What does “holding out for healthy” look like, anyway?
By Jonathan E. Hart, LPC
This blog presumes you’ve read the previous two in the series. If you haven’t, Click HERE to be taken to the first entry.
Now that you’ve recognized that your family member is not the person that their job description calls for, you’re beginning to take some steps. You’ve come to understand that, for example, Dad is not in the “Parents and Siblings” ring of intimacy. He is more an “Acquaintance”, based on the way that the relationship feels and works. You’ve started to give yourself permission NOT to call every week because you don’t call your other acquaintances that often. You’re arguing with the guilt that arises from being a “bad child”, and with the healthy compassion that comes from seeing him struggle with loneliness. You’re resisting the impulse to go in and rescue him.
And you feel like you’re being mean, cold-blooded, and harsh. You’re being told, “You’ve changed, and not for the better.” Other family members are calling you to convince you to “seek reconciliation”, or to chew you out for your “bad attitude”. The pressure becomes enormous, and you sometimes forget what you are fighting for.
“Holding out for Healthy” is hard. It means defying everything the relationship in question has taught you all your life. It means holding on to the desire for real intimacy, even if your hope that the desire will be fulfilled looks too remote to be realistic. A very old aphorism says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick”. It means clinging tight to the idea that a healthier relationship with your father is worth the loss of the false intimacy you’ve been used to all your life.
Because what you’ve been used to all your life was not real. It was a counterfeit of relationship and, when you tried to use it as currency, you discovered you’d been cheated. Which would you rather have: A fist full of play money, or nothing? It’s a trick question. You’ve got nothing either way.
The hard truth is that when you start operating according to the way that the relationship actually exists, you are not changing anything about it. You’re merely speaking the truth about it for once. You’re finally allowing the natural outcome of Dad’s way of being to actually touch him for once, rather than protecting him from it.
The reason the relationship persists the way it does is likely due in part to the fact that nobody has dared to tell him what it’s like. Nobody has named the fact that the Emperor has no clothes. Naming it to him hurts, but it also offers him the chance to see that what he’s doing is hurtful, and provides him with an opportunity to grow.
“Holding out for Healthy” invites the other person into a better place themselves. It calls them to be a better human being, to seek healing for their own wounds, and to acknowledge the wounding they have done themselves. They will either be able to do this, or they won’t. Even if you can step into one ring closer with them, you have more than you’ve ever had before, and that is wealth indeed.
“Holding out for Healthy” also leads you to healing of your own. This relationship loses its power to define you because you are actively defining the relationship.
What does Holding out for Healthy look like? It’s a mess. It’s painful and it rocks the boats of a lot of people. You’re not going to do it well. But doing it at all represents a change that has real value on your own life, and — potentially — in the lives of those you love. It’s worth the risk.