On Toxic Relationships

I was talking to a friend about his toxic relationship with an elderly relative and thought that the controversial insight that came up is worth recording in a post here.

Friend: I talked to my old aunt last night and couldn’t sleep after that because of all the random accusations that she threw at me. She is like a mother to me and I don’t know what to say when she uses her sharp tongue.

Me: Without going into the details of the random accusations that kept you awake at night, do you think that she was also guilt-ridden and couldn’t sleep at night because of what she said to you?

Friend: Of course not. She would have forgotten what she said immediately she cut the phone connection and would have gone to sleep like a baby.

Me: That is what I thought. So think of it like this — she says whatever comes into her head and then forgets it immediately but you lose sleep over it. You are sensitive and kind but you would have noticed that many people around us are both insensitive and unkind. That is not surprising because these are the qualities that get nurtured and rewarded in our hyper-competitive world. Since you are the one who suffers in the relationship, you are the one who has to do something about it — I think the way out for you is to avoid your aunt as much as possible.

Friend: How can you speak like that? Isn’t respecting our elders part of our tradition?

Me: Yes. I realize that what I am saying goes against everything that we deeply believe. In properly functioning social systems, there is a role, a place for us to broadly fit in. In this kind of system respect for our elders would probably be automatic. The elders in this system would have moved on the trajectory of fully ‘take’ mode as babies to more-or-less ‘give’ mode as old men and women. Whatever their swabhaava, angry or irritating or nice, I think that they would not come across as needy or childish. Things are different now. In the rush that all of us live in, most of us do not grow up out of our childishness and our sense of entitlement. We continue in a mostly ‘take’ mode. Unfortunately, it is the sensitive, if they are able to grow up without their sensitivity being extinguished, who suffer more in this unnatural state of affairs. I will still say that if it is clear that you are the one who suffers and the other person doesn’t, you had best avoid their company.

(Disclaimer: I apologize if the post comes across as preachy. I wrote it because I see that, as Pawanji often says, all of us are both the victims and the victimizers. I see that I inflict my childish ways on others and others inflict their childish ways on me. The point of the post is that some people feel all this more than others.)

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