As human beings sometimes we have to give ourselves permission to walk away, to lay down our love, to be honest and aware with our hearts and to understand when something simply isn’t working anymore.
However, that within itself is an extremely difficult thing to do. It is hard to come to terms with the fact that you may have to let go of something that once brought you so much joy. It is hard to stop caring.
It starts like this: you meet someone and you care so deeply, you see so much potential in them, you start a relationship, or a friendship with them, and things are really beautiful, they feel hopeful. There is a connection, and you feel valued, and you make memories with this person and you have inside jokes and you give them so much of your heart. And sometimes that lasts, and that is something I think every single person wishes for in life. But as human beings who are constantly changing, as human beings who are constantly being faced with the ways in which life tries to weather us, as human beings who are dealing with so many different worlds within our own minds, so many different hardships and experiences — sometimes things change. Life transforms our hearts, or we are met with circumstances that open our eyes or make us see our relationship from a different perspective, or see ourselves from a different perspective — and maybe within that, we come to terms with the fact that we might be holding on to potential, or to the way things were in the past, just to keep someone in our lives, just to protect ourselves from hurt.
Therefore, when you’re an empath, or when you are the kind of person who feels deeply, walking away can be a very long process, it can be painfully difficult. When you love with everything inside of you, it can be easy to make excuses for the way that someone makes you feel, just to keep them in your life. And the truth is, a lot of people who are highly sensitive, and who are empathetic, understand it from a level that is deep and engrained and often a reflection of what they themselves have been through. See, those who love the hardest, and who are the kindest souls, have often lived in a world that was not so kind to them, and have loved people who haven’t always protected their hearts. They understand what it means to be the kind of person who has been let down, they know what it is like to be walked away from, to question their heart because of that, and within that it can be extremely confusing to determine whether to stay or to fight, it can be extremely difficult to give themselves permission to stop tearing themselves apart just to make something work, because you they want to so desperately believe in the potential, and the hope they have within them, they so desperately want to protect someone from ever having to feel the way that they felt, from ever having to go through that. And so they stay.
But at what point does that become self sabotage? At what point does caring deeply about another human start to mean that you are no longer caring for yourself?
It is important for empaths to understand that walking away does not mean that they are giving up on someone. Sometimes, we have to understand that walking away can be the best gift we give to someone, and to ourselves, because it helps for us to learn lessons within boundaries, it helps for us to grow, and vice versa. If we stay in relationships we have outgrown, if we continue to love someone for the convenience or to pacify them, are we really giving them the space to grow themselves? The space to find the kind of love that will genuinely be the right love for them in whatever season, or state, they are in at the moment?
Because the truth is, sometimes love does change. We add so much negativity to walking away. When you care deeply you are so worried about hurting someone that you start to feel bad for creating boundaries, for asking for what you need — but that doesn’t serve you, and it doesn’t serve the relationship, because that isn’t healthy. And that is no one’s fault. Someone can be an absolutely incredible person. Someone can be the love of your life for years and they can teach you so much, and grow you so much, and do so damn much for you, and help you in your seasons, and you can still get to a point where you do not see a future with them, or you can get to a point where you need to walk away. That is okay. We walk away for so many reasons, we outgrow people for so many reasons, and it is okay to do so. You have to understand that you are not a bad person for not being able to make things work. You are not a bad person for letting go.
But because there can be so much mental confusion when it comes to loving deeply and having to walk away, sometimes we have to classify how we feel in a relationship and learn how to have compassion for ourselves in these moments. Instead of convincing yourself that it’s fine, that you need to grip, and try harder, and hold on tightly, really assessing if you should stay or if you should go is important, and I’ve written out some ways you can teach yourself how to determine whether or not you should keep someone in your life, whether or not your love has given you all that it can. I firmly believe that you walk away, not when you have run out of love, but when you have run out of growth. Determining that is the beginning of everything, because it will help for you to stop associating how much you feel, how deeply you care, etc with how deeply a relationship is meant to be in your life. You can care deeply for someone and let them go. You can care deeply for someone and understand that you need space. You can care deeply for someone and outgrow them.
Firstly, ask yourself — how does this person make me feel?
I think one of the biggest ways to determine whether or not you need to continue putting your energy into a relationship, or the most important way to determine if you’ve outgrown someone, is to simply connect with how they make you feel. You don’t feel positive after being with them. A positive relationship should mostly be uplifting. Sure, you will face some rough patches along the way, but a healthy relationship is mostly a constructive experience. You should be accepting of each other – supportive, and responsive.
Do you change yourself around them?
