The only thing worse than being in a relationship or job that doesn't meet your needs is staying in it. The first three columns in this series aimed to help you evaluate your situation, get clear on your non-negotiable needs, and ask assertively for what you want. If none of that works, and you can't feel at peace in the situation, it is time to free yourself from it. The word "freedom" is precisely how to see it. You aren't doing it to hurt the other person or to give them a taste of their own medicine. You are doing it to save yourself.
Leaving your job, ending a relationship or deciding that a friendship no longer serves you is always hard. The pain of it ending can feel worse than staying in the situation and being miserable. It is important to remember, however, that choosing the devil you know will always leave you with the devil. The pain you feel in letting go is temporary. It is useful to remember the first time your heart was broken or you were let go from a job. It probably felt like the world was ending, and yet here you are, looking back on all that now with a lot more wisdom and a lot less pain.
The question once you found the courage to change is how to do it. Feelings of anger and guilt can often cloud rational thinking, so it's important to take some time alone to think about your exit strategy - how you will do it, communicate it and live with it. While this is a very personal and subjective process, there are a few points to consider:
1. Have a logistical plan. If you are leaving your job, make sure you don't do it on an impulse. Think about what you need financially and in other ways. The same is true in a relationship. Don't leave without a place to go to, and consider waiting a while if need be in order to get your ducks in a row.
2. Have an emotional plan. Everyone needs support systems. Take some time to think about and all upon the people who can help you. If it's professional, call upon your network of colleagues; if it's personal, share the situation with a trusted friend or loved one. There's no need to do things all on our own when there are people in our lives who could help us.
3. Take the high road. It may be tempting to hurt the other person; or conversely, the guilt you feel may make you feel like a bad person. Either way, it is important to be honest, communicate clearly and explain what you are doing and why. Leaving without notice (unless your safety is in jeopardy), or doing something spiteful will only lead to your own pain. Knowing that you handled it as well as possible will bring you more peace in the long run.
4. Forgive. There is nothing more important than doing this for both yourself and the other person. Instead of being angry about not having your needs met, focus on the fact that you are doing what you need to take care of yourself. Asking people to change a behavior they can't is like asking someone to have green eyes when they are blue. If you are suffering from guilt remember that staying in a situation that makes you miserable never results in anyone's happiness. You have made this choice because there is no other.
The bottom line when all else fails is that you always have control over one thing: yourself. Leaving a situation may be the absolute last resort, but it is always and option, and you will know if and when it's time. Once you do know, find the courage to act on it.
Eliza Levy conducts seminars on conflict resolution and anger management. For more information, contact her at 305-296-5437 or visit http://www.elisalevy.com.