• Barbara Elk

Burning Bridges

Updated: Oct 8, 2020

I've been thinking a lot about "burning bridges". Collins Dictionary phrases the meaning like this:

“If you burn your bridges, you do something which forces you to continue with a particular course of action, and makes it impossible for you to return to an earlier situation or relationship.“

Its origin stems from a military move; when an army crossed a bridge, they burned it down to ensure that the enemy can't follow their path.

I've burnt down so many bridges throughout my life. Half the time,I knew I was doing it, the other half, I had no idea.

The times when I knew I was doing it, I would become defensive about my actions. I never owned up to the responsibility end of it though.


Because then I'd have to look inwardly and realize that I was perhaps, doing it for all the wrong reasons and sometimes it was out of cowardice.

But when I didn't know why I did it bothered me just as much. It's like walking through life with my eyes closed and that's not cool. But I now understand why I burned bridges without realizing it at that moment. I had no clue because I was never taught how to treat relationships.

I. Realization

The one person whom I trusted wholly and loved was/is my mother. But when I was taken from her at the age of five, I became just another person blown about in the wind. I was moved from home to home, institute to institute. I treated life and people like I was treated...forgettable, unimportant and disposable. My relationships with people taxed my patience. I didn't know how to talk with others aside from brief exchanges. We are taught how to socialize from birth from our relatives. The people around us. As women, we are taught how to from our female relatives. When I found this out a couple years ago, it was like a window had been opened. Ah-ha! When it dawned on me, it made complete sense. It was akin to finding a missing puzzle piece. I've always felt like a deer in headlights whenever I found myself in a room full of people and I was expected to "socialize". And even though I now know why I'm awkward around other people, it's still not easy for me to blend in.

But, with that being said, burning bridges in my past and recent past is explainable for me. I'm not proud that I hurt people or confused them with my actions. I hate that I did that to others. All I can do now is just be aware and make sure I don't do that.

II. How Not to Burn Relationship Bridges:

This second part involves action and thought. It means learning what a relationship is.

Every human has been in a relationship, whether it be a friendship relationship, a work relationship, a mentoring relationship or a lover relationship. Whatever it is, it is up to you to understand what being in a relationship means.

Some people can develop relationships pretty easily, others have a difficult time forging one and others run away whenever they get to close to anyone. I was the person who either had a difficult time forging one or the person who ran away whenever someone got to close to me. And again, I understand why I did this. As a child, I was in the stream of different temporary "homes". I experienced the constant shuffle of young friends. As soon as I had a best friend, they or I, were gone. I never saw that person again or had the capacity to question what happened to them, because usually, I was going through something myself.

I've had friends throughout my life, but not a life-long friend. I'm always amazed when I meet people who still have the same circle of friends from when they were children. I can't even be jealous because I have absolutely no idea of what that would even look like in my life. I disassociated from long-term friendships at an early age. Everything and everyone became temporary, even marriage and homes. The only people whom I held onto the longest are my children. I cling onto them. Ask my children, they'll probably tell you I cling on too tightly at times.

Over the last few years, I developed social anxiety. At times, I would have a hard time breathing, I'd start sweating and become dizzy. I could actually feel my blood pressure start to rise. I started avoiding people and new situations. I went to my doctor and asked her to prescribe anxiety medication because it got to the point where going to the grocery story became too much for me.

Through all this, I was researching on-line, in books and scouring my most inner self to "fix" myself. I hated living this way. I felt lost. I needed to find out how to stop this confusion that seemingly had topped off within me. I couldn't live like this anymore.

Recently, I traveled to see my son on the other side of the country. I used to live in that area so during the time I was there, I took him and his girlfriend to my old stomping grounds. I did something I usually don't do; I reached out to a former work colleague. I'm friends with him and others on social media, which is great. Social media is great for someone like me. Someone with social anxiety, awkwardness and cowardice. Well, this former colleague responded almost immediately and we arranged to meet up for coffee on the way.

It was a great visit. It was comfortable and I enjoyed introducing him to my son and girlfriend. At the end of it, he looked at me and thanked me for meeting up with him. He then brought up an instance with someone he considered a close friend. He had always been there for them, helped them and corresponded with them almost weekly. So when he found out that they moved away from the area without reaching out to him, he was hurt. He stared directly in my eyes and said "thank you for being a good friend and reaching out to me".

I was stunned. It may seem silly to you, but it finally dawned on me that this is what friendship is. It's about reaching out and spending time with someone. It's about talking about life and being there for someone else.

It's. This. Simple.

I drove away from that get-together feeling like a new person. Since then, I've been reaching out to people I consider friends to just ask them how they're doing. Or if we can get together to chat. And I've been reaching out to my birth mother and brother.

This "developing and retaining friendships" isn't a habit yet, but I plan on working on it. I'm so done with feeling like crap because of all the burned bridges.

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