
- Take time for yourself. Find ways to lessen your stress.
- Make a gratitude journal and physically write about something you are grateful for every single day. As NY Times reporter John Tierney states, “…gratitude promotes good karma.”
- Spend your time with people who are positive, fun, and supportive. Set aside your complaints about the toxic relationships, and simply enjoy the restorative power of healthy relationships.
Shankh Mudra: The Conch
The Conch Mudra, or Shankha, is a hand pose typically used in Hindu religious ceremonies. In yoga, it is used to ground and purify the soul and body. Sometimes we emotionally or energetically hold on to the energy from negative interactions with toxic loved ones. This pose is one way to shed that energy and find inner peace.
Alternately, you may clasp your hands together with the fingers interwoven into a fist, with the thumbs side by side.
Restore Your Voice, Find Inner Peace
- Using the conch mudra, bring your “shell” to your throat. Close your eyes, taking deep relaxing inhales.
- Exhale with deep sighs. Release all stored emotions and turmoil.
- With each inhale, breath in the cool healing energy around you.
- With each progressive exhale, sigh out remaining “stuck” emotions.