And in relation to that, do you change yourself around them? Do you feel like you have be more of this or less of that, in order to keep them happy? You should never feel the need to be another person just to accommodate someone. A sign of outgrowing a relationship is there whenever you feel like you are afraid to grow into the person you are inspired to become. You won’t have to quiet yourself, or the way you love, or the way you care, or the things you desire in life, in order to keep someone within it. At the end of the day, sometimes the people in your life will want different things, and that is okay. It is a matter of determining if that difference is something breachable, or if that difference is asking for you to compromise really important parts of yourself in order to keep this love in your life. Do you feel like you can be yourself? Like you are seen?
Do you feel like you are growing?
Like you have someone by your side who wants to grow with you, and grow in their own individual ways too. Someone who is excited to see the ways in which you are working towards your goals, someone who understands them and comprehends just how deeply you’re striving and is proud of you there, and holds you there, and doesn’t make you feel bad for wanting to transform and evolve. The people in your life should be in awe of your evolution, they should encourage it, because changing and growing is only ever going to take away from the relationships that aren’t willing to grow with you. If there is tension, if you feel like you have to hold yourself back because you’re scared of losing someone, because your bigness would be an issue, because the brevity of what you want is just too big to hold for someone, then that is such a beautiful compass towards walking away. If love only works when you’re operating from a place of lack, when you’re not able to step fully into who you want to be, then that kind of love benefits from you being a lesser version of yourself. A quieter version of yourself. A less evolved version of yourself. A version of yourself that is trying to outgrow it’s boundaries but is being aked to stay in the confines of something that wants to keep it small, or preserved, or protected within comfort. And where does that leave you? What is that cost? When you feel like you cannot expand in a relationship, are you genuinely happy?
Does your relationship have a foundation of compassion in it?
While chemistry and shared values are important, at the end of the day, solid relationships are built on the compassion that exists between two people. Kindness is what holds relationships together. It is the kindness and good will toward each other. It’s being on a partner’s side, it’s being on their team. It’s the willingness to forgive flaws, to have grace for them, and their mistakes and to find understanding and work through issues from a place of empathy. It’s the support, admiration, respect, dedication, and commitment you have with each other. And when you outgrow someone, you can start to see all of the ways you have maybe lost that in a relationship. This doesn’t happen all the time, the goodness doesn’t generally disappear overnight; it’s erodes slowly over time. This is what we talk about when we say we outgrow certain relationships in life. Sometimes, we can be in love with a person but not in love with the way that they treat us, or see us. Sometimes, we can be in love with a person, but as life and experience occurs, we lose our kindness towards one another. Behaviors that often indicate that the goodness may be waning include irritability, anger, distancing, meanness, and lack of respect of any kind. And unfortunately, once that goodness fades, once you feel like you can’t fully show up as you are or ask for what you need or do even the smallest thing without feeling like you’re walking on eggshells, or like you’ll upset someone, or like they’re just not trying to see things from your perspective, they not trying any longer to meet you where you are the way that you do so — the relationship becomes a breeding ground for hurt. This is the way I think a lot of us hurt one another. We suffocate our love, we don’t walk away, and we end up in connections that break us down, where we don’t feel emotionally safe or taken care of, where the warmth fades due to the comfort. This is a telltale sign that you’ve outgrown someone. If you feel like you are not respected, if you feel like someone just assumes you are going to stick around and nurture them and pour into them just because you have been together with them for a period of time, just because you are loyal and dedicated, that isn’t right. You shouldn’t allow for yourself to be mistreated, or to be loved in halves, you shouldn’t let someone get away with making you feel upset all the time, or not worthy, or have them hurt you with their actions, their words, etc because we often end up hurting those who we love the most, who we are the closest with, because in a weird way, those are the people who seem to stick around, those are the people who fight even if we don’t deserve it. And so, if this is you, I hope you need to understand that while you may hold a lot of care and love within your heart for this relationship and this person, it isn’t protecting your heart, it isn’t fostering kindness within the relationship. And you deserve that. It’s okay to realize you’ve outgrown this connection.
Does it feel one sided?
The energy flow between two people in most healthy relationships is generally fairly equal. The give-and-take should allow both partners, for the most part, to feel they are getting their needs met. When a relationship starts to deteriorate, it can feel like one person is doing all the work to maintain it, which creates an imbalance and a disconnect. The person doing all the work can become resentful, and the person on the receiving end can become more and more complacent. When you try too hard to get someone to come toward you, they generally move in the opposite direction. You can only hold on so tightly to someone who doesn’t seem to want to meet you where you are. Remember — one sided love is not love.
While every relationship is different, both people should generally feel there is room for them to grow and develop, and to feel like their individual dreams and aspirations in life matter. They should feel there is space for their interests to be included in the relationship, and that there is enough opportunity for each of their needs to be met. Relationships that are unbalanced in this respect tend to revolve around one person. The person around whom the relationship revolves is generally satisfied with this arrangement, while the other ends up feeling resentful and used, and like they are living someone else’s life. So ask yourself, do things in your relationship feel reciprocated? Are you being emotionally taken care of, do you feel held? Do you feel like this person in your life genuinely shows up and puts in effort?
