Goldfish shouldn’t swim in shark tanks just like people concerned about living their lives shouldn’t remain in the company of those dedicated to destroying others’ life desires.

Living with someone who’s determined to devour your life, your dreams and your passion is like leaving your cat in charge of care for your parakeet. The paralysis created by these kinds of relationships kill you long before you’re proverbially eaten alive.

I’ve had to many heartbreaking conversations with survivors of childhood abuse who struggle wrapping their minds around the idea they are not going to be able to maintain adult relationships with the parent that abused them as a child.

Based on degree, severity and longevity of the abuse, there is no easy way to help someone come to terms with the realization that a relationship with their abusive parent is not possible, as it places them in a position of vulnerability like the goldfish. What is possible is for the goldfish to find a new pond — preferably one without sharks.

People fail to realize the significance that environmental factors have upon their lives. Attempts at complete reconciliation with a perpetually abusive parent usually end up like the relationship where the cat is placed in charge of taking care of the parakeet. It ends up being all about the cat’s complete control and power over the parakeet.

I recently read about a lady who moved in search of a fresh start. She found a decent job and being away from her abusive, alcoholic mother provided her the opportunity to embrace the process of healthy self-discovery.

She was making real progress until she saw the aftermath of a tornado that ravaged the town where her mom lived. She decided to visit her mom and that trip led to an agreement to have coffee together once a week.

After just a few weeks, she realized something was off and she wasn’t the same. Her work performance was lacking, she wasn’t sleeping, she was anxious for no reason and she felt she was losing her newfound ability to actually experience her own feelings.

She decided to go to counseling, where she learned about the patterns of adult children of alcoholics. She eventually ended the once-a-week coffee with her mom and opted to write her instead. She was back on track and her sense of wellness returned within a couple of weeks.

Then there’s the heart- wrenching realization that you have allowed yourself to become emotionally involved with someone who is abusive. If you are dating and you recognize the signs of an abusive relationship in the making, run before you become the parakeet who’s life is caged and controlled by the cat.

If you already are married, things become much more complicated relationally.

Before you allow yourself to die a thousand deaths emotionally and possibly find yourself face to face with death, remember: You are a person who deserves to practice self-control as opposed to an object that control is practiced on.

All abusive relationships and environments have one thing in common: They all blatantly disrespect and disregard personal boundaries and space. If you are in a relationship of any kind where you have lost a sense of self, you are in an unhealthy environment and you eventually will become dead to yourself.

Workplace abuse is as common as child or spousal abuse and is reason to re-examine your work relationships. Toxic workplaces are like landfills. People constantly are dumping their junk.

You might be in a toxic workplace if your ideas or intellectual property are used by someone else who receives the recognition and rewards for your idea, if you find yourself being boxed out, or a ceiling, spoken or unspoken, is placed on your vocational growth and development, if the goalpost is constantly being moved and new rules are being made up every day to micro-manage and control your performance.

If you’ve seen these factors, most likely you are in a hostile work environment that eventually will become a shark tank, in which you will be the unfortunate goldfish.

If you take enough poison all at once, most likely you will die instantly, but if you’re exposed to small amounts of poison on a daily basis, then your poisoning becomes a process by which you gradually become lethally toxic. The rule of thumb that’s in play here is this: Toxic relationships poison by proximity, so you really are a byproduct of your environment.

Bad company corrupts good character and abusive relationships will eat you alive quicker than the cat you left to take care of your parakeet.

Dr. T.J. Kimble of Radcliff is a clinical pastoral counselor. He can be reached at

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