When is it okay to break a promise?

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I take giving my word very seriously. Promises made are never made lightly, and since childhood I have rarely needed to break one.

But I’m going to break one now. This isn’t information I’d normally share, but I have given so much thought to this that I felt my musings might be helpful to someone else in a similar situation…

A while ago I blogged about knowing when to let go.  Today I realise that for me, with one relationship, it’s time. Why now?  Because where I find myself is not what I signed up for.  Let me explain why I’m walking away.

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When I came to your aid you were drowning. Drowning and calling my name. I jumped into that seething river, (as any reasonable person who could swim might), held up your head, and with all my might I edged us back towards the shore.  As you stopped panicking, as we moved to shallower water and your feet touched bottom, you quit struggling and began to help yourself.  Finally we got to shore. You thought that was the end.  I knew it was only the beginning, and I pledged to stay.

We moved further up the bank, away from the danger. Others came to help.  You were safe. And after a while I quit holding my breath and trusted you.

But you keep throwing yourself back in that damned river.

And you expect that I will keep jumping in after you.

So far I have.  Every single time. And each time you’re sorry.

And then you do it again…

It has worn me out. I can’t keep doing this. I can’t uphold a promise when you won’t value it yourself.

To keep jumping in after you puts ME in danger. As much as I have a responsibility to you, I also have one to myself.

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So I will stay here on the bank. You know where to find me.  I can help you from here. And we’ve been in that river enough times now that YOU know how to navigate the hazards and get back to shore.

I’m not giving up on you. I’m still loving you.  But it’s time to love yourself.  That’s one thing I can’t do with you, and I sure can’t do for you.

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If you give up on yourself I’ll feel so sad for you. But it won’t make me save you at my own expense. I’ve learned to love myself more than that. I pray one day you learn that too. ♥

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65 thoughts on “When is it okay to break a promise?

  1. hard though it may be, I believe you are making the right choice for you and the other person — sometimes we get caught in a viscious circle and someone needs to break it – thank you for writing this–I bet it helps a lot of people caught in a similar situation to know there is an alternative

  2. Excellent post, Nicole. I’ve had to do the same thing – more than once. A little dose of tough love is sometimes necessary for those who take that “safety net” for granted. It’s like the mother bird who gently nudges her babies out of the nest. Some fly right away. One or two may suffer a rough landing, but eventually, they must learn to fly … or perish.
    Cheers,
    Heather

  3. I applaud you for making such a difficult decision – and it is a difficult one to make, I know from experience. There are people who come into our lives in this way; and no matter how often we extend our hands and our hearts, it’s never enough for the other person to want to take the steps needed to ‘own’ their lives. At some point we become an ‘enabler’, rather than friend, partner, or whatever our initial relationship with this person was. The situation becomes toxic to our own well-being, no longer serving the higher good of either. Sending healing thoughts, love and gentle hugs, Julie xoxox

  4. This was a great post- beautifully written and such an important message. You need to think about what’s best for you and I think a lot of times people feel selfish for doing that. But you can only help others up to a point. Thank you for finding the strength to share it with us.

  5. I love this Post Nicole. It made me feel very sad, but I truly understand. I have always kept my promises. i have always sacrificed myself for others, but it’s so true that at a certain point, you get so frustrated and drained completely. I don’t know how to walk away. I’m too scared to do so.

    • From my own experiences, I have found that the strength to walk away comes little by little, until one day, you just know that it’s time, and hard as it is, you’re ready for that. Much love to you ❤ xx

  6. Nicole, What a powerful message and what a gift you’re offering your friend. We can only try saving others for so long, then it becomes a burden. When someone is not interested in loving Self, what can we do? We certainly can’t change them. I salute your insight and your decision and I honor you compassion and care. Hugs, Brenda

  7. Yep, been there. This was nicely put. I’m not sure if it was about breaking a promise though… You may have promised to always be there for Person X, so did they also promise to always need you? I think at some point we begin to be enablers for another’s behavior. They grow (unconsciously) accustomed to being rescued, and that’s their new way of Being.

    Sometimes you really have to cut ties to let another person grow. Sometimes that’s also the hardest thing to do. Good Luck.

