The Curse of Attracting Broken People
The day before Thanksgiving, I’m driving down the road, running errands before my girls get home from college, and an epiphany hits me like a ton of bricks: I cut people I love out of my life not because I’m done with them but because I am terrified of them.
This autumn has been the most difficult season of my entire life. It has been filled with pain and loss beyond what I have ever known. People you dislike can cut you to pieces, but there is absolutely nothing that can hurt more than the betrayal of the person closest to you. I cut someone out of my life in an instant and made damned sure this person would not want to return, just in case my heart ever softened.
Ironically, in a season of loss, all my past seems to be coming back to me in the form of people I cut out–all for good reasons I’ve never regretted–and this season has been one of intense spiritual lessons and decisions I never ever ever would have thought I would have made in regard to people from my past. It’s not that I hold grudges…. No, once I’ve been obliterated by someone I love, I put up walls to make sure they can’t hurt me that way again. And that usually means they don’t stay in my life.
But really loving someone is about giving a part of yourself that is vulnerable, by trusting that that person will handle that secret, dark, fragile part of you with care. About taking down the walls completely or either letting them crawl inside the walls with you, where no one else is allowed to go. Trust is based not on the other person’s promise to tend our secrets but on the promise of our own vulnerability. Trust is broken when that shared secret part of us is no longer tended and we can no longer allow ourselves the luxury–yes, luxury–of having our defenses down, of stripping down emotionally naked to someone else.
What I realize for the first time on the day before Thanksgiving is the startling truth about how I as an empath handle hurt that I cannot bear to live with. As an empath, I merge too closely, bond too deeply with people I love, and there is no way not to stay stuck in the same scenario without severing the bond, at least long enough to gain objectivity and regain strength and personal power. Cutting people out of my life isn’t about my sense of justice toward them. It’s not about their cruelty to me or their lack of boundaries. It’s not about excising toxic people or memories from my life. It’s this: cutting people out of my life after they’ve hurt me is the only way I know to protect myself from allowing myself to be hurt in that way ever again by that person.
Cutting people out of my life has never been an easy thing or a casual thing. Even as an act of self-preservation, people I love usually have to work quite hard–repeatedly–at hurting me before I’ve finally had enough. Then they get mad at me for cutting them out, regardless of the warnings.
Usually, there are three reasons I shut people out:
- Someone does something intentionally hurtful to me, often for their own enjoyment or sense of entitlement. These often are not people I love and may be people I’m in competition with in some way. I cut them out and never really let them back in. It is in their nature to be scorpions, and I will try my best not to get stung again. These tend not to be emotional relationships, but I do have some blood relatives who qualify for my brand of shunning, and I’ve never regretted it.
- Someone hurts me but thinks they’re doing it for my own good. These are people I love who have boundary issues. If I let them back into my life, they are right back to ignoring boundaries within days–if not hours. These are usually loyal friends who let the lines blur between where they end and I begin, and they convince themselves that they know best for me, even if it’s not what I want. These are the friendships that end after I’ve said for the last time and been ignored for the last time, “Please stop opening this old wound every single day when I’ve told you I don’t want to speak of it again.” I’ve had friendships from twenty years ago reappear in my life in a joyous reunion with only one stipulation from me: a certain subject or person is off-limits. And guess what’s the one thing that person wants to talk about?
- Someone who hurts me, knows they’re hurting me but does it anyway, and feels really bad about it, but they’re in over their head and can’t stop themselves. Oh, there are plenty of reasons/excuses for it, but the result is the same. I’m devastated. Trust is broken. And if only we could find that place of trust again, we’d be able to return almost immediately to the original closeness. But these are the ones I cut out because I can’t trust myself to make sure I don’t allow these people to hurt me again. These, unlike the people in the first reason above, are people who committed emotional treason but they’re also people who’ve really mattered to me in ways rooted in my core.
It’s the third group of people who are showing up in my life now to teach me a spiritual lesson.
A few weeks ago, a couple of coworkers–who had made life exceedingly hard for me at one point–returned to my life to make amends. Out of the blue. There were reasons for their hurtful actions at the time. It was their own sense of being overwhelmed and unsupported that caused their actions, but I got caught in the cross-fire. They felt bad for me, but not bad enough at the time to take the hits themselves. My taking the brunt of it was a welcome diversion to them. Now, years later, they wanted a fresh start with me. I understand what they went through back then and I did come out of it all right, except for the hours of overtime and sleep I lost. To my surprise, I was able to let the past go and give them both the fresh start they’d asked for. We are not especially close, but we are supportive of each other’s work now.
And then I got a message from someone I thought I’d never hear from again. Someone from my distant past. Someone I’d thought I’d die without when he left. There are words he said to me, so cool and smooth, that still ring in the back of my mind after all these years, even though I long ago shoved them aside as the words of a liar. I never thought I’d hear his voice again. I never thought I’d see him again. I certainly never thought he’d live 20 miles from me again. But there he was, living in the same town suddenly after all these years, his life completely ravaged by the time that had passed without us in each other’s life.
