08/06/2014 04:08 pm ET Updated Oct 06, 2014

4 Ways to Leave Your Lover (and Other Strangers)

Sometimes we find ourselves in situations we never could have imagined. Maybe we haven't been following our intuition, or we've allowed our "shoulds" to influence us too heavily. This might show up in the romantic, personal or professional realm. We may find ourselves accepting treatment that makes us feel small, unseen, unheard, or unloved. It could be that we're participating in the dimming of our own light. And we may feel powerless to get out.

Romantically speaking, this can happen because we're always growing and changing, and sometimes we grow in different directions. Most people don't intentionally set out to hurt anyone. Sometimes our fear of causing another person pain makes it difficult to speak