    • I promised to be there with them until they had the help they needed, and were back on their feet. They’ve been let down by so many people, and have burned so many bridges (and relationships), and I wanted to make sure they weren’t alone and didn’t fall through the cracks. But now the help is there, the support is there, and if they choose not to use those people and resources, and fall back into old patterns, there is nothing more I can do until they get serious about change and recovery. I can keep loving them though, and praying for them, and holding them in my thoughts and meditations, and I will continue to do that. Thanks for your good wishes and kindness. Bless xx

  8. I also agree… this is such an important message… So difficult and sad, but also leads to acceptance, freedom, strength and self love. Hugs Nicole, and thanks for writing this.

  9. Hi Nicole thank you for your post. Its the old story you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make them drink. At the end of the day you can’t help those that don’t want to help themselves….. We all have the power of choice. Sometimes people have to reach rock bottom before they realise that its up to them if they sink or swim!

  10. Your decision is the best one for the other person involved – part of the therapy for this person is to realise they have to take responsibility and not expect others to live for them. So you are now actually teaching that person an even greater lesson, by stepping back, staying on the bank, removing emotional attachment so you can see the situation clearly. They will kick and scream and throw themselves on the floor in some way or another in reaction, once they get a clear realisation of your intentions, and then they will start the REAL process towards being a mature person who lives a life they themselves can be proud of. Stay firm and unemotional!

  11. or they will go find another to take your place, and another, and another,that is until they learn the wonderful lesson that is waiting for them. The realisation that they are not helpless, can live a wonderful life and dont need to crash and keep going to others for help.

  12. there is an alternative… you stay on the bank and throw out a lifeline or floatation device securely fastened to the bank but requiring your friend to take hold and pull them self ashore – (sounds life professional help might be needed as well) sending love and light to you both, and wishes for the higher good for both, hugs sx

      • i bet you have done everything within your power to assist them. that is so true about learning from each other, often in ways that we can’t see or know! sending lots of love and light for you both in this journey! you are such a caring soul, your friend will recognise this in time! hugs sx

  13. What a struggle for you Nicole.. So so hard to be tough with someone to make them help themselves. I feel your pain 🙁 {{{{{ Big big hugs}}}} saying a prayer for you gentle lady <3 xxxxxxxxxxxoooooooooooo

  14. I too have made that decision a few times in my life Nicole, and once I felt so much grief and loss that the only thing which kept me going was hearing that Angelic voice saying ..”It must be done. No more. No longer. You must draw the line in the sand.”; and also this knowing in every cell of my body that to continue in the same way would deplete and destroy me. When I truly realised the consequences of staying, and acknowledged that Love was the foundation for my decision, my grief was replaced with peace.

  15. …..oops… and also…. Nicole, I sense by your resolve that you too have come to a place of peace with this decision, because it too is based on a deep understanding of Love. 🙂

    • Yes, I am at peace with this. And I can sit and hold that space of love and highest good for this person, and be in non-judgement with their current choices. It’s all okay. We’re all okay. And in the end, love is all that matters. ❤

  16. Very touching indeed..and the imagery of your words rings so many bells. I also recently made a decision to stop ‘rescuing’ my ex hubbie…it had got to a point where like you I realised I was being dragged down…the biggest lesson of all was for our 16 y.o son…my cohort & support in these rescue missions. I tried to explain to my son why we have to let go..and that it is not our ‘fault’ if it comes to the worst case scenario. I now include him in my daily prays to find the love & strength within to beat his demons…and also for my son to know that he is very loved & supported as well. BIggest of hugs to you sweet Nicole….X

  17. ooh!! I feel like u strongly and lovingly just gave me a gumboot up the bum!! It is true.. what a gift.. It is time now to walk in my own love and strength and use all the tools, gifts and talents I have been given to help the people that I come accross on this journey do the same in a big way..I Belive love and trust in me…. no more wasting time I am out there… much to you blessed onexxx

  18. Sometimes, the best thing you can do is walk away. Sometimes the shock of the loss is enough to prompt movement. In any case, you must think of your own health and stability, too. I know it’s hard, but follow your heart and you’ll know you made the right decision.

  19. Thankyou Nicole for once again imparting such wisdom. For me breaking away was so hard, but I did. I suppose the hardest part is the hurt that is thrown back, but I can’t save another at the expense of my self and those closest to me.

    Through it all your words from long ago were echoing loud enough for me to hear.

    Enjoy the dry bank and the sun in your hair xxxx

  20. Such a difficult thing to do, but you have shown strength to make this decision. I, too, have been in the same position. And what we are doing in these relationships is taking away the other person’s lessons from them. A difficult balance, to love someone and yet not prevent them from learning what they are here to learn….. even if we know they may stumble in the process. But then, you know as well as I do, that there are loving beings surrounding them who will help. I hope that brings you some comfort. Namaste.

