I first learned about discernment in life when converting to the Catholic Church in 1995 at the age of forty. Since then I have come to understand that we all need to be discerning about many things in life including choosing the people we allow into our lives.
There was a good discussion in an online group I’m in about toxic people including family members as well as friends and acquaintances. Sometimes you have to distance yourself from people for your own peace of mind and the peace of mind of your family members. And sometimes the people you need to stay away from are members of your family.
In the last sixteen years since Brad retired from law enforcement and I changed churches to become a member of a parish much closer to me I’ve had to face some cold, hard truths about myself and the people I’ve allowed into my life.
I’ve tended to be the one to try to get along and fit in and be ‘a good friend’ to others without taking the time to evaluate relationships as I should. We all have family and some of our family members can be downright difficult in the best of situations, my own included. We don’t stop loving them but sometimes we need to make hard decisions about the amount of time we spend with them as we get older. The same applies to friends and acquaintances.
A friend is someone you can share your opinions with who won’t judge you or go off on you because they don’t agree. They can disagree with one another about certain things but still respect one another and the fact that they are different in some respects. A good friend will be there when you need them no matter what and such people are priceless.
Friends know certain personal details about your life and the lives of your family members just from being around you and listening. Friends deserve respect and kindness and you expect them to return the favor.
Acquaintances are a whole other category of people and I have to say that I have been guilty of not being discerning in telling the two categories apart. I have allowed people that I know from church, extended family relationships and business contacts to become too forward and take liberties with regard to their opinions on how I should live my life. We should never allow that. Ever. It’s possible to be polite and respectful without sharing too much of ourselves and in so doing letting people think that their opinions are something that carry weight with us.
I’ve cut ties with people over the years, including family members, who make me absolutely miserable. It didn’t really sink in until I had decided to change my parish church. The church I felt called to be a part of is actually in a neighboring city where Brad happened to work and was only a few blocks away from the police department where he worked. I did a lot of shopping in the same town because in the old days before direct deposit I would pick up his check and deposit it in the bank and then do our weekly shopping.
When he retired in 2005 I no longer needed to pick up his check and do the banking but I still belonged to the same church parish and continued to do some shopping in that town. Along about then the cost of gasoline began to climb and I made the decision to stop attending daily Mass at that church and started attending daily Mass at the Catholic Church in the town closest to us. I would attend my old church on weekends. As time went on I went less and less to my old church.
Brad noticed the difference in me and said something about it one evening. He commented that I no longer came home from meetings with the same people at the other church complaining about having to put up with the behavior of some rather difficult people. He was right! I made a decision right then and there to maintain the distance between myself and a handful of people that I obviously did not need to be around and I’ve never been happier.
I also made the decision to be more discerning about the people in my new parish whom I let get close to me. I’ve never regretted that decision. I don’t attend Mass like I once did, partly because of the Covid nonsense and partly because of a sensitivity to the organ music due to nerve damage in my ears. I’m not active like I was when I was younger and I need to make an effort to get involved once again. I miss it too much and I need the Sacraments.
Now I come to the sticky part of the discussion namely toxic family members. As children and young adults we are pretty much stuck with our family. We learn to get along or we don’t and our lives are formed by those abilities or the lack thereof. As an adult I had to come to the realization that I couldn’t allow my child as a toddler to be exposed to the same verbal and emotional abuse that I suffered from my mother’s parents and so I kept Audrey away from them and I’ve never regretted it.
Flash forward over forty years and now it’s my own mother I have to keep at a distance. I hate it. I absolutely hate it but once again I’ve had to face the fact that the only thing I have any control over whatever is my own behavior and if I don’t take a stand and say something about the verbal and emotional abuse then I deserve to be miserable.
My mother is a product of her upbringing and the older she becomes the more she is like her parents, particularly her father. She is 91 now and she isn’t going to change. The last time we spoke on the phone was the first week of June last year when she started once again with the snarky remarks about my political beliefs and all of a sudden I was that ten year old girl standing in my grandparents kitchen being berated because I was too stupid to understand simple math. It was my mother speaking but I swear she sounded just like her father and I felt a cold sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. I’m not that ten year old child. I am a sixty-six year old great-grandmother for goodness sake and I think I deserve to be treated with a certain amount of respect due my age and accomplishments in life.
I had to cut off contact after that. No phone calls, no emails. She lives over three hours drive away and she doesn’t drive like she once did and I have no intention of making the drive just to be treated like crap by the woman who gave birth to me, the woman who suffered through multiple miscarriages before I was born. I’m her only daughter. Her firstborn and she now hates Donald Trump more than she loves me. It’s not right. It’s not just. It isn’t how things should be, but there it is. This is my life. The clincher was when I heard the tone of pleasure and enjoyment she derived from insulting, belittling and demeaning me for no other reason than the man I voted for. Then I had to face the fact that it isn’t only her hatred of Donald Trump. She really enjoys sticking her nose in where it doesn’t belong and anyone who doesn’t live their lives or believe as she believes is fair game. It isn’t just me she targets. She has a pathological need to put others in their place and I’m just not willing to allow that anymore.
Bottom line, whether it’s family, friends or acquaintances life is just too short, too blessed and too precious to waste it allowing people to make you miserable. Sometimes you just have to let them go their own way and make better choices when it comes to the people you spend time with and allow into your life.
My life, Brad’s and Audrey’s are so much better without my mother inserting her particular form of venom in our day to day lives.