Coping With The Bad Decisions Of Others

This is a super sticky subject but I’ll try to lay it out.  There is a gal on the boards who speaks out about her hardship dealing with her teenage son who does nothing but make poor choices.  You don’t need details. Most know a parent in circumstances like this. Their kid is violent, disrespectful, law-breaking, lying, truant, you name it, and the parent’s hands are tied.

In another scenario, you may know a woman who is beaten or otherwise mistreated by her husband or her boyfriend.  You may know someone who is spending their way to homelessness or you may be in love with (or just care about) a drunk or drug addict who is increasing in speed as they careen downhill. You may know someone with a great partner, embarking on an affair with a shadowy figure,  someone who decides to embezzle from their job, the scenarios are endless.

Most agree, people have free will. Most agree, a person’s life is their own.  What do you do in situations like this? Do you get out of the way to allow the person to hit the wall their headed towards, faster?  Do you get in the middle of it and get beat up yourself?

The thing that makes this complicated (for me), is that it is really hard to judge what is a  bad decision. It is possible to take a convoluted route but wind up somewhere enviable. I know that I have made decisions in my life that some thought were foolish at the time but that have ended up playing well…though I think they caused people who cared about me grief and concern at the time.

This is a Saturn in Libra issue of course. Boundaries.  But lets say your friend starts smoking crack.  What (if anything) are you going to do about that?  What if a year later, they’re still at it and what about five years later?

Do you have a break-off point? What does it take for you to put your needs ahead of theirs?

34 thoughts on “Coping With The Bad Decisions Of Others”

  1. Many years ago I had a dear friend who had a complete moron for a boyfriend. He beat her up many times, and she would deny it. Then she stopped denying it, but always made excuses for it. I really loved her, so I tried to help – talking, begging her to get help, dump him, whatever. But one day it hit me that she was not going to leave him. She could have – she was the one with the good job, took care of herself and her son, was older than him. He was a complete, useless loser – couldn’t keep a job because the rest of the world knew he was an asshole. So I just stopped (slowly) being friends with her. I don’t tolerate crap from anyone, and if a man hit me, I would be on Death Row, because I would kill the motherfucker. So I just couldn’t watch it anymore – she was a grown woman, and seemingly, this is the life she choose. It was really heartbreaking, but I was done.

  2. Wow, Elsa –

    Great topic! I’ve been watching people make some really bad decisions lately. I help if asked. I watch to see what they do with that help – if they don’t “really” want it, then I’m done. And I get out of the way. I’m not saying they have to take my advice/help, but if all indications are that they don’t want to apply themselves to making things better, well, ok, fine. I step back, honor their decision, and hope that they are learning something they’ve come here to learn. Sometimes what looks like the hardest path is the one that makes them into amazing people. It’s hard to watch, but I keep reminding myself that. And if I can’t detach from it, I really step away – they don’t need my energy of thinking it’s a disaster waiting to (or already) happening.

  3. And I just wanted to add….Friend smoking crack? Just can’t see any of mine doing that, but if they did, they would already be so far off my radar and out of my life, I wouldn’t have to worry about it!

  4. I had one of my friends start smoking crack, in their 30’s no less! It was stunning. This was not a drug user, or at least someone who had not used drugs or drank since their early 20’s.

    This went on for about 2 years. The person had a high position and managed to keep it somehow though they were crawling amongst the dregs of society in their off time.

    I was very concerned. I got phone calls from the rim of hell. I would ask the person is they wanted help / needed my help. “No.”

    I respected that – I respected them, there was a long history between us, so I just said that I hoped they survived – made it back from the abyss.

    What happened is they got busted and jeez, you wanna talk a miraculous turn-around.

    This person managed to avoid jail time, paid fines, paid an attorney, kept their job and never touched crack again.

    It’s years later now and we’re still friends. This period was a total anomaly in the scope of the life. Lucky person or perhaps (I think) deserving of the end of this story.

  5. Avatar
    Le Ciel du Scorpion

    You know, part of this for me is: Have I approached this in every possible way? That means, am I being clear, or only making hints? Am I being pleasant, or can I get mad? I think that’s the test for me. Have I tried everything? Really everything? Or just the “everything” I’m comfortable with?

