Dear Navigator, Relationships are Hard.

Recently, in a series of exchanges with some people who have begun playing somewhat significant roles in my life, I found myself being consumed by their harsh words and criticisms. The barrage of what, from my perspective, seemed like unwarranted and unnecessary attacks sent me into a spiral of confusion, insecurity, and frustration.

Fellow navigator, if we were to ever meet in real life and become good friends, one of the first things I would tell you is that I strive to display consistency in my character. This is something that I began intentionally putting forth effort regarding because, growing up, my peers often made comments about how I wasn’t who they thought I was. I think back to one instance in school when a classmate told me (to my face) that she initially thought I was a total witch but was pleased to discover I wasn’t. Now, that’s the cleaned-up version of what she said. In short, because of how I presented myself, she thought I considered myself to be better than others.

Can I tell you a secret? This wasn’t the first time I had heard someone say I came off as being “holier than thou.” In fact, my entire life I’ve been misjudged by people. I don’t know what it is—honestly. Yes, I was very much devoted to academics and performing well in school. Yes, that meant focusing more on learning than being social. I wasn’t antisocial. I had friends and got along with lots of people.

It’s a bit of a stretch, but you get my point.

Nevertheless, this is something I’ve had to face head-on well into my adult years. I guess hearing these similar thoughts expressed now should come as no surprise to me. Well, it still does. I’ve learned to recognize my patterns, identify the root, and distance myself before I have a major case of word vomit.

It was as if some of the people I had allowed to begin getting close to me all banded together to do their worst over the past few weeks.

I mean, it was so overwhelming that I had to remove myself socially, take several steps back from those relationships, and spend time assessing the varying situations. This is something I’ve learned to do because, admittedly, I make unhealthy, irrational decisions when I don’t keep my emotions in check. I needed to see if there was a common thread in their accusations and comments. Was I in the wrong? Did I misrepresent myself? Was I giving off false signals? I needed answers.

Rather than blocking you, I need to process on my own.

Aware that my conscious decision to almost completely remove myself socially would cause alarm, I informed the ones I typically conversed with of the need for space. Uninterested in having to explain myself, I kept the message short and sweet (there was no need for details). It was difficult not speaking to them regularly because they had come to play such important roles in my life, but the space allowed me to see our relationships objectively.

In one case, I saw how our relationship had strengthened over a short period of time. While it was platonic, there were definitely areas that left room for mixed signals. Accusations were thrown around that left a bitter taste in my mouth. How can someone be jealous when they’ve never expressed interest in the first place? Suffice it to say, I needed time to assess if it was worth it to be in a relationship where I didn’t feel truly heard.

So many issues can be resolved when we listen better.

While reflecting on the second relationship, I saw how this friend was projecting feelings of insecurity and fear onto me. I hadn’t done anything wrong, but I was definitely the one receiving the brunt of this friend’s frustration. Because I understood where my friend was coming from, I was quickly able to recognize the projection for what it was. Nevertheless, having someone project his or her insecurities onto me is not something I enjoy enduring. There’s no judgment. Most of us have projected our feelings onto someone unfairly because we didn’t want to deal with what was going on in our emotional world.

Regardless of why we do it, it’s never fun for the person who has to endure our attacks. Because of this episode with my friend and the habits I saw forming, I needed to decide if this was a person I wanted in my life. It’s taken years for me to get to the point where I am mentally, emotionally, and psychologically. While my friend isn’t someone I would consider “toxic,” I began to recognize the patterns and saw that this relationship would require a lot out of me.

The third relationship was similar to the first. We spent time talking about things that mattered in life and became close fairly quickly. It was exciting having this person in my life because I was able to just be myself; there were no expectations. The problems began when promises were made but not kept. After the first time this happened, I let it go. The second time it occurred, I gave in to my emotions and erupted. Now, I have reached a point where I’m ready to give this person the gift of goodbye. Why? Because your word is bond. If a person can’t honor a simple promise to do something, how can they be trusted to come through in a life or death situation. I’ll pass!

I have too much self-respect!

Fellow navigator, I’ve spent the last few weeks trying to figure out if I want these people in my life. They’re not necessarily bad people, but I know my areas of struggle. Some of these relationships will push me to a point where I lose myself. Others, although trying, will allow me to grow into a better human being. However, the real question is determining which ones are worth keeping. I don’t want to run from conflict because it can make a relationship so much stronger, but I don’t want to be someone’s emotional dumpster, either. Honestly, the only thing I got from me mini-social retreat was that I shouldn’t rush a decision about two of the three relationships. We’re imperfect people who are at different places in our lives and levels of self-awareness. While I consider myself to be pretty self-aware, my personality may be too much for those who have yet to embark on that journey.

Have you found yourself in a position where you had to assess the relationships around you? Maybe they weren’t necessarily bad, but you felt underappreciated or like someone was always projecting their emotions onto you? Tell me about it! In the process of writing your story, I hope you experience the catharsis that comes with release.

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