You don't have to give them control ...
Each of our time on Earth is limited.
Often you can pinpoint a person or two in your life who takes a significant portion of that time from you — without contributing in any real way to your quality of life and relationships.
When you think of them, ask yourself the following questions:
- Who is the person and what does he or she do to sabotage your relationships?
- How important to you is this person?
- Is it worth dealing with him/her or not?
If these answers are negative, you have what I call a "relationship saboteur" in your life. Anxiety, fear, and even confusion are all clues that a saboteur is lurking in your life.
To understand how to deal with such people, your own emotions are often the best barometer for both strategy and action.
Though you don’t need to actually label anyone, it does help to identify which people attempt to impair or damage what you have worked so hard to accomplish in both professional and personal situations.
Here are 4 key ways to reduce the power "relationship saboteurs" currently have over you:
1. Be aware of people who use manipulation, control, or bullying.
Your power lies in the choices you make to recognize, avoid, and counter saboteurs. Practice the process of identifying, managing, and avoiding the saboteurs.
In turn, you’ll create opportunities to practice surrounding yourself with people worthy of your concern, commitment, and interest.
2. Be alert to the saboteurs in your own life, the typical behaviors they exhibit, and the potential actions you can take to protect yourself.
Saboteurs are often time wasters, such as my own doctoral dissertation “advisor” who repeatedly took my ideas and used them as his own.
For you, it may be the boss who distracts you and eats your time with tasks that are not suited to your capacities, responsibilities, and interests, and that may not even serve the goals of the organization that employs you both. This kind of boss may not know what he or she is doing or may sense you are a threat because of your own strengths and experience.
In order to address their need to assert control without allowing them to derail you, try arranging periodic work planning meetings with clearly pre-set expectations — and document them in writing.
3. In personal and social situations, watch for individuals who create cliques.
This happens in clubs, sports groups, and community organizations of all kinds. You’ll notice it your own world. When you find yourself on the brink of exclusion, speak up about your own needs and preferences, leave if the group is mainly a source of upset for you, or accommodate the situation with your natural charm.
4. When the saboteur is someone you are involved with romantically, let them know you want to discuss some specific issues and set a time and place to meet.
Briefly, explain your concerns in advance in order to avoid their feeling side-swiped and to promote trust. Be prepared to discuss both of your feelings, results you would like to see, a reasonable timeline in which you would like changes to take effect, and what the consequences will be if these changes do not happen.
If possible, write down concrete thoughts you want to be sure are covered beforehand so you can keep yourself on track.
You may also want to consider third-party interventions with a therapist, mediator, or trained and trusted professional if necessary. Longstanding issues are unlikely to be resolved quickly, so be firm and patient for as long as it remains in your interest to do so.
Keep in mind that saboteurs and bullies will attempt to cover up their own inadequacies and fears.
They may choose to do this through verbal attacks, or via subtle modes of manipulation such as staying inaccessible for such a meeting, being difficult to please, choosing indirect methods of communication, and speaking to you with a reproachful attitude.
Remember that by staying clear about the nature of the saboteur and the situation they have brought into your life, as well as the action you intend to take, you are already on the road to developing effective strategies to achieve better results for yourself.
Here are some additional ways to move take effective action in relation to your own saboteur:
- Limit your habitual coping methods — such as imagining the worst, repeating negative thought processes, acting impulsively, avoiding conflict, and over-dramatizing.
- Choose someone you trust and respect, and who is familiar with your situation, to help you as a partner for progress. You may even consider forming a small, private support group if the situation relates to others as well.
- Keep your plan of action simple, strong, and manageable.
- Take your first step as soon as possible. Postponement will only water down your resolve and expose you to continued abuse.
If you do find your resolve wavering, there are several things you can do to calm your anxiety.
You may want to use humor (within your own thoughts) as a counter to the saboteur's dramatic flair. You could also role play with that trusted friend to prepare yourself in advance. You may even want to enroll in improvisation classes to increase your own confidence regarding what may happen if you feel caught off guard.
Imagining the seemingly powerful person in a mundane, embarrassing, or compromising situation that reminds you of their humanity, and remain alert for information you can use for developing an effective strategy.
As you begin to take notice of whose actions suck up your precious time, confidence, and energy, your strengthened emotional muscles will support healthier relationships.
You’ll also become more alert to similar future intrusions on your quality of life by other relationship saboteurs who may come along.
Perhaps most importantly of all, replace negative self-talk with true acknowledgment of any and all positive moves forward you make.
As you do this you can bring positive experiences into your life by making healthier contacts among colleagues, friends, and loved ones, identifying your paths towards better situations — and taking consistent action to get there, and enjoying activities that expand your skills, experience, and knowledge
The more joy and fun you bring into your life with authentic experiences and worthwhile people, the more prepared you will be to continue being true to yourself.
You’ll become more resilient, and find yourself ready to deal with any relationship saboteurs who may emerge or rise up from the ashes to haunt you.
Ruth M. Schimel, Ph.D. is a Career and Life Management Consultant who helps clients make wise career choices, face fears and move forward, discover their strengths, liberate their authentic self, transform their careers, and fulfill their dreams. For more information, visit her website. You can find a full selection of her helpful books at Amazon.