    • It does bring me comfort, knowing that none of us are alone, and that love and wisdom and guidance are here for each of us. My heart still pulls me back, but I’m wise enough to know that won’t do either of us any good, and strong enough to let it go. Bless xx

  21. this was a great post
    its hard to do, but then they won’t learn if you don’t
    I had to with my sister, I realized I was enabling her not helping…
    and now my daughter is having to do the same with my niece
    sad what parents pass on….
    You will be stronger and more energized …
    Take Care…
    You Matter
    )0(
    maryrose

  22. Nicole this article moved me in many ways that I think will take a while to process. It can be hard to break promises – I too find it hard not to keep jumping in and helping others. It is hardest when the person is really close to you and you can see very clearly what they are doing and when they choose not to listen to you time and time again, it hurts. Especially when it affects your life. So many questions and waiting for clarity to show me the way.

    Gratitude for these words and YOU.

    Love Jacqueline xx

    • {{{HUGS}}} It IS hard when you love someone and you can see that clear path for them. But people need to be ready to change and to accept help. And we have to be okay with them not being ready for that yet. Much love to you, Jacq xoxo

      • Yes true Nicole – they must be ready – it can just be very frustrating some days. Lots of clarity in the last 24hrs – always love Universal timing. Thank you and BIG HUGS and kisses for you xxx

  23. Nicole it takes real strength and love to be able to do this. In my mind, it’s still part of the same promise–just a different way to fulfill it–because you see with clearer eyes than the one in trouble and know what needs to be done. xox

  24. For those of us with nurturing souls and compassionate hearts the most difficult lesson to learn is to make our own physical and mental health the first priority before the needs of others. It’s not a case of feeling guilty or selfish, it’s more that we can’t bear to think of leaving another person in distress when we know we have the capacity to help them. And sometimes there are those blessed instances when a little is all that’s needed to give the other person the boost they need to pick up the ball for themselves, and then there are cases like you’ve described in this post when the person you have tried over and over again to help seems to be an emotional bottomless pit which no matter how hard you try can never be filled. In those instances we MUST walk away, although I DO know how incredibly difficult that is. As the old saying goes: “You can’t help someone get out of a pit by getting into it with them”. And if you become emotionally and physically exhausted you WILL end up in that pit. Rest easy Nicole – you HAVE done the right thing. Far from abandoning this person you’ve actually just given him/her the ULTIMATE gift of love – don’t doubt it. The fact that it was so difficult for you to do is your ‘proof’ that it was the right decision. I hope you’re sleeping the sleep of the truly innocent tonight because you have certainly earned it. May God bless you always, Julia

  25. I have nominated you for the Versatile Blogger Award, and the Sunshine Award! You can find the instructions for the Versatile Blogger Award at versatilebloggeraward.wordpress.com. The instruction for the Sunshine Award can be found on my “about” page under comments by Kimberly Konkol. Congrats!

  26. It’s so true. If you love someone, it’s so hard to say that enough is enough — especially when you still care about that person. But you can’t sacrifice yourself to save someone else who doesn’t want to change.

    I don’t doubt that this was a hard and difficult decision to make. It sounds like it is the right one. Am sending you big hugs, Nicole. Thank you for sharing. This is beautifully written.

  27. You are taking the right step.People should learn to develop their own wisdom to rescue them in tough circumstances, we should not make them realize we are there for them because it makes them dependent on us.We cannot be there forever and then they will be deep trouble.I am sure, one day they will be glad we ditched them, just because we wanted them to discover their own strength.
    Parents do that, birds do that, it’s a tough decision to let go you care for, but you don’t do that forever – only till they realize their inner powers, but me, i guess i need more time to develop this strength for letting go.
    May the one you are doing this for gains the wisdom to fight out in difficult times and reacquire their sanity to visualize the truth and honesty behind your decision
    BEST OF LUCK! :).

  28. For the same reason a lifeguard will approach you and try to grab you from behind or pull you from a floating device that serves also as a buffer. Everyone knows that a drowning person, if getting a hold of you could end up drowning both.

    My answer would be when it serves a greater good, in this case it sounds like this savings business became detrimental to the rescuer, so letting may becomes a necessity and serves a greater good.

    Not a fan of breaking promises but circumstances in life do change unexpectedly and we have to adapt as we go, it may include cutting ties with things and people we love.

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