He wanted desperately to make amends.
I started to ignore his message, but Spirit insisted–even though I was hyperventilating at first–that I needed to meet with him. I understand why now. It was an incredibly healing experience. Oh, not in the way that he and I will be lovers or best friends, but…enough that we can talk from time to time.
The thing I didn’t realize in the healing process was how much was my choice. He wanted to make amends for the wrongs he’d done me–and there were not just a handful. The problem was, for medical reasons, he could not recall exactly what he’d done. Funny. He’s the one with permanent memory loss and I’m the one with a memory that never forgets. He told me I needed to tell him what the wrongs were he’d done me, and that meant I had relive those memories in my own head in order to convey them to him.
I didn’t want to do that. I had found a smooth, solid place to bury the pain of the past and I didn’t want to dig it up and show it off. I’d had plenty of unanswered questions back then, but I was no longer interested in having those questions answered and besides, he couldn’t answer them now anyway. So I chose to do something I never imagined being able to do.
I decided to let the past remain in the past, and offer him a fresh start. Not as lovers. Not as best friends. Just…a fresh start. We will never again be either of those first two–I’m quite sure of that–but we will be something new.
The surprising thing to me about offering a fresh start was how powerful I felt. Sitting across from this man who once meant the world to me, I now felt powerful, happy with my life and where it’s taken me, satisfied that I wasn’t part of his life when he was most broken.
There are some current friends who would say that I’m weak to give in and offer a fresh start to someone who was pretty horrible to me at a delicate time in my past, but I don’t think it’s weak to forgive or to offer a fresh start. This is a spiritual exercise thrust toward me. One I needed to accept to take another step in my personal growth. It’s not for everyone. And not everyone is ready. I’m not sure I am. But if I can grow and change, then I must believe that other people can as well.
I’m not sure how good I’ll be at fresh starts with people I’ve shut out of my life, whether these persons who’ve returned recently or others who have kept their distance. I’m not sure how easy it will be to lower my walls and keep those walls down. I’m certainly not sure of how easy it will be for any two people to wipe a slate clean of all those hurts from the past and start over.
But because these opportunities and this lesson have come to me at this particular time, I’m simply going to be open to it and to trying to create and allow fresh starts with a few of the people in my past who really, really mattered to me.
The Curse of Attracting Broken People
Over the summer, I was listening to a shaman friend and a few of his closest followers complain about how they’d lost their desired closeness with friends, family, and lovers who had meant so much to them. The conversation struck a chord in me, not because of anything happening in my life at that moment but because there were people in my past whom I missed and with whom I had lost contact. The people in this conversation and in my own past were mostly cases where the other persons had been horribly broken when they’d come into our lives and we’d invested so much effort into the relationships, helping them to find wholeness again, if they’d ever had it. None of us begrudged the effort or the love we’d given. No, that wasn’t the issue at all.
As my friend described to us a former (I think) lover and friend, he felt stung by her refusal to have anything to do with him now, in spite of his near-constant support when she’d been troubled. Life had improved and she was closer to wholeness than when he’d held her hand and propped her up when she was deep in muck. He felt she no longer needed him. I could taste the rejection in his words, and it resonated with my own experiences, both as a professional life coach and in deeply personal relationships.
It’s easy to agree that some of us are really good at helping broken people to put themselves back together. We find it fulfilling as personal and spiritual work. We’re called to it. We put so much of ourselves into it that you’d think the other people would be lifelong friends with all that bonding and support going on. We may not expect anything in return, but we certainly don’t expect to be shunned, rejected, or merely discounted in our friendship once the broken person is whole, but it seems to happen quite often.
And yet, it was through my shaman friend’s description of his own pain that I saw the answer. It wasn’t about rejection of us so much as it was about the formerly broken person rejecting their past, us included, and feeling uncomfortable with us now in what we know. How much easier it is for a newly healed person to put away everything involved in their broken days and start fresh with people who never knew them back then, never saw them in their dark night of the soul.
What came to me back in the summer that I shared was the following insight:
Such is the curse of attracting broken people. Some want to stay broken because it’s all they know & there’s more comfort in the pain than in the unknown. The ones who are mended don’t feel at ease in the presence of someone who has seen their damage.
I have permission to share one of the private messages I received on this post. I knew, innately, that this is how the “broken” person viewed the situation, but it was nice to hear it in his/her own words:
I am afraid I am guilty of being “broken” and not talking to the people who saw me at my lowest. I still talk to some of them, but not as much as I did before. It is almost like, I am embarrassed and ashamed of not being strong…you know? When I hit my lowest, it makes me feel as if I have lost the strongest part of me. Like I’m viewed as being weak and the people that were there during that time know my “horrible” secret. And sometimes, maybe I feel like they are just standing there with a broom and dust pan, expecting and waiting for me to break again so they can pick up the pieces. I never thought about the other person, though, until just now when I read your blog. I loved it. Thank you