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Navigating Catabolic Relationships

We all have someone in our lives who is difficult to be around. You know what I’m talking about: when you are done interacting with them, you feel drained or angry or just worse about life in general. If you’re lucky, you don’t have to be around this person very often. However, many of us have a relationship like this that is a central part of our lives: maybe it’s a good friend, a family member, a boss or coworker or even a partner. It’s someone that you can’t (or don’t want to) limit your interaction with, but you desperately wish you didn’t feel so crappy afterward.

In our seven levels of perspective series, we talked about catabolic and anabolic energy. If you remember, catabolic energy is negative and destructive, while anabolic is positive and helps to build self-esteem and connectivity. These energies apply not only to perspectives, but also to relationships. Relationships can be categorized as catabolic, anabolic or neutral. And while most of the time, a catabolic relationship involves at least one person who views life mostly from a catabolic perspective, this isn’t always the case. Sometimes, energy between two anabolic people can, for a number of reasons, turn bad.

When you have a catabolic relationship with someone, you don’t need me to tell you that a change needs to be made. If you continue to subject yourself to a person who drains your energy reserves and leaves you zapped and miserable, you’ll really start to suffer and might even slip into those catabolic perspectives yourself. Generally, you have five options when it comes to navigating a catabolic relationship.

The first is to remain a victim to it. As we just discussed, this isn’t really an option at all unless you want things to continue as they’ve been (or get worse). If you remain a victim to this relationship after you’ve determined it to be negative, you really have no one to blame but yourself. And we’re not into remaining in bad situations when we have other choices, right?

The second option is to change the relationship. To change it, both parties involved must have a desire to improve the relationship. This can be difficult if the other person is not willing to acknowledge that the relationship is a bad one (and take some personal responsibility). However, if they are willing to work on it with you, you can take some proactive action to change the relationship as a whole or at least some aspects of it. If real improvement proves to be impossible, you might at least be able to find a common point of agreement that would allow the relationship to continue at a neutral level by reconciling differences, developing coping mechanisms or acting from higher levels of energy. This might be a good option in some relationships (such as a family member that you just need to remain on good terms with) while not so much for others (you really want your marriage to be a positive relationship, not just a neutral one).

Your third option is to change your perspective. Sometimes, it may not be possible to change the relationship, but it may also not be possible to step out of the relationship. In this situation, you have the option to make a change in your perspective of it. To shift how you look at a relationship, try asking yourself the following questions:

How can I see the other person from a new vantage point?

What qualities do I appreciate in this other person?

How can I stay connected to this appreciation of these qualities?

How could I experience the relationship from a different position?

As we saw in our last series of articles, changing the way in which you see things (or people) can have an enormous impact.

The fourth option you have is to simply accept the relationship as it is. This might seem like the same choice as the first (staying a victim to it), but it’s really not. This also involves a change in how you see it. When you accept it, you are suspending the judgment, stress and burden associated with the relationship. The relationship becomes an experience that does not require anything but being at peace for where it is in this moment in time. To accept a relationship, especially a difficult one, may require the help of a coach or a professional. You can try it on your own by using centering or meditation to imagine yourself completely releasing all judgment associated with the relationship. If you can release the negative feelings that come with the interactions, you can sometimes change the nature of the relationship itself.

The final choice is, of course, to leave the relationship. Leaving a relationship, even one that has become difficult or even toxic, can be a very difficult thing to do and, depending on who the person is, can have many far-reaching consequences. However, this is often the only choice. To have respect for yourself and for the other person involved and leave the relationship without judgment or animosity is often a gift to both of you (and all the others who may have been affected by the negative energy this relationship created).

Human interaction and relationships are a core part of happiness and connectivity. Other people can bring us immense amounts of joy, belonging, learning, value and purpose. However, a catabolic relationship instead brings fatigue, frustration and even pain to one or both parties and, if we do nothing to change it, we are practically inviting a breakdown on some level. Take a look at your important relationships. If you identify one (or more) of them as catabolic, examine your five options to see where you can make changes. Remember, the end of a relationship does not always have to be a BAD thing. It can often be the doorway to something much better.

Trish Cody has over 18 years of experience consulting with some of the world’s top Fortune 500 Companies. Today, as an ICF and iPEC Certified Coach and Energy Leadership Master Practitioner, Trish works with clients to uncover their core values and beliefs, clearly see how they are showing up in their behaviors and impacting their success, and to shift their thinking to naturally attract positivity and success. For more information, visit

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