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Community Building and Nourishing Relationships
by William Polowniak, Ph.D.

When building community as a group, or developing trust as individuals in a relationship, we must resist the temptation to give in to our tendencies toward romantic idealism and relate to reality. One reality is that human habit is very, very strong. Much stronger than most people are willing to acknowledge. Not just habits like alcohol, tobacco, drug addiction and poor cleanliness or personal hygiene, but habits of human behavior which are harder to see and to acknowledge. Another reality is that whether it is personal development, building intimacy in a relationship or creating community, we must be deliberate and purposeful in our efforts to nourish ourselves and each other. We must become self-aware and use our awareness to replace our bad habits with good ones and to learn new ways of seeing, doing and behaving. We must nourish ourselves and each other in a conscious and aware manner.
 We all want joy, love, closeness, understanding, appreciation, sharing, attention, happiness and intimacy; a feeling of personal, emotional and spiritual well-being; as well as a sense of community, privacy and peace of mind.
 The primary thing that leads to a spirit of intimacy and community is communication. Nourishing people, like communication even when it is difficult. In community living, I have found that toxic people do not like notes. Toxic people insist that you talk to them in person, but then they make themselves conveniently unavailable. They seem to know when you will not be home and when you are, they overwhelm your attempts at clear communication with shouting, interrupting and blame. They do not listen. They are never wrong, it seems. Almost always, the listening skills of toxic people are deplorable. The characteristic of toxic people which will eventually reveal itself is that they share in common a pattern of phoniness, manipulation and deception. When they give there is usually a string attached.
 The nourishing person, on the other hand is more authentic, more aware and values integrity. They are more available and responsive. The nourishing person is capable of standing on his or her own feet and tends to “react” less. Instead  they “respond” in a positive and proactive way to life’s circumstances. Their giving is not forced on others but is offered. They do not try to persuade or cajole others into accepting favors or “help.” Toxic people are poor givers and “poor receivers.”
 Nourishing people are more capable of accepting what they do not like in others. Toxic people lack flexibility and are apt to get angry in an attempt to create guilt. Toxic people often terminate relationships using rejection and a withdrawal of friendship, love and affection and shut down emotionally thus creating the proverbial climate of emotional and mental cruelty. Thus toxic people create for themselves loneliness and isolation which somehow aggravates their faulty perceptions of reality, creating for them a cycle of defensive and hostile behavior and a belief system which justifies abusing and using others.
 Toxic people are excessively critical and often emotionally and mentally cruel. They habitually withdraw their friendship, their love and affection when they do not get their way. They are what I call “de facto Nazis.” They focus on the negative. They are often suspiciously eager to hear the negative things about others, and they love to pass on the negative aspects of what they hear without checking on its validity. One of their favorite phrases is “Donít tell so and so.” Often they exaggerate false information and begin to conduct a negative propaganda campaign and they love character assassination.
 Toxic people are “control mad.” They seek to seduce people into friendships and involvements in which they begin to control, manipulate and dominate. They especially prey on vulnerable people or those in need. Toxic people resent sharing. Even when they have all they want they resent “a friend” giving to another. A classic example is one who resents a spouse hugging or talking to others of the opposite sex. They want it all, even when satisfied.
 Nourishing people on the other hand have higher self-esteem. They are comfortable giving and sharing. They do not hoard love and affection and they do not withdraw friendship. Rather than shutting down emotionally when misunderstanding occurs they attempt to communicate, to give understanding and most of all to listen. They wait to tell their side of a story or to correct misunderstanding until the other person is ready to hear. Often this takes a long, long time of listening. But the nourishing person knows that listening, of itself, is a very healing and nourishing process, per se.
 On a practical side, nourishing people learn that by giving and loving indiscriminately they contribute to their own destruction. Therefore, they learn to minimize their encounters with toxic people. If they give to a toxic person, they do not delude themselves that they will be nourished in return. Thereby they frustrate themselves less. They do not cling to an unreal hope of gratification. They give for giving sake. And they are comfortable “not giving.”
 Nourishing people are more aware when being used, or in some way “sucked-in,” and are able to more effectively avoid or stop this from occurring or continuing. Nourishing people can say “no” without an excessive need to explain or justify themselves. Nourishing people do not need to win approval of their own actions or attitudes. Nourishing people can reject a toxic person without feeling guilty. Nourishing people remain free to be themselves and to give and be responsive when they choose. Nourishing people are a pleasure to be around.

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