Knowing When To Fold

Sometimes, we make bad investments. When we continue to pursue someone who isn’t interested, or causes us more pain than good, we’re continuing to try to make the bad investment come good. Why? Perhaps so we don’t have to deal with the fact that we made a bad investment in the first place.

Apr 24, 2019

This requires looking beyond getting a return on our emotional investment and to the recognition of whether we should stick or fold our hand. Recently, I’ve been working with a client on exploring his patterns of emotional investments using a gambling analogy to illustrate.  Let’s continue to examine this theme and our actions from an investment or gambling perspective.

When we find ourselves with someone who not only is not reciprocal but also persists in crossing our boundaries whilst we try to get them to be better than what they are, until we get wise, they occupy the power-base.  The power-base is the position of power within the relationship and if there is a tip in the balance of power in a relationship, the house (the person who holds the power-base) always wins.

When you bet at the emotional casino, it may look a little something like this.  When they’re blowing hot, they may throw you out a couple of ‘wins’ and lure you into a false sense of security.  This creates the promise of things getting better, and so you end up investing even more of yourself because you may reason that if you show them more, then they will show you more. Only when the hot turns to cold or you realise that the rewards of your investment are not bearing fruit, that it occurs to you that things are not going the way that you expected. Again. You’re no longer ‘up’ and may have gone past ‘breaking even’ to being ‘down’.

At this point, you can step back and ask yourself:  what is it that I want? Are my needs getting met? Is this how I want to feel? Am I being authentic? Or am I losing myself in my attempts to hold onto something that isn’t working?  Whilst you will still hurt, you can choose to fold at this point. Although you have ‘lost’ a little, or even a lot on your emotional investment, you can curtail the damage and the sense of loss before it crosses into that territory where you lose all sense of perspective.

Alternatively, you can stick and keep hoping, willing, waiting, talking, discussing, pushing, and whatever else you need to, to try to get the emotional investment to ‘come good’.  When we stick with a bad emotional investment, holding on and refusing to accept that it may be bad for us, this actually causes more hurt and we can end up feeling as though we’ve lost our dignity.  Imagine making a bad financial investment: would you continue to invest money? Or would you cut your losses before you do yourself any further financial damage?

That said, I do recognise that in relationships, it is not so easy to walk away.  A lot of people have a casino mentality in that they gamble with big stakes (themselves) because they focus on the reward being so great that it will cancel out any pain that occurs along the way. Whilst it is a good thing to take risks in life, the reason why certain people are very good at it is because the risks are calculated. They do their homework and have a sense of trust in themselves that helps them to recognise where to stick or when to fold.

This is very different to taking risks on people with no real basis for placing so much trust and love in them.

If you emotionally invest in people who offer the least likely prospect for you to be treated with love, care and respect, the odds are stacked against you.  This can be a little like betting on a three legged horse and wondering why it doesn’t run like a four legged one and win the race.  Putting a three legged horse into a race and expecting it to win just because you loved it and invested time and energy in it probably wouldn’t turn out very well at all.

So why do we stick when we really should fold?  The answer to this lies in the Justifying Zone (read: Cognitive Dissonance).  This is that place that people go to after they sexually and/or emotionally invest and then feel like they have to continue to invest because they don’t want to feel that they made a poor judgement. This is why people stick when they really should fold.  Either, we went in with a reasonable level of awareness and then discovered that they were not what we thought they were and are trying to get back to ‘the way things were’ because we hate feeling played.  Or, we go in blindly, ignoring red flags or seeing them and assuming you could make them be different because this is more familiar territory for you.

When we stick when we should fold, it is because we are not seeing the bigger picture. Fear will be a primary driver behind all of this 

When we’re looking at the good points instead of the whole person, the fleeting moments instead of the consistent actions, then we are chasing a feeling and trying to recreate and extend the highs. We are listening to words instead of seeing if the words match, and we are not considering what the wider implications are of what is happening and asking ourselves if this really works for us.

If you step out into oncoming traffic tomorrow, there is a high risk that you’re going to get run down. Also, if you keep buying three legged horses, there’s a high likelihood that they won’t get past the starting line.  Likewise, if you keeping taking ‘risks’ with the same type of relationship partners, it’s a safe risk because you actually know the outcome. Part of this is about relationship insanity – doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results and the he other part is about self-sabotage or a fear of change.

Many of us prefer the familiarity of the uncomfortable, to the discomfort of the comfortable unknown.  We’d rather take a punt on a safe risk and believe that the reward is worth it, than take a punt on ourselves and go through change to experience the unknown. We end up doing things that are out of sync with ourselves and end up generating false results that are often painful.  Pain is not love; it’s pain.

When we finally do decide to fold, it’s in recognition of the bigger picture. The bigger picture means that we realise we would rather put ourselves through some pain to get happier sooner than hang around someone hoping to be happy one day whilst being miserable in the meantime. The bigger picture is you. Are you involved with people that enrich your life? Are you able to have boundaries and values or do you have to shelve them in order to ‘stick’?  Can we know when we feel good because we now understand when we feel bad? Are we in charge of our own lives instead of being dragged along by someone else?

If you have to justify, excuse, rationalise and effectively bury yourself in order to accommodate someone else or your vision of a relationship, it may be time to realise that you will never be happy or anything close if you have to ignore yourself.

We are human and make mistakes.  Sometimes we make poor judgements about where to invest our emotional energy.  We also have to know when something is good, rather than distrust it and recognise that there are some relationships that just won’t work.  We can spend our lifetime trying to make a relationship work and get a person to ‘see’ us and ‘value’ us and be in a constant cycle of misery, or we can get wise about healthy relationships and ‘see’ the bigger picture and ‘value’ ourselves so that we recognise unhealthy situations for which the best option is to fold.

Go Well.

Emma Azzopardi UKCP

Relational Psychotherapist & Organisational Development expert. UKCP Registered. Passionate about people, progress, mental health and wellness.

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