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Dear Chantal

I’m hoping you can settle a discussion between my friend and me. I’ll be the first to admit I have my issues; I come from an abusive background and it’s probably the reason why I have such a passionate temper and can be pretty insecure at times. But I’m also very loving, caring, and absolutely trustworthy.

I say somebody who loves me should love all of me, imperfections and all. She says I shouldn’t even be looking for a relationship till I’ve basically gone through years of psychotherapy and essentially become an angel.

Which one of us is right?

Lynn

 

Dear Lynn

Let me start this answer with a story.

I was at my stepson’s hockey game one night and went to use the bathroom while they cleaned the ice between periods. All the stalls were taken, and I waited for the next free one. A moment later one of the doors opened, and the hockey mom who stepped out looked somewhat shocked to see someone obviously waiting to go in after her.

“I didn’t do that!” she said hurriedly, before dashing out.

“That” turned out to be the liberal amount of pee all over the toilet seat, which got me thinking. (It’s amazing where a philosophical mind will find lessons.)

She may or may not have been personally responsible for the pee covering the seat, but she is responsible for leaving the pee on the seat. Could she have grabbed a wad of toilet paper and wiped it off, leaving a cleaner seat for the next person? Absolutely.

And when it comes to our own personal history, we have that choice too.

See, when someone’s behaviour towards us has  damaging effects they’re in essence peeing on our seat, no doubt about that, leaving a mess that we can either choose to leave for the next person to deal with, or choose to resolve.

The unfortunate part about abuse is the cycle associated to it. “I didn’t do anything to you that was anywhere close to what happened to me!” are often the words an abusive parent will say to their kid down the road, when the lasting effects begin to rise to the surface. And while that may be true, that the amount of pee they left on your seat doesn’t meet the volume their parents left on theirs, the fact remains – someone made a mess on the seat and they left it there for you to deal with. Now the question is, will you leave it there, accusingly pointing a finger backwards in time claiming zero responsibility for the comfort of the next person coming along like they did? Or will you say, “The mess stops here”?

Because here’s the thing; no one saw who went before you. They don’t really understand what percentage of the mess was left by someone else, and how much is yours on top of that previous mess. All they truly understand is their experience, and if their only association is connected to you and you only and that experience is a gross mess, then pointing a finger backwards doesn’t change the fact that you’re the one who left a mess. Not only left a mess, but didn’t care to even attempt to clean it up.

Great relationships don’t happen by accident. They take place between two people willing to work hard and take responsibility to what they’ve contributed to the whole. If all you’re doing is walking away from messes and blaming others it means half the equation isn’t pulling their weight when it comes to coming up with, and applying, solutions to problems.

Don’t be that person. I understand when history leaves a mess, it’s something I deal with every day, but understand that we all have free will and therefore have the ability to change the world into a better place than the one we came into. Just because someone made a mess on you and planted seeds of anger and distrust, it doesn’t mean you need to carry that mess with you everywhere you go.

Grab some tissue, and wipe away.

Seek out therapy. Start meditating to reduce your stress, anxiety, fear, and anger responses. Take responsibility when you have an outburst and really pin down the reasons so you’ll be more aware of your triggers the next time. Learn how to say, “I’m sorry about that. I was feeling _______ and I vomited that on you instead of taking some time to better deal with my emotions.” And above all, if you’re seeking a relationship be honest about your history and how you’re working at overcoming, and cleaning, the messes left behind.

 

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