Confronting the People Who Create Unsafe Relationships

Oct 12, 2020

If you’ve read my book, Power of the Other, you know that we talk about the Four Corners. This means that there are only four possibilities for relational connection.

In Corner #2, we talk about bad connections.

A “bad connection” leaves you feeling like you are “bad” in some way. These relationships leave you feeling like, no matter what, you are not good enough. While this kind of connection might be overtly abusive, that’s not always the case. A bad connection might simply be someone who is highly critical. A boss with demanding expectations that can never be met. A friend who only points out the bad. A partner who is shaming or guilt-inducing. A co-worker who leaves you feeling, “I am not good enough.”

Trying to live and perform from this corner works against all of our internal systems of thriving…both personally and professionally. We were not designed to do well when we’re feeling bad. And the symptoms are debilitating.

Clinical symptoms: Discouragement, guilt, shame, anger and resentment, feelings of inferiority, hopelessness, depression, loss of energy, anxiety and fear, approval-seeking, hyper-vigilance. The fear of making a mistake. A high concern around incurring this person’s anger or disapproval. Driven to the temptation to self-medicate. And more.

Relational symptoms: People-pleasing dominates your mind. You feel controlled by this person. You experience anger and resentment in the relationship, as well as gossip and a lack of real intimacy. A breakdown of direct communication. Avoidance of the person either passively or actively. The good moments are more times of relief or momentary “approval” than real connection. And many others.

Performance symptoms: Not performing well because of the pressure you feel, an inordinate focus on avoiding a mistakes, perfectionistic obsessions. You have lost the big picture and the motivation to dream and be creative. And others as well.
You just can’t perform to your best when you are worried about failure, criticism, or lack of approval.

If you find yourself discouraged in a Corner #2 relationship, it is time to address it. Here are some practical suggestions:

  • Do an honest audit. Do you feel “not good enough” in a significant relationship? Name it. And remember, it might be more than one person, like a team, for example. Or your family.
  • Find someone wise who can help you figure out next steps. Are you able to address the bad relationship? Have you approached the person and said, “I am struggling in our relationship. I often feel as if I am not pleasing you…and like I never really can.” Is it even possible to have a positive dialogue with this connection? If not, what might you do next?
  • Deal with the Corner #2 voices in your head. Bad connections have a much stronger effect if there are critical voices in your own head that agree with them! Get some help and resolve your own self-critical perfectionistic guilt, shame and anger.