Don’t we all have someone in our lives whose way of looking at the world and interacting with others is a little bit off?
Sometimes they have actually diagnoses. Sometimes they should have a diagnosis but don’t. Sometimes their behavior is so unique that there isn’t a diagnostic category for them.
Many times these people – our lovers, our parents, our siblings, our friends or our adult kids – are harmful to us.
On the other hand, we may know people with complex diagnoses who are not harmful to us. Just because someone deals with mental or emotional problems doesn’t mean they can’t make valuable contributions in a family or social setting.
The tricky part is in knowing whether the situation is dangerous, whether we can help and what to do.
The legal litmus for whether an emotionally disturbed person can function in society is simple. They must not be a danger to themselves or a danger to others.
In that case, the danger is assumed to be specifically physical. But what happens when we find ourselves connected to someone who poses an emotional danger to us?
Here are some things to consider.
A person can be completely sane and still be an emotional danger. Some people trigger us in ways that aren’t helpful. Often it is not their fault. We still need to recognize it and walk away.
Many times people with emotional, personality and mental disorders are very charming and dynamic. We become enamored of their charisma before we realize the problems they have.
The biggest mistake we make is trying to understand the crazy things people do and say. We become confused and angered by contradictory statements and manipulative behavior.
When we love someone it is hard to believe they are actively manipulating us.
When we love someone we often have denial about the obviously crazy things they do.
Sometimes it’s hard to understand that they can’t just change their behavior overnight.
In a situation with someone who may pose emotional danger, many times our first reaction is “How can I help?”
The answer is, you may or may not be able to!
If the person is open to therapy, it might be good to start there.
Another way to help is to never take their words or actions personally. You know this is how they are, don’t let it get to you! If you can’t do that you need to walk away.
When you talk with the person about your concerns and try to help them think more logically, do it at a time when they are calm and not upset.
Sometimes there is really nothing you can do. If it is time to walk away, walk away clean. No phone calls, no texts, no lunch, no drinks. Over is over.
No one is the perfect picture of mental health. We all have issues. The people we love have issues. That’s just life. Sometimes we trigger each other’s issues. Sometimes we heal each other. Sometimes love makes a real difference in a person’s life. Sometimes love is the greatest healer.
Sometimes, though, the most loving thing we can do, for ourselves and others, is to walk away from a hurtful situation. Even when it is someone we love. Even when it is someone who claims to need us.
Knowing when to walk away or when to try to make it work is the hardest thing. Many times that decision should be based on two things.
First, what is the person’s demonstrated capacity to heal, understand, and improve?
Second, what is your capacity to not be upset by the person’s difficult behavior?
If you can’t ignore it and they can’t grow, you may have no other choice than to set the boundaries you need to protect yourself from emotional danger.