  6. Yep, Elsa, that would be quite the stunner! I’m SO glad that they made it back.
    And I agree – sometimes something like that happens, now that I think about it. I have someone in my life that did something catastrophic and out of the blue. Everyone who knew this person was shocked. And most abandoned this person and cut them right off. I didn’t, but it’s no problem for me to stay in touch, and while this person is digging themselves out, they appreciate that I stay in touch. It just feels like the right thing to do.

  7. I was just thinking about this topic! I have a daughter who just got fired from her job because she slept through her 11-7 night shift and did not call in or show up. She lives on her own, and has rent to pay. I told her she better start getting busy and find another job, and take some responsibility for her self.
    I also have a brother who is 40 years old who is currently staying with another sibling of ours. He has been kicked out of every siblings house, including mine, for slacking, and expects everyone take care of him, while he takes the easy road and does not take care of himself, or contribute to the house hold he is staying at. Just takes complete and total advantage of people. This has been his normal life for the last 20+ years, and it occurred to me that his next stop will be the homeless shelter or living in his car, basically hitting rock bottom! Sibling he is currently living with gave him a deadline to get his shit together, or get out. His birthday is October 8th,1970.

  8. My Pisces Moon makes me stay in relationships longer than I should – or maybe it’s Karma. I always see their hidden potential that they do not embrace. There was that magic point in time with each of them where I knew I had done everything I could, but they were never going to change. I felt like I had fulfilled my Karma, even though they did not hold up their part of the bargain. Now that I am a mother, the choice is easy. If someone is not a positive influence on my children, they are out of my life. This includes toxic relatives.

  9. Learning to stay out of it. I get less involved, keep the door closed much more than I used to. I’ll help if somebody asks, or it seems extra right. Even so I’m more conservative than before. Saturn is going back & forth right on top of my Libra moon. Spent my childhood and most of my life focused on other people’s messes, and felt it was by obligation. Don’t anymore, but it still pulls me. I remember that I don’t want my household trashed and my kid involved with somebody else’s mess.

    I don’t like this more detached stance; I’m uncomfortable not giving and giving. I’m also still conditioned to think that if I say no, I’ll get hurt somehow. However, I’ve had tons of experience with trying to help and getting hurt badly. I will by literally paying for some of that for years to come. Slowly I’m learning that sometimes people do learn their own lessons and survive. And some don’t and being over-generous has tended to get me in big trouble. I’m not balanced yet. I used to be over-engaged, now I feel isolated by my own boundaries. But my life is safer, cleaner, better.

    For other people it might not be the same. Like, for me, I’ve learned the hard way: clandestine relationships, bad. Illicit romance, not worth the price. Letting myself be seduced-terrible idea. I’ve seen other women actually play that way on purpose, of course, and do fine. They love the married men, they thrive and may even end up married for life to somebody they stole away. Chaos, drama, damage, but it seems to come out in the wash.

    I’ve learned I *can’t* do it that way, though I’m sure I’ve had many more opportunities like that than most. One of my lessons, for sure, but maybe not one of yours. Have to get used to peace, because it wasn’t natural, but it serves me much better.

  10. Hm. Good question!

    I think my basic barometer is around how much drama they crave and how much help they are seeking from me. I can’t see many of these worst case scenarios happening to people in my life, but I can remember people I was just forming friendships with and there were some strange ones.

    For instance, I had a friend who had an “abusive” boyfriend (I honestly have no idea if he was or not) who, it came to appear, was a rather willing participant in this drama. It came to seem she *wanted* to complain and cry and she needed so much help getting through it. But any offer of truly constructive help was always rejected a la “I think he might hurt me” “for god’s sake come stay with me! Stay with your parents! Stay with whoever! Get out of that house!” were met with “ohhh but I can’t. I don’t have enough money to move out and no one will take me in” “hey, I’m telling you *I* will” “no I don’t have any money.” I’m not kidding. It was this kooky. I had to finally say goodbye to her as she was just not happy unless she was miserable, and she dragged everyone else into this drama and sort of held us all hostage. It came to feel very manipulative, in a way. That was so draining, and there was nothing I could even do to help. Can’t keep that up.

