What to Do When You've Been Burned Too Many Times

Jun 09, 2020

I worked with someone who once told me they were “done” with people. Their sentiment was understood. After being hurt multiple times in different capacities, I could see why they came to that conclusion. I just didn’t agree with it.

But before you believe you’re “done” with people and all relationships, allow me to elaborate on something here.

People who avoid relationships have problems not with functional self-sufficiency but with relational self-sufficiency. The problem with the relationally self-sufficient person is that he operates in his own relational world. He runs his emotional affairs like a one-man business. His emotional philosophy is the following:

  • I take care of my problems.
  • I don’t burden others with my problems.
  • I can handle my problems myself, thank you.
  • I’m fine, really.
  • No, really, I’m fine.

What’s wrong here? We were not created to be relationally self-sufficient. We need each other. Our needs teach us about love and keep us humble. True self-sufficiency is a product of the Fall.

If you’ve got the disease of self-sufficiency, you’ve probably had it a long time. And you’ve probably described it in positive terms like responsible, independent, and grown-up. Indeed, self-sufficiency has lots of advantages, because you get to avoid all the uncontrollable problems and risks that needy people can’t get away from. Here are a few examples:

  • You don’t have to experience your incompleteness, which is painful.
  • You don’t have to go to the trouble of finding people to love you.
  • You don’t have to show other people the hurting, imperfect parts of yourself.
  • You don’t have to look anyone in the eye and say, “I need you.”
  • You don’t have to risk asking others to comfort and support you.
  • You don’t have to humbly receive what they offer, in gratitude. And you don’t have to do it again and again and again.
    No wonder giving up self-sufficiency is so difficult. Life seems to have many more problems when your needs start leaking out.

What to do? If your self-sufficiency is driving you away from relationship and into isolation, begin the process of confession. Confession is telling the truth, and the truth is, you need people. The reason people say confession is good for the soul is because it brings unloved parts of our character to places of love.

Find people that understand self-sufficiency. They’ll know you can’t “feel your need” for them. But they’ll help you state your isolation, talk about the reasons you’re disconnected, and discuss how hard it is to give up your independence. As you confess this problem to safe people, a wonderful miracle happens: over time, self-sufficiency melts and gives way to need. You are then reconciled not only to others, but also to yourself.

Let's talk about steps you can take towards creating healthy boundaries in relationships and what you can do to maintain them.