And this isn’t a space where you should start comparing and listing off all of the things you do for them versus the things that they do for you. Sometimes, when we are empathetic it can feel like we carry the weight of the world on our shoulders, and we can actually lose sight of the ways in which our partners and our friends are showing up for us in their own ways. Sometimes, what seems like a small amount of effort on behalf of another person, is actually in insurmountable amount of effort for them. You have to love someone the way that they need to be loved, not the way you need to be loved. And you have to teach someone how to, in turn, love you how you need to be loved. But beyond that, once you communicate, once you know that this person has been given the tools and the knowledge to make you feel seen, and vice versa, does it feel one sided? If it does, then it is time to respect your time, and your energy and your effort and understand that you’ve outgrown this person.
Are you holding onto the past?
Are you rationalizing their behavior in order to fit them into a past version of themselves, the one that you fell in love with? Are you not being honest with yourself about how much they have changed, or grown, into the kind of person you don’t necessarily dislike, but the kind of person you don’t want to be around? Are you gripping at the highlights, and not reminding yourself of all of the reasons why things feel heavy and hard in the connection? Once this starts, it is a large indicator that you have outgrown someone. Who they were when you met was who you needed, and the relationship has served it’s purpose, but life has grown them into the kind of human being that doesn’t feel good. You tyro to grip at that goodness, you try to grip at that past, but you can’t live in the past with someone you continue to carry into your future. You have to lay them down. You have to give yourself permission to outgrow them instead of staying in love with a version of them that no longer exists.
Are you holding on to their potential?
To the version of them you thought they could become. Are you gripping, and trying, so deeply just to stick around in the hopes that they, in the future, will be different. It is okay to be honest with yourself here. This is quite possibly one of the most difficult questions to answer, especially as someone who cares deeply, because potential is beautiful. Having a heart that believes in someone is beautiful. Caring deeply and wanting to be patient with someone as they grow into who they are becoming, is beautiful. But it gets to a point where you need to understand that you might not even be in love with them, as they are right now. You might be in love with the idea of them, and unfortunately, that isn’t love. That is a sign you have outgrown someone. Because if you can’t love someone where they are, as they are, if you are constantly trying to push them forward on their journey towards becoming and healing and growing or whatever, you’re not holding them where they are. You’re holding them against a standard that doesn’t exist in reality yet, and that is more damaging than it is tender. You have to love someone as they are, no matter what. If you can’t, it’s time to walk away. You have to stop carrying all of that potential within you.
Are you afraid?
Loss is measurable. Sometimes, it can be so difficult to walk away, to understand when relationships have overstayed their welcome, because loss is so measurable. It directly creates so many voids in our lives, voids that we immediately feel. You know someone in the deepest way, you learn all about them, and you hold so much of them within you through their memory and their nostalgia, but you do not actually have access to them anymore. You can’t hear their laugh, or them singing in the shower, and your traditions and your inside jokes and it all just gets tucked away within your heart for safekeeping. Human beings are museums of all of the people they once loved. Loss is so measurable, it sticks to your bones. It can be hard to choose to admit to yourself that you’ve outgrown a relationship, because it means that you will have to go off into the future, and the future is uncertain. Here, you have someone who may not fulfill you, or challenge you or grow you anymore, but you do have someone by your side who you feel comfortable with. It can be easy to convince yourself to stay — what if you don’t find someone who will meet you where you are right now? But what if you do? What if you let go, and you learn how to step into yourself? What if you walk away, and you meet someone within this season of your life that grows you and challenges you and loves you the way you need to be loved? What if? You cannot stay in a relationship you have outgrown because you have yet to see what is waiting for you on the other side of that growth. You have to trust that growth. You have to fight for it.
When you care deeply you often leap towards wanting to fix others, and be there for them — you never want to give up on another human being because you see the duality that exists in life. Nothing is ever black and white, even an action that might confuse, or hurt, you. A human being is simply just a human being, just another person who is trying to figure themselves out, too. When you see the world like this, you can rationalize or justify almost anything. However, that does not mean you have to stay in its presence, or give it access to you. You can see things for what they are, you can reconcile the reasoning behind the action, but it is important to also look at things objectively, almost protectively.
Ask yourself: does this person encourage clarity, and peace in your life? Do they nourish your mind, your soul, on a level that stems far beneath the surface of who you are? Does this person make you feel seen, and understood, safe? Do they make you genuinely believe in goodness, and in yourself? Do they make you feel valued? If they do, then that connection deserves to be in your life, it deserves your energy. It deserves to be cherished. But if it does not — if you are holding on to people that add a weight to you, that are dishonest with you, that hold you back, that make you question your heartbeat or the way that you exist in this world — you have to have the courage to walk away. That connection will never grow you.