June 3, 2016

When Burning Bridges Serve Us.

image via Unsplash by Michael HullIs there ever a time when we should burn our bridges?

This is a question that I’ve often asked myself.

When I was younger, I would burn them without a second thought. As I’ve gotten older I’ve realized the value of peaceful endings and keeping positive relationships with the people of our past. Whether it is to maintain a good job reference or simply to have a sense of peace, as I’ve gotten older I’ve stopped burning bridges to my past.

Lately I’ve been wondering if some bridges need to be burned so we’re not tempted to go back and cross them. Is there a way to burn our bridges in kindness, to dissolve relationships in such a way that we don’t revisit them and yet do no harm?

We all have that relationship that should not be revisited, the door that should never be opened again for our own peace. The Atlanta based lifestyle program The Bert Show has referred to this person as our “dating antichrist.” I’ve always thought that it was an apt term for someone whose impact on our life can be so detrimental.

This is the type of relationship that we find hard to end and often return to in our weaker moments. We know it’s unhealthy, and yet we keep hoping that the outcome will change if we just try harder or try again.

What measures do we need to take to prevent ourselves from repeating past patterns of behaviors that hurt us?

When we are at risk of revisiting this type of relationship, we need to find ways of burning that bridge, but doing so in the spirit of kindness and self-preservation and not from a place of resentment and hate. To put this type of boundary in place at any time can be challenging, but it is made infinitely more difficult when we need to eliminate our option for returning to the person who we find difficult to resist.

What safeguards are possible, and what lines need to be drawn to remind us of what we need versus what we often choose to our detriment? When considering how to go about burning a bridge in kindness (if that’s possible), here are some options that came to mind:

1. Delete, delete, delete.

All text messages must go. All Facebook messages. All of our social media contact with that person must be eliminated. We do not need to preserve the record of our relationships. For me, this has always been the most difficult step to take. Somehow, keeping the messages validates my feelings and experience. It gives me some comfort knowing that it wasn’t all in my head. However, the temptation of revisiting those messages (and that relationship) is just too tempting. Hit delete.

2. Block.

Take to social media and use the block feature. We can also block their number on our phones to stop phone calls and text messages. Once the block is in place, we need to erase the number from our contact list, delete their email, do whatever it takes to remove the temptation to contact or the ability to be contacted.

3. Get support.

Phone a friend. We can ask our closest friends to be our watchdog to keep us from returning to the “dating antichrist.” We can ask that they remind us why this was so harmful and to also help us remember our own worth when we feel discouraged. The important part of this challenge is keeping an open line of communication with these friends so that they know when we’re struggling. When we let them know that we’re thinking about that past relationship, they can help us to get through it without falling back into harmful patterns of behavior.

4. Just say it.

When it comes to burning the bridge to the ground, we may need to have a final conversation. It can be in person, by phone, in text or even in a letter. We may have a need to let that person know that we’re not going to do this again. Putting a firm boundary in place with that person and then following the aforementioned steps can help us finally separate ourselves from the situation.

5. Thought-stopping.

This truly works, but it takes practice. It’s important that we learn that we are in control of our thoughts. When they go back to an unhealthy relationship (whether we’re talking about a dating relationship or otherwise,) we need to stop and find a new direction for our thoughts. We can focus on something, anything else. Meditation can be helpful, and I find yoga to be a good practice for bringing myself into the present moment and out of my own head. When we’re truly struggling with this, we can refer to number three.

While it’s ideal to keep past relationships positive even at the end, it’s not always possible.

There are times when we may have to eliminate the relationship altogether, and the process may seem overwhelming. However I know that when I followed these steps to remove a negative relationship from my life, I found some measure of peace.

I have to resist the temptation to ask my friends to look up my “dating antichrist.” I have to change the direction of my thoughts when they wander down that path. Burning this bridge means being willing to work through our feelings without expecting the other person to participate.

To forgive without an apology. To move on without closure being offered from the other side. To move on, we have to create our own sense of closure by knowing that we are serving our best interests and a higher purpose by letting go.

As long as we’re holding on so tightly to a relationship that needs to be over, we are not available to let in one that can nourish our souls. We cannot be open to a healthy relationship or a strong love when we are too busy trying to revive one that is dead. It’s natural to want to hold on, but our peace lies in the letting go.

Release our grip. Trust the universe.

I promise you: this isn’t falling. This is flying!


Author: Crystal Jackson

Editor: Sara Kärpänen

Photo: Michael Hull/Unsplash  & Petras Gagilas / Flickr

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