    On the other hand, I’ve had friends who make choices that *I* think are whacked out, but I get the sense that they are happy, that it is a choice, that they have something in mind that I simply don’t understand, that it’s something they just have to do, or what have you. I am totally fine with that. It is not for me to say who someone should date, where they should work, how they should spend their money, etc. If they ask my opinion I’ll give it, unvarnished, and sometimes I’ll even question their actions to get a read on what the hell is going on, but offering endless “advice” is never constructive. It is *very* hard to watch sometimes, but I love them, so I stick it out. No question.

    I can’t say what I would do in a substance abuse situation. I have almost no tolerance for drug users (not a moral judgment, they are just so DULL!) or drunks, and I just can’t imagine the circumstances that would drive any of my friends down this path.

    So I guess my line is, we all have self-created problems in life. It’s not a deal breaker for me until you forcibly and repeatedly try to make your problems my problem. Even then, it depends.

  11. Two alcoholic parents who are currently either drinking under wraps or crazy dry drunk codependent insanity. Mom has now moved on to prescription drug abuse. Sister is in AA, which is good, but still has completely insane relationship issues- had to draw a firm boundary (again) about discussing her boyfriend problems which consist of men carrying giant red flags, wrapped in red flags, with whipped cream and a red flag on top. I ask if she’s noticed these red flags, then get verbally attacked essentially for trying to pull off her flag-blinders. So Thursday I told her I just can’t talk about any boyfriend issues. Luckily she is starting a recovery group for that.

    I have had, across the years, three gut wrenching intervention discussions with my parents. They didn’t really help. I’m not estranged, but I’m at arms length.

    I hear about my cousin, a few years younger than me, who is returning to work after maternity leave, leaving baby with her mom (my mom’s sister) and realizing I could never do that because of the choices my parents have made. She spent most of Christmas in a drugged out haze/coma, didn’t even come to the table. Sad. But this is not up to me, at all.

    Sad, but easier than fighting someone hell-bent on self destruction. At some point you have to let go and just mourn.

  12. Do you have a break-off point? What does it take for you to put your needs ahead of theirs?

    I think it is instinctive for me.

    One day at work a child was playing near the road, running this way, running that way. one parent inside getting coffee out of any chance of seeing the curb. The other parent on the phone facing the building and at least 20 feet away from said child.

    Big bus comes hurdling around the corner and the kid darts toward the road, I sprung toward the child and with one arm under his shoulder whirled him into the air in a nick of time, the child began to cry. The parent came over and said, “That’s my child!!! What happened!!!” then stopping when she saw me in uniform and realized the bus almost squashed the child. Then less than a minute later the othe parent came out with the coffee first with no clue of what happened, then self commentarying on how people should not stick their noses in things that do not concern them, having not got the whole story and seeing the kid still a little shaken and upset.

    I’d do it again too.

    This can be difficult to know where to draw the line, I remember a couple in a mall out my way and I saw the man dragging a crying screaming woman through the mall while yelling at her and threatening to hit her. I walked nearer and asked them what was going on, the woman broke away and started to yell and scream at me saying I was a “*!^$#^%&%$&” and swung. The man then collected her in close, her head burried in his chest as he escorted her out. I assumed either medical/mental/pharmasutical after that but you still never know. I did see mall security encountered them later on. Where do you draw the line. I took the first step but thought twice on pursuing the issue. Hope all turned out ok.

  13. Oh My goodness!!! There is such great synchronicity in this wonderful beautiful universe!! I am in (soon to be not) a relationship with man, who secretly, he thinks, hides his bisexual/gay flings from me. I openly confronted him about this in October and he begged to allow him to prove him trustworthy and not to end the relationship. We have been together for 5 years and he travels alot in his job. I have tracked his open invitations for sex wtih strangers while on the road via Craigslist personals. Needless to say,I have become more and more distant and less connected to him. I found an ad up yesterday looking for some hook up today. He has always contended in other conversations that everyone has a “breaking point” but Dix you have hit the nail on the head for me TODAY.. It is HIS free will and HIS own life but I am not sticking around to see how HIS turns out. I am going to proceed with mine without him.
    Somedays you just never know who will touch your life and today YOU touched mine in a concise,no nonsense way.
    There will always be emotionaly valleys and mountains, today may be a valley,but I will unto the mountains.. for I will be there once again.
    thank you.

