We want to be people of our words; we want to be ethical and honest, and have trustworthy character; we want to do our duty. But sometimes our loyalty to our vows – especially our marriage vows and vows to take care of parents or children – makes our lives a living hell and also sets a terrible example for our children. Deep in our hearts we know we must stop being loyal to those vows or our lives and spirits will be destroyed. But how can we stop honoring our vows?
- In public we pledge many things in our marriage vows. But suppose our spouse turns out to have deceived us and reneges on their side of the vows? Suppose that husband turns out to be physically, mentally and emotionally abusive? Suppose he harasses, controls, bullies or abuses his wife? Supposes he justifies his actions by saying that he’s the head of the house and she must do what he says? Or suppose he blames his lack of self-control on her and uses threats, guilt and shame – his rage and violence are her fault and if she did what she should, he’d treat her better? Or suppose that wife turns out to be manipulative and controlling? Or supposes she’s lying, crazy and always verbally, emotionally and physically abusive in order to beat the husband into submission?
- In private we may pledge many things to our parents, especially as they get older. But suppose they’re narcissistic, demanding, bullying and toxic. Suppose they squander all their money against our advice and then they insist we spend all our money on them – either taking care of them or sending them to an expensive, assisted living facility? Suppose they are relentlessly critical, scolding, chastising, whining, complaining and demeaning, and nothing we do is ever good enough? Suppose they are vicious in private but sweet as sugar in public, so every thinks they’re saints while they act like devils in private? Suppose they’re lying, manipulative and back stabbing – they praise their favorite child, put us down and leave everything to the favorite while we’re the ones taking care of them? Suppose we think we’re responsible because they raised us, we think we owe them and we still want their approval? Suppose we feel guilty if we think of acting like ungrateful children and abandoning them in their hour of need?
- In our hearts we pledge to take care of our children until they can take care of themselves very well. But suppose they’re 40 and still living with us because they never took our advice and never got good careers or married the right person or held a job? Suppose our toxic children are rotten to us until they need something? Or they threaten to deprive us of our grandchildren unless we give them everything they want, even to divorcing our spouse, whom they hate? Suppose they still act like spoiled, vicious, toxic teenagers, blaming us for all their failures, feeling entitled to everything they want, full of sneering sarcasm, back-talk, temper tantrums and demanding that we slave for them? Suppose we still think that if we love them enough, if we’re nice enough to them they’ll finally grow up and become successful? Suppose we’re afraid they’ll fail completely and end up homeless if we don’t give them everything they want?
Those are horrible scenarios but all too common.
Probably, we’ve discovered the hard way that we can’t make things better by being peacemakers. Tactics like begging, bribery, endless praise, appeasement, ‘second chances,’ forgiveness, sympathy and unconditional love, and the Golden Rule usually encourage more harassment, bullying and abuse. We won’t get the results we want; we won’t stop emotional bullies or physical bullying unless we’re clear about which values are more or less important to us.
So we wallow in negative self-talk, perfectionism, blame, shame and guilt. We get discouraged, depressed, despairing and easily defeated. We lose our confidence and self-esteem.
Often, we stay stuck in those versions of hell because we gave our word and we’re people of integrity – even though they broke their side of the bargain, we understand how hard it has been for them. We think we must honor our pledge or we’d be just as bad as they are.
I say that’s a big mistake. I say, “Choose life, not a slow spiritual and emotional death.” I say, “Examine your hierarchy of values and get clear about which values are more important to you. Then honor the most important ones gracefully and cheerfully.” And make yourself cheerful living a great life with your choice.
Don't be a victim waiting forever for other people to grow up or change or die. Don’t suffer in silence. Use your own power. Say “That’s enough!” Say “No!”
Often, we avoid examining that hierarchy of values and discarding those early vows until we are forced to. We may not be willing to protect ourselves but we will act resolutely to defend others.
For example, our crazy or bullying spouse abuses the children and only then does our spirit rise up with fierce determination to protect our children. We discard that marriage vow for the sake of something much more important than loyalty to a toxic spouse – loyalty to our children
Or the toxic parents are so abusive to our spouse and children that we take the power we need to protect what’s more precious than our toxic parents – our marriage and our children.
Or our toxic children are so vicious, nasty and abusive that our spirits will stand no more – we’ll protect our marriages, our health and our retirement funds from the energy vampires who want to suck us dry, even if they’re our own children
For some examples of different tactics, see, “Bullies Below the Radar: How to Wise Up, Stand Up and Stay Up,” “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks” and “Parenting Bully-Proof Kids,” available fastest from this web site.