Distance, Persistence and Resistance: How to Handle Psychological Sabotage.

Let’s say you’re talking to a friend or family member. Someone close to you. A person you love dearly.

Through the conversation, something just feels wrong.  In fact, let’s say it often feels wrong with this particular person.

You tell them how you feel about them.  You tell them you love them.  More importantly, your actions show clearly how you feel.

It seems to bounce right off of them. Not only do they not seem to hear you when you tell them how great you think they are, but they take offense somehow.

Have you ever had this experience?  No matter how hard you try, or what you say, that person just does not feel it from you, and even gets defensive?

I had a conversation with one of my bros the other day.  He and his wife are having some issues.  He said, “Man, it does not matter what I say or do, she just does not feel it.  It is almost like she is insulted I am trying to look out for her.”

It was that last little bit that got me. I said, “She is, and you have to understand that before things get better.”

I have experienced that before in my own relationships with family, friends and romantic partners. I have also seen this pattern repeated with people in my life-coaching practice.

Why does this happen and what is going on?

Psychological Sabotage:

It is actually fairly complex, and I believe, is a two-part issue.

First, that person has lost the ability to like, respect and/or admire him/herself. On some deep level they are feeling “unworthy,” “not good enough” or “like a failure.”

Your desire to help, soothe, or compliment only reinforces his/her own feelings of inadequacy.  I know it seems strange, that someone you want to help may resent you for it, but it is not personal; it is programming.

The second issue is they don’t trust anyone to help them, because they don’t trust themselves. You must have a degree of self-trust before you can trust others, or it manifests into a distrust for others, even when they are trying to help.

Seems like self-sabotage right?  In a sense, it is. This psychological genre is similar to that of addiction and other self-destructive behaviors.

When people are not happy with themselves and/or don’t trust themselves, it can manifest into being unhappy and distrustful of the people around them. Many of these people begin to alienate those around them.

I am almost certain you know someone like this.

It’s a form of psychological denial and distancing. They can’t manage their own pain and are overwhelmed

What to do about it:

Anyone that knows me, knows I love deeply.  Once I attach, it can be very difficult for me to detach. It is a last resort option for me, but sometimes it must be done.

I want to give you some strategies and rules I use for dealing with this type of person. Some might call them “the unappreciative.”  I call them “the depreciated,” because, on some level, their sense of self-worth has been degraded. “Depreciated,” like a stock.

The most difficult thing about these relationships is they can have devastating consequences for you.  What are you suppose to do with someone you love, who acts as if you are his/her enemy, and doesn’t seem to like you at all?

The answer is one of the toughest of all interpersonal dilemmas. If I had an easy solution I would probably be up for the Nobel Prize.

When do you stay to help, despite how hurtful it is, and at what point do you lose all self-respect if you allow him/her to treat you poorly?

Here is how I have coached clients in the past to deal with this conundrum, and the criteria I have used in my own life.

I have given the solution a nice little rhyme:  Distance, Persistence and Resistance.

Distance: Give them distance.  This works great for cases that are not that tough. They need distance because they are often emotionally drained. Part of the reason for feeling drained is from taking on the selfless martyr mentality.

A businesswoman peers through a spyglass while standing on a globe that is adrift in the ocean.

This is often an issue with moms, who give up their own identity for that of their kids, husbands and family.  Somewhere along the way they bought into the very destructive mindset of “you must sacrifice your own happiness for others.” This is the psychological equivalent of putting on someone else’s oxygen mask before you put on your own. In the end, it leaves you suffocating and everyone suffers.

Many of these people have avoidant attachment styles. These types respond to intimacy by putting up walls, halting communication, becoming aloof and wanting time away.

It is a form of self-protection.  If they reject you first, they can’t be rejected by you.  Their world stays safe this way.

Many people respond to avoidant attachment styles by doing the exact, wrong thing; which is to become clingy, needy with a desire to be closer to them.  This is known as the anxious attachment style, and it simply pushes these types further away.

Give them space and lots of it, but let them know you are there and never miss an opportunity to be ready with acts of service when they need and/or ask for it. With this type of loving distance, these people begin to trust more and don’t feel smothered.

Remember, we are talking about those for whom words of affirmation will have little impact and can actually back fire.  Distance is your first step.
Persistence: Don’t give up. Remember, these people have often had deep wounds and traumas that have created this state of psychological self-sabotage.

Lone pine tree is on the rock at the sea.

Despite their seeming disregard for you and your feelings, try to remember, it is not about you. To reach them, you need strong, clear, consistent communication and actions that let them know you have their back.

It is important that these actions are authentic on your behalf, but this does not mean you should be a pushover.

Persistence does not mean putting up with their shit.  If they want to be in a friendship with you, they need to be taught what you will, and will not, tolerate.

Persistence means consistently being there for them and yourself. You are modeling for them the way a securely attached and emotionally mature person behaves.

Most importantly, every argument or heated discussion that ends with you still in their corner is the most powerful reinforcement of your love, and the most powerful example of how they should love as well.
Resistance: This is where you let them go.  At some point the damage another does is just too great.  You can love them and let them go.  Trying to fight for a person who can’t even fight for him/herself is a losing scenario, and one of the most emotionally taxing situations for you.

A businessman, holding up a stop sign, stands behind a road block on an open desert road forbidding a businesswoman from proceeding down the road. They are both dressed in suits and standing on a long straight highway that vanishes into the horizon.

How do you know when enough is enough? I can’t tell you that. Among my friends, I am, by far, the most lenient in this regard.  I believe most people are doing the best they can and I try not to take things personally, but, even for me, I eventually reach my boundary point.

Boundaries are the key point here.  Do you have them?  Do you know what they are, and are you willing to stick by them?

I have one, very clear boundary that I have never let anyone cross. It has changed the dynamic of even some of my closest family relationships.  It is the following:

Never let anyone treat you in a way you know you are not, or no longer wish to be.  In other words, never let anyone take your power away.

I have a recent example of this very thing.  I had an exchange with a friend, who had been having a rough last 5 years. In fact, when I reflect now, there was only one-side to this friendship over the last few years: mine.

I went through the distance and persistence phase for years with this person. Recently, we spoke and like I always do, I reiterated that I knew all about what was happening, but still had their back.

The response had an angry, accusatory tone, and in so many words, said I was dishonest, not loyal and several other things.

This crossed my boundaries and moved me into resistance. None of those things are true of me, and to have someone I have done nothing but help, in all the ways a friend can, define me like this pushed me over the edge.

At that point my persistence in keeping the relationship alive, met with too much resistance and friction for my own self-worth.

Final thoughts:

Interpersonal relationships are not always easy, and I have written before on the concept of having a “worst best friend.”  Someone who challenges you, pushes your buttons at times, and helps you grow as a person.

At the same time, we need strong boundaries so that we don’t drain our own emotional resources to the point that we feel unworthy and not good enough.

I hope this blog gives you some things to think about.  There is nothing more important than strong friendships, but no relationship can exceed the quality of the relationship you have with yourself.

Fight for your friendships, they are important.  Just make sure you are fighting for yourself too. Yes, your friend deserves to be loved and sacrificed for, but so do you.


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