  14. When it was very clear to me that my husband never grew out of his criminal tendencies and had suddenly graduated to serious white collar crime: I divorced him. This was a hard decision for me because he had some really good qualities and he was a good father. I just decided that was my limit. There’s a point at which you end up sliding downhill with them. It was actually our divorce that changed his life and as far as I know he’s back to only being devious now.

  15. I believe tough love works. Also my moral ballast is visible so if (and when) my friends have drifted into oblivion they just take themselves off my radar. I don’t chase (Uranus in 11th). I will make it known I can help in some ways but I’m not hear to wipe anyone’s behind for them.

  16. As for how tough love works…ultimately it works because it preserves my sanity. My sanity is first priority these days so-this is part of that.

  17. a subject near my heart.

    i may say something in the beginning, but if the person chooses a different route, i respect their right to do so. i also pull back however much is required to keep the drama out of my daily existence.

    i learned a while back that my choice is what i want in my life and what i’m willing to be a part of. this includes repeated “help” dealing with the fallout. it makes it more comfortable to maintain dysfunctional choices if i mitigate the natural consequences of those choices.

    i just make the assumption there is a reason why the person is where they are, and i have no idea what. my choices center around my life, my integrity.

  18. So I’m a yoga teacher, and my current yoga training is more around the philosophy of yoga than the poses and physical stuff. The main thing with relationships – is that you take care of yourself first. It seems counterintuitive – especially for you mothers out there… but if you break it down, it does actually make sense. When you take care of yourself, you’ll be better to take care of others.

    The yogic perspective for these troubled folks is to see whether or not they are receptive to your help. If they don’t appear to be… pull back. They may later come back asking for help – and then be in a position to actually make some life changes.

  19. Almost 20 years ago I walked into my first Al-Anon Meeting. I went, as many before me, to make someone I love stop … in this case drinking.

    I’ve stayed with the principles and practices of the 12-Steps over time because I canNOT stop any one from doing most anything. I have been affected by the disease of ‘bad decisions’ and that goes to the cellular level.

    Over the twenty years since my first meeting, I have both been the freak making decisions that appeared or were insane. People (fewer and fewer at times) supported me and some just cut me loose.

    My self-awareness led me to know myself without excuses. Like you wrote in an earlier post about ‘being human’… it’s messy business.

    Detachment is boundary setting that gets easier with practice, practice, practice. My priority is serenity, and even that requires practice and does not come without pain, or suffering.

    My longest-time addict/family member is once again my dearest, and he has a life-threatening illness. We have a different set of boundaries today, miraculous ones only he and I appreciate. Life has taken us through all manner of hell. Detaching with love and turning the rest over is where I find serenity. With practice.

  20. The biggest thing is I believe that even though a person may love or care for a person unconditionally which is as it should be in my opinion. Boundaries must be set. Most parents try to raise their children to have the skills to deal with life. Teaching them how to cope and all that very important stuff however it doesn’t always stick or take if you will. The person that a sibling or child becomes as an adult is that persons free will in combination with their birth chart and whatever transits that are happening at the time.

    I know many parent who try to make their daughters or sons carbon copies of themselves and that is great if that child has the same aspects as the parent. If they don’t it causes conflict and misunderstandings and sometimes rifts that can never heal Very sad!

    I believe that if someone anyone makes decisions for another person in a effort to keep that person from making a poor decision or having any problems then they are responsible for the out come of the decision and have short changed that person the decision was made for. That is not what life is about each person has to be responsible for their own actions and decisions. No matter how painful or hurtful it may be for those around them or involved with them. Simply because we are each individuals. Though it may be painful or difficult to watch our family members struggle in life and it is natural to try to alleviate the suffering of those you love it should never be at the risk of becoming a door mat because then you are not taking care of yourself.

  21. Depends on the situation. Usually you can’t do anything but point out how they are feeling, possibly point out how YOU are feeling, and then wait for them to decide one way or the other. And if you hit your limit, leave.

    An example of me detaching: my cousin’s ex-wife. Who is a nice person, but (a) my cousin is a total wanker and (b) she refuses to get over it 2-3 years later. I just don’t want to hear it any more. Whenever I am in the Bay Area and she texts my mom wanting to call/get together I am all, “not while I’m here.” I have a high statute of limitations as to what I will put up with, and she ran mine out. Which takes some doing.

