Frustrated, I set down my pen and notebook. I rubbed my temples in agitation, unsure that I would ever find a suitable solution to my problem. I had just been thinking critically for the past three hours about my “breakup” with my former mentor, but I had yet to make any headway.
In my last post, I had discussed how my relationship with my former mentor had ended. I had divulged how I had experienced severe relational anxiety, triggering, and backsliding in this relationship, which had only served to make everything worse. Today, I will articulate those triggers in more detail. I will talk about what causes us to be “triggered,” what causes us to regress or backslide, how we can take control of it, and how we can use what we learn from it to prevent similar situations from happening again in the future (or from ruining perfectly good relationships).
One thing I want to start off by mentioning is that backsliding is completely normal and natural – it can happen to anyone, regardless of what healing method is used. Backsliding is neither something to feel scared of, nor ashamed about. It’s neither something to run away from, nor something to hide from. Whenever you change something about yourself, you will naturally spend a long period of time adjusting to your new mindset, action, or behavior. In this adjustment period, there’s a high likelihood that something could trigger you, which would cause you to temporarily backslide as you fully work through all of your issues.
Relationships, in particular, are a huge landmine for backsliding. Many of our hurts, hangups, and battle scars originate from the way we were treated in our previous relationships. Because of this, it is very easy to judge new relationships based on old experiences. My relationship with my mentor was no exception.
Though none of us are completely exempt from the possibility of backsliding, there are several steps we can take to minimize the damage when it does happen.
Step #1: Do some good, old-fashioned critical thinking. Define what the problem is in your current relationship and how it makes you feel. Practice emotional granulation to have a clearer understanding of how you feel. (For example, instead of just saying that you feel “bad,” say that you feel “humiliated” or “unloved” or “disrespected.”
Pro tip: stay away from settling on the word “angry.” Anger is a secondary emotion, meaning that it is usually a cover-up for a deeper set of emotions that requires extra strength and vulnerability to dive into and process. Anger can be a good starting point, but is not a good finishing point.)
Step #2: Define the cause of your problem – both in your current circumstances, as well as from your past. What does your current situation remind you of from your past? When was the last time you felt your current set of feelings? When was the first time you felt your current set of feelings? Once you can clearly pinpoint the source/origin of your triggers, then you will fully understand why you are so upset in your current situation.
Step #3: Practice true empathy. Look at the situation from the other person’s point of view. Look through the other person’s lens and see if that changes your feelings in any way. In any event, it will help you to disperse anger and facilitate forgiveness.
Step #4: Define your goals and standards. Even if you see the situation through the other person’s lens and are able to forgive him or her, that does not necessarily mean that the relationship should continue or that you should reconcile. Come up with standards for the relationship that are realistic and that make you feel safe, secure, and protected. Hone in on the things that you yourself need to work on and improve to fix the situation. Once you are aware of your own triggers and patterns, this will help prevent backsliding in the future.
Step #5: Come up with the best possible solution that works for both people. In a loving, committed, and long-term relationship, both people should want to make an effort to do things that make their partner happy. Furthermore, both people should be willing to put in the effort to work on and improve the relationship.
When communicating your feelings to your partner, simply state “I feel…..” and “I need…” Even though you can’t make your partner change or do something different, it doesn’t hurt to ask. If the answer is a hard no and the other person makes no effort to improve the situation over a long period of time, then you may need to re-evaluate your goals and standards and see if this is the right relationship for you.
In my case, I needed to take a break from my relationship to truly understand what was going on. Once I could think with a clear head about the situation, I realized that there were really four issues at play that were causing me to have anxiety about my relationship:
- Leaving my mentorship organization
- Caring more
First, I was unhappy with the organization itself. As a Hindu Liberal, I felt out of place in a Christian Conservative organization. I felt like I couldn’t be myself there, or that the person I am was not accepted there. In addition, I didn’t think that the business model was the best or most effective way for me to reach my goals. I just felt very unfulfilled doing the work, and could not see myself doing it for the rest of my life. At the same time, I was very worried that if I left the organization, I would lose my relationship with my mentor.
Second, I was unhappy with the dynamic of my relationship with my mentor. As is typical of many mentor/mentee relationships, I was expected to “submit” to my mentor as a sign of respect for his teaching and coaching. Any time I asked him for advice, I was expected to follow it. If I didn’t follow it, then it was implied that he would spend less time investing into me and would instead focus on helping the people who always followed his advice.
Luckily, my mentor and I did see eye-to-eye on many things, so more often than not it was a nonissue. But for the times that we did disagree, I was tired of having to argue my point to no end, with my opinion being completely disregarded, rejected, and invalidated every time. I was tired of being told that I “just didn’t understand his viewpoint, and I would change my mind when I did.” I felt like he was downplaying my insight and intelligence when he said those things to me. There were many things that I did understand and just didn’t agree with, but this was not valued or taken seriously. On the whole, I just felt very disrespected and like I was not being treated as an equal.
Third, I realized that my contribution to this problem was that I was struggling with issues of codependency. Because I had generally been deprived of emotional support for the majority of my life, I had started to rely on my mentor to fill this need. Once I discovered this, I knew that codependency was largely not okay with me. Instead, I set out to fill my own needs. After a few months of regular blogging, journaling, and affirmations, I now feel like I’m more independent and that I don’t need anyone else to make me happy. I have myself covered.
Perhaps the most surprising insight of all from all of this was that after I solved my issue of codependency, I realized that even though I didn’t need my mentor to be there for me emotionally, I still truly wanted him to be there for me. Whenever I had a breakthrough on my healing journey, my first thought was that I just really wanted to share it with him. Not only that, but I found myself really missing his personality, his energy, and his spirit.
While I still don’t have the answer that I’m looking for, I’m hoping that this situation will resolve itself over time. For the time being, I feel content with the fact that I have done everything I could to understand, rectify, and fix the situation on my end. The rest is in God’s hands.
The takeaway here is that lasting, healthy change takes time, and making mistakes is human. There is no reason to feel bad or to beat yourself up about backsliding. What’s important is not that you get everything perfectly right on the first try, but rather that you keep trying no matter what. If you address your triggers properly and correctly, they are great indicators of personal feedback and show us where we should continue to work on and improve ourselves for the future.