When I was in a toxic relationship, over time I lost so much energy, was constantly ill from stress and not looking after myself, and no longer knew what I truly wanted for my life.
The people we interact with and environments that we immerse ourselves in, impact us every day, both at superficial and physical levels, as well as subconsciously and energetically. When we’re in toxic environments, our energies are depleted and without knowing where or how to re-energise ourselves, it can be difficult to rebalance this. We may see ourselves living fairly normal lives yet constantly encountering drama, stress, and people who don’t bring us happiness. The irony is that we can’t attract more positive things to us until we’re able to harness and develop this positivity for ourselves first. …And the key barrier that’s holding us back is ourselves – we’re unable to live a fulfilled and empowered life when every day we keep giving away our power.
When I look at my own previous relationships and listen to stories from friends and other women, I see the same recurring themes over and over again: not understanding our intuition, talking ourselves into situations that aren’t good for us, allowing our emotions to be controlled by others and notions of love through self-sacrifice.
A few months ago I had some sessions with a psychotherapist, I wanted to make sure as much as I could that I was working towards living an authentic and empowered life every day. Throughout our many discussions, there was one particular comment she made that really struck me –
Your true self does not need any external validation
Whilst we’ve heard this time and time again, it was probably the first time that I truly understood the power of this statement. I realised that in all the previous situations that I’d been giving away my power (and seen others do the same), it was due to an inherent need for validation. It’s often not obvious that we’re doing it, because we usually convince ourselves we’re making choices out of love, or care or being a good person. But there’s a fine line between truly giving from a place of abundance, versus a place of need, fear or insecurity. …How do we know which one it is? If the former, we feel energised and fulfilled regardless of the outcome of our actions, because we know we’ve done what’s right (first and foremost for ourselves and then for others), e.g. if we donate money to a charity because we truly care, we feel at peace in that moment and we don’t even need acknowledgement of our generosity. If we’ve given from a place of fear or insecurity, we feel exhausted/depleted and often do it expecting or wanting a particular outcome that validates us. We end up feeling anxious or stressed because either 1) we’ve made a choice that wasn’t truly right for us and our inner self was conflicted, or 2) the outcome didn’t turn out as expected and it’s left us feeling worse.
To provide some context, here are two simple examples of giving away our power through seeking external validation:
Example 1: Being the better person in a toxic relationship
Sally had been dating Sam for a few months and she knew he was toxic, he was emotionally unstable (unpredictable mood swings), badmouthing all her friends and guilt-tripping her. She did the right thing and ended the relationship, but she wanted to make sure things were still good between them. So she sent him a text saying there were no hard feelings between them and they could still be friends. When she didn’t hear back from Sam, she became upset.
What Sally had said to herself was that she was doing this out of love, and being the better person. She wanted to show him that there were better ways of dealing with negative emotions, and that she could help him find some peace.
The truth: Sally needed to receive a text back from Sam, to reaffirm that she was a good person and a good peacemaker. She was so accustomed to being able to resolve conflict and identified with being known as a loving person. When Sam wasn’t receiving her love and generosity the way that she wanted him to, it upset her – her reaching out from the goodness of her heart wasn’t enough to change him, and it created a ripple in her self-identity.
If Sally had truly reached out from a place of abundant love and wisdom, Sam’s response (or lack thereof) would not have affected her in any way. However, as Sally was only human and in a fragile state to begin with, the best course of action would have been to completely cut out contact the moment she realised the relationship was toxic. Once a toxic connection is formed, every contact with the toxic person has a long-term energy depleting effect on us, each text, conversation, verbal or physical communication continues to take our power away.
Example 2: Dating to validate ourselves
Whilst there’s nothing wrong with dating or passing time how we choose, a common situation is when we date to validate ourselves and end up feeling worse or more empty over time.
We’ve all made the mistake of texting or meeting up with the wrong person when we’ve felt vulnerable or lonely, even though we knew that that person wasn’t good for us, they were able to provide temporary relief through physical comfort, words of affirmation or just taking our mind away for a moment. Like junk food – we feel good while eating it, but usually not so good after. Except the difference with relationships, is that the effect of these unhealthy human connections can have a deeper impact on our psyche and emotional/spiritual wellbeing which take longer to recover from than just going on a two-day detox diet.
Take Camilla for example, she’s a single mid-30s woman who is successful, has a fun life, and goes on dates every week. She cheerfully proclaims that everyone is on the same page, she’s having fun and someday she’ll want to meet the right person but it’ll happen when it’s meant to. In the meantime, she’s meeting a lot of frogs before she finds her prince. Lately, she’s been spending more time with David.
David wants a relationship with Camilla, but while she’s not really interested they do enjoy going out for drinks and having laughs, and she’s already told him that she just wants to be friends. Even though they’re now spending more time together than before, she’s made her position clear and it’s just fun and flirting between them. She knows she’s probably spending a bit too much time with David, but she’s enjoying life and in a position of power.
The truth: Camilla is using David to validate herself and that she is fun, wanted, beautiful and lovable. Camilla already has a lot of friends (some of whom she’s even neglected lately), and is actually not in need of new friends or acquaintances. Her friendship with David is not founded on an equal footing, but on the fact that she thrives on knowing that he wants a relationship with her, which deep down makes her feel better about herself. Some may argue that there’s no harm to Camilla, but the truth is that the situation is holding her back from building her own power, meaning that she will continue to seek validation from every other source but herself.
Each time we make choices that disempower us, we move further away from our true selves and start building a life based on false truths. Through this disconnect, we then become surprised when we end up in situations that lead us to feel negative emotions that we hadn’t logically expected to feel. We wonder why we’re upset, angry, hurt, or jealous, when we’d made choices that had made sense to us at the time.
When we investigate deeper, so often we realise that these choices were made based on hidden feelings of fear, insecurity, and a deep need for external validation. Once we start to become aware of this, we can slowly realign our choices to ensure that they are coming from the right place. Our time during this life is limited, and at any given moment we’re either living a choice that’s truly right for us, or we’re not. The more we lean one way, the more we set a precedence and we will either continue to make the same mistakes over and over again or we’ll progress forward. The right choices and situations should always leave us feeling energised, connected, and fulfilled in the long term.
Chiara is the Melbourne-based founder of CIIARA.