    An example of waiting it out where things worked out: my best friend in college had an Indian boyfriend that she married for green card purposes, and then he became abusive. I actually had to call the cops on him at one point. In her case (note: I have the amazing ability to come off as so inoffensive that even an abuser doesn’t think it’ll hurt his ass to have me around), I would privately point out his behavior, sneak her a copy of “Why Men Are Assholes” to read, talk to self-defense teachers if she was interested…. but also not be all “You must leave him, NOW,” because it was her decision and I had no control there. She decided on her own to leave him come winter break, years later she’s married to someone else and has kids, so that seems to have worked out. But she had to come to her senses on her own, and me declaring myself as “the enemy” and coming out against him while she was still with him wouldn’t have helped.

    An example of waiting it out now: I have been grumbling lately about my local best friend’s marital drama. Long story short: he has decided that he wants another girlfriend, and screw my friend’s opinion on this. She has said, “okay, just don’t do X, Y, and Z” and he immediately does X, Y, and Z. Major polyamory fail. This guy has always been “I will do whatever I want, FUCK YOU” about everything, ever, so this does not surprise me. Now, she knows how I feel about it, I’ve said she can move in here if she has to (so have other folks), mostly I just point out that he is going to do what he wants no matter how she feels. Either she has to decide that she wants to be with him so badly that she’ll put up with him doing whatever he wants without caring about her feelings, or she has to hit her limit and leave. I don’t know if she ever WILL hit her limit because she has been with him for 20+ years and seems to have even more “put up with a bad situation no matter what” than I do. I keep hoping that maybe given the new girlfriend thing that this will be the final straw, but who knows. I just have to wait it out.

  22. “Detaching with love and turning the rest over is where I find serenity.”

    Thank you for this, Mokihana. It’s the essence of what I was trying to say.

  23. I don’t bother, people need to learn their own lessons. I’ve tried helping people. I’d ask a question or lend them a book, never prying too hard. It’s a astonishing to amount of people who basically said fuck you. they are miserable now, or had to learn their own lesson the hard way. That’s just life I guess.

  24. Not that people can’t be helped or nudged onto the correct path, I’ve watched ‘Intervention’, apparently just not the people I typically attract I suppose.

  25. Great question, Elsa. A story to share:

    I once had a good friend who became involved with a guy. He seemed good, but my friend absolutely disappeared. Not literally, but there was just no one home, if you know what I mean. I lost her completely, even though I saw her occasionally. Then there began to be symptoms: black eyes on both of them, spending more and more time by themselves, absolute exclusivity. I never said anything to her about it, assuming that people are adults and they need to go through what they need to go through.

    Somehow, after about five years, they broke up. And my friend was back! We talked about how it looked to me when she was in that relationship, how she had disappeared and what she said stunned me. She said, why didn’t you tell me? I was lost and didn’t know it. Why didn’t you love me enough to talk to me about it?

    I then realized I wasn’t really acting from some detached viewpoint. I just didn’t want to be involved; I hadn’t wanted to flavor my life with their crisis. That really made me think. Of course, every stranger is not my business, but my dear friend should have been.

    But you’re right, where is the line? I don’t want to be a busybody, yet some situations demand our action, like the kid and the bus in the story above.

    Thanks for letting me share this.

  26. I have a stellium in Cancer, I have planets in Libra, I have loads of Cap/Virgo. So yes I do attract people who need grounding, sympathy, perspective – and who need help… and most of them, people who have no idea that is why they are attracted to me.

    At least I’ve learned not to offer advice until it’s obvious that’s what’s wanted and needed! Even so, I’ve several times been amputated for giving it, or for making it clear I’ve reached my limit. I learned many years ago not to be a co-dependent in the sense of enabling addictions, and with various relationship re-enactions (eg abuse).

    I won’t listen to a wife or husband constantly dissing their spouse either, not when it’s clear it’s not a *decision* which is in question. I really dislike two people in a marriage hanging our their dirty washing if the situation isn’t critical.

