Knowing When to Walk Away

Wouldn’t it be interesting if everyone we initially encountered behaved exactly as they eventually will? If the glossy veneer of new relationships, jobs and places didn’t exist? What if we only had to cope with the ultimate circumstance, for better or worse? Most bad situations would be avoided altogether. No one would get into a relationship with the guy who showed up screaming and trying to punch you on date number one. No one would take the job that immediately began consuming one’s entire life, making impossible demands for minimal pay. So much pain would be avoided if unhealthy situations presented themselves in their full, dysfunctional glory.

Instead, we are left to figure it out for ourselves. The hard way.

Unhealthy situations tend to creep up on us. At first, you’re sitting in a warm, cozy bath. It’s only when the water starts to boil that you realize you’re over an open flame and there are carrots floating around you.

How can you recognize when a situation has become “too unhealthy”? When should you call it quits and walk away? That’s the million-dollar question, isn’t it? If I had a dollar for every time this came up in my psychotherapy sessions in the past decade, I wouldn’t have a car payment right now.

Each of us has our own threshold for tolerating unhealthy situations. We have our own internal guidelines that dictate what we will tolerate and for how long. Depending on the situation, there are a variety of factors that influence our willingness to stay; self-worth, risks and benefits of leaving, and our overall resilience to change. Sometimes we begin to doubt our own ability to judge what is tolerable and what isn’t. Unhealthy relationships (whether interpersonal or otherwise) will encourage this self-doubt in order to perpetuate the status quo. It’s like someone calling you names and then saying you’re too sensitive when you get offended.

Here are some signs that a situation is unhealthy and may warrant getting out:

  • You feel unsafe: If you feel that you are in physical or emotional danger, that is a clear sign that you need to find a safe way out. Contact the police or a domestic abuse center to get assistance, particularly if you are at imminent risk of harm.
  • You don’t feel like yourself anymore: Each of us grows and develops over time, but our basic sense of self should remain intact. If you begin to feel as if your situation has undermined your sense of self or moves you away from the person you want to be, it may be a warning sign that it’s time to leave.
  • Your wellbeing is consistently compromised: Any situation that demands that you compromise your health and wellness is an indication of a lack of respect. If you are being asked to compromise yourself regularly, and the burden is greater than the gain, that could be a sign to make a change.

Very few circumstances present themselves neatly. We stay in murky situations for a number of reasons; often because there are pros and cons that create a variety of complex dynamics. When making a decision about when to call it quits, ask yourself a few questions:

  • Have I made an effort to repair or resolve the situation to the best of my ability? (Not applicable in situations of abuse)
  • If I knew my situation wouldn’t get any better in the next five years, would I want to stay?
  • Does this situation reflect my values as a person? Am I living up to my own standards?
  • What are the pros and cons of leaving?
  • When I reflect back on this period of my life, what will stand out most about this situation?
  • What would “future me” tell me to do?
  • What would I advise a loved one to do?

Transitioning out of an unhealthy situation is a very personal journey. Ultimately, you’re the only one who can decide when enough is enough. Everyone has their own line in the sand and sometimes the line moves, depending on the circumstances. Try to make your decision based on self-compassion, self-respect and honor for your values.

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