Years ago Mark, a brilliant professional man, came to speak with me as his parish priest. He said that his alcoholic sister was constantly sucking the energy out of his life. Whenever he was around her, he found himself leaving depressed, angry and frustrated. He knew he could not make her stop her self-destructive behavior, but, because she was his sister he felt “obligated” to spend time with her. I asked Mark if he really wanted to maintain this contact; “Negative!” He said. I advised him that there is nothing morally wrong about keeping his distance. He had just as much obligation to himself and to preventing his own emotional devastation whenever he was in her presence. She incited his inner saboteurs and the only way to prevent this was to cut off regular contact with her until she hit her own bottom.
A great prescription for misery is to surround yourself with people who drain you, who bring out the worst in you. Sometimes this is unavoidable when taking care of sick or difficult elderly parents or relatives. Even then, the care taker has as much obligation to care for self as for others, maybe even more.
When other people automatically incite our inner saboteurs for a variety of reasons, we end up making massive judgments often condemning ourselves for our feelings of anger and frustration. We feel defeated. Sometimes our “martyr” saboteur kicks in so that we think we are being ultimately sacrificial and generous, but at the same time we wish the other person would just disappear and leave us alone! The trap in much religious training is that being charitable applies to everyone else but ourselves.
We compound our situation by avoiding the people who inspire the best in us. I have learned to make sure regularly to call my most supportive friends for a boost in my mood. My life coach is one such person. Though she works long distance (from Nepal, no less), her voice, attitude, and insights help me to identify the saboteurs in me that are most active, and the people around me who might be inciting them. In turn, she incites my inner Sage, who is wise and focuses me on the present moment and the positive energy I need to take the next steps.
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