    Other than that… I’m pretty tolerant in terms of listening to relationship problems – God knows I’ve been so much in need myself over the years of a sympathetic ear, and some emotional problems really are intransigent. Just saying ‘He’s a shit, get rid of him” helps nobody.

  27. Since the grand cardinal t-square I’ve been in the midst of making bad decisions. A few good, much-needed decisions, but also a couple red-alert bad decisions.

    I have a personal history of ‘being good’ then rebelling against ‘good’ and making bad decisions. Then paying for my mistakes and being good again, on and on. This is not a yearly thing but maybe a seven-year (Saturn cycle) thing.

    Right now I’m definitely on the brink. I’m fully aware what could happen if I go off the deep end, and I’ve decided to take the risk. Still, this is ultimately a completely irrational ‘bad’ decision I’ve made. I know I might lose great friends over this. And I respect the friends who would still accept me as I am. But I understand now that there is no way to judge another’s decision for yourself. You can distance yourself for your own sake (as I’ve done numerous times, I usually avoid toxic people as protocol), but you truly can’t know if you’d do things differently, if you were in their shoes.

  28. @kalby:) Welcome and thanks for the link! I never heard this song b4 and just Love It!

    @Mokihana:) “detaching with love and turning the rest over is where I find serenity” Amen.

    @Bruce:) Our charts have a lot in common so I totally understand that “protection thing” No way could I see anyone in immediate danger and not move to shield them from harm. Especially children.

    @Cathy:) Welcome! It’s been nearly a year since I ended a 7 year soul mate friendship with a gay man (Gemini moon like me) We were so close and I loved him dearly but he had some serious problems and wound up abusing Prescription meds. As he was living with me it became my problem and when I told him that he needed to stop, he told me it was his decision, not mine.

    He was having blackouts, passing out with candles lit and a heavy smoker so I was really scared he might start the house on fire. And the combination of drugs he was taking and sometimes mixing with booze made me afraid that I’d find him dead of an overdose. So I kicked him out and we have not spoken since. His decision was to put me and my son in danger. Not acceptable.

    He told me many times that he had many flings with guys who were married and that it’s very common for some men to be bisexual and keep it secret. You are really lucky to know because a lot of men are much better at keeping their secret life secret. Hope you make a decision that will be good for you and keep yourself safe.

    Really, there are so many “fish in the sea” Why waste time with someone who is cheating on you?

    just my 2 cents

  29. What I have been thinking about lately is how quickly people turn away when their supposed loved ones get caught in the downward spiral…and then the situation is discussed but never with the person who is the focus of their discussions. Invariably the acting out of abuse comes from somewhere, but this is not explored. I think we should be less hasty in putting up the boundaries as it comes across as more about denial…a very aggressive denial actually.
    Are we living in a palatable society without shadow?….all taste pre-defined and included in the repertoire of tastes – nothing unknown or ‘bad’.
    We are using less tools to exist as a community and so have forgotten how to deal with distasteful situations.
    I am not naive here as I have had some mammoth situations in my life – 7H Pisces Venus – but I have always been amazed at how unprepared most people are to walk unsavory paths.
    I also have huge compassion for whoever is in an abusive situation and for the enormity of effort required to regain 2 fundamental simplicities: love and peace.

  30. @diastella:) I had a serious friendship, very close, we actually bonded because we both had very Harsh childhoods, we shared our love of art as much as our nightmares and I miss him. But he became a very different person on the drugs and I tried really hard to get him back but he choose the drugs over our friendship.

    I’m 56. I grew up in the “drug culture” of the 60’s and 70’s. So many people I grew up with that did not make age 30. And a lot of lives just really damaged beyond repair.

    And I have enough compassion in me, to not support, someone I love, commit a slow suicide with drug abuse and I certainly do not feel that I should ever put myself, or my loved ones at risk because of another persons “bad decision”

  31. My very closest friend made some extremely bad decisions and I’ll admit I tried to keep the train from hitting him more than a few times — not that it worked. When it became apparent that he no longer cared how his decisions hurt me, him, and our friendship, I walked.

    I can put up with a lot on my own and will put up with even more for a friend, but there comes a point where self-preservation kicks in and you say, “No more.” Still love and miss him, but I can’t regret saying goodbye under the circumstances. *shrugs*

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