The idea for this post came from a client who wanted to understand why it was so hard for her to leave both a bad relationship and a job she nearly hated. As we discussed her family history, I learned that her mother stayed in bad relationships with no good boyfriend after boyfriend. Her grandmother stayed in a bad marriage for decades. The answer became clear. It was simple, powerful and complex at the same time. She was conditioned to stay.
Many of us find it painfully hard to leave situations we know are not healthy for us. We find ourselves in relationships for years sometimes with people we should have left a long time ago, or friendships that should have been let go of a long time ago. Unfortunately, many of us are conditioned to stay in these situations that aren’t the best for us and we don’t even realize it which makes it that much harder.
This conditioning could be as subtle as watching or parents stay in a loveless marriage so we stay in an unhappy marriage because we learned that we don’t leave a relationship just because we’re no longer happy, or we stay for the kids or we stay because we vowed “til death do us part”.
Many of us witnessed our parents have terrible fights, sometimes even getting physical, but they always stayed together so subconsciously we learned that even in an abusive relationship, we stay. It can even be that we witnessed our parents blissfully happy and in love for 30 years and we want that same relationship so we stay in our terrible marriage because we don’t want to not have what our parents did or are afraid of disappointing them.
Conditioning comes from many directions. Many families, religions and cultures do not believe in divorce so we may be even more obligated to settle and stay where we are not happy.
Beyond relationships, that conditioning can spill over into the work environment. We tend to copy what we do in personal relationships with what we do on the job. We stay in unsatisfying romantic relationships and end up staying in unsatisfying jobs. We want more, but somehow, somewhere were conditioned to settle.
Just like relationships, different cultures have different views on work. Many cultures believe that a man’s job defines him and that he must do the same type of work his father did, or work on the family form despite his own dreams and aspirations.
Maybe our father taught us that we show up to work every day for 30 years, keep your nose clean, head down and then retire, so even though we are unhappy, that’s what we do.
My mom went to work every day, she retired from two jobs and I never heard her complain so subconsciously I learned to go to work every day and not complain. I also learned to be loyal to a company, sometimes to a fault.
The same things can be said about relationships. I watched my parents stay in a troubled relationship for many years and that helped condition me to stay in toxic relationships longer than most people would.
We are all conditioned in good, bad and neutral ways of thinking, behaving and relating to the world and ourselves. It’s only when we start to examine this conditioning can we break away from what may be holding us back without us realizing it.