Recently a client brought a book, Friedman’s Fables, to one of his sessions and asked if he could read me a fable he had just finished. The fable was titled The Bridge and it was very appropriate for what we were working on. Little did I know that it was going to give me much to think about also.
If you aren’t familiar with the fable then you should look it up, but the basic theme (in my opinion) is that we can’t hold onto sole responsibility for relationships into which we enter and that, at some point (sometimes sooner than later), unhealthy relationships will weigh you down to the point of having to decide between holding on or letting go.
The point of decision arrived. What should he do? “My life or this other’s?” And then a new idea. A revelation. So new, in fact, it seemed heretical, so alien was it to his traditional way of thinking. “I want you to listen carefully,” he said, “because I mean what I am about to say. I will not accept the position of choice for your life, only for my own; the position of choice for your own life I hereby give back to you.”
Lately, I have found myself standing on the bridge with the rope of relationship tied around my waist. At first, the rope isn’t that noticeable. Sure, there might be a point where you feel a sudden, strong pull on the rope when the other party decides to take a leap off of the bridge. Then the weight starts to become bearable, almost a normal part of the relationship. You get used to the weight. It no longer, at least for a period of time, feels any different. But then one day, the other unexpectedly loosens their grip on the rope and you feel that jolt once again. You get the reminder of the weight you are holding.
For me, these jolts were times that boundaries were crossed – boundaries that took me a good deal of time to recognize were needed for my own well being. Each time these people crossed the boundary, the weight on the end of the rope became harder to hold onto and I could feel myself slipping; slipping into a place that was not healthy. Each jolt caused me to take a step backwards. A step away from my goals. Away from my progress. Away from my dreams. I was in dangerous territory.
So, I made the choice to let go. I let go of people who were either unwilling or unable to respect my boundaries. I let go of people who would rather see me fail than succeed. I let go of people who took advantage of my kindness. I removed the rope of the relationship that had been gradually wrapped around my waist and I let go. By letting go, I was taking control of my own life. I was telling those people that they were no longer welcome on this road with me.
He waited a few minutes, but there was no change in the tension of the rope. “I accept your choice,” the man said, at last, and freed his hands.
You see, no matter how strong I am or how much I like someone, I can’t be the only one holding the rope. I’ve done that before and it nearly broke me. I can’t allow someone a free pass into my world just because they are nice. That’s not how this works. There has to be a mutual respect for one another and the rules we have in place for our own well being. If we allow others to bend our own rules without permission then we have, in essence, agreed to wrap the rope around our waist.
Letting go can hurt. It’s not always easy. We sometimes let go of people that we really like and whose company we enjoy. Sometimes we let go of people who are so attached to others in our life that we have no choice, but to let go of those people also so that we can save our own life. It’s not easy, but the right thing is not always the easy thing. In the end, when we finally decide to unwrap the rope and let go, we are often reminded of how much easier we are able to move when we are not pulling the weight of others.
How many ropes are wrapped around your waist?