Advice

WAfyWF: Treating your flaws with compassion

Today’s letter writer sees themself as not a very nice person when it comes to love. But what if that could change?

Question: Am I too toxic for love?

I don’t do well in relationships. Do I want one? Sure, if it comes along. But really, I’m kind of a dickwad who has a lot of work to do on themself first. In all but one relationship, I have eventually found myself incredibly annoyed with my partner. They do things that, to me, lack sense or are “idiotic” and it doesn’t take long before I start treating them like I think they are “stupid”. I know that I am not truly better or smarter than anyone else, but I don’t even really know the first step to correct these really toxic behaviors. See a therapist? Also, should this (very huge) flaw continue to keep me from seriously dating?

Thanks. I’ll take my answer off the air.

Answer: Welcome to Compassion Practice 101, my friend.

Your first step is to stop beating yourself up about it. Lots of people have unhealthy relationship patterns but continue to blame their partners and never look at themselves, so really, you’ve already started the process of changing. It’s rather hard to avoid getting better once we take an honest look at ourselves. Admittedly, sometimes the process is very slow.

It’s possible that you just don’t want a relationship. Ever. After all, they’re a lot of work, and you’re not required to want to date anyone. You’re not required to be emotionally close with anyone. You’re not required to fall in love. If you want, you can have a lot of platonic friendships and a few friends with benefits and never commit to anyone in a long-term, romantic way. I know people who have made this choice, and they seem to be basically happy. You’re allowed to have that. Unfortunately, I don’t know how to do that, so you’ll have to ask a different witch.

Alternatively, you say you’d like a relationship if one comes along, as though a harmonious relationship with a well suited match will fall into your lap. Sometimes lovely people do appear out of thin air, but inevitably, they reveal themselves to be regular old human beings, which usually causes friction. They will have annoying habits, inconvenient emotions, and glaring gaps in their self-awareness. The most attractive people you’ve ever met seem ugly when you see their anger and pitiful when you see their insecurities. These things can be very uncomfortable, but for a relationship to last, you have to love them through it. Accomplishing that means you will have to confront that part of yourself that judges them (and yourself) so unkindly. 

In your question, I hear self-loathing and frustration about failed relationships from your past, for which you blame yourself. You probably have some not-so-great patterns, but try to take a compassionate perspective toward yourself.  For some reason, you find yourself pushing people away when they show too much interest in you — that sounds very isolating and lonely. Instead of isolating yourself, try to cultivate an attitude of self-friendliness. Pay attention to the words you use to describe yourself — they aren’t very kind. Why would you talk about yourself that way? Do you see everyone in the world through the same critical lens? These are the kind of questions a therapist would help you talk though. And yes, of course my answer to “should I see a therapist” is always, “yes.” Asking for help from a qualified professional is always a good idea.

Should you let this flaw stop you from dating? Yes and no. On one hand, you have to try not to hurt people. Sometimes in the midst of figuring out our own stuff, we lose sight of how we affect others, and we don’t notice it until we’ve hurt someone, and then we have to deal with guilt, regret, and hard feelings which is a whole other karmic knot and can make us feel like we’ve gotten worse rather than better. On the other hand, the most fertile ground for our growth is the shared mental and emotional space of human relationships. Cutting ourselves off from human connection and support is, in my opinion, a form a self harm. That said, maybe don’t jump into a heavy duty romance right now, but just practice forgiving people for their annoying traits. When you hang out with your friends and they say or do something that gives you that knee-jerk reaction of judgement, notice it. Notice what you’re thinking about your friend. Notice what you’re feeling about yourself. Try to love both yourself and your friend in that moment, even though you are both imperfect. 

This is not easy work, and it can take a very long time. There are extensive spiritual and yogic practices that revolve around love and service to your fellow human — because loving humans is hard work, and it transforms us. People are just a damn mess. Loving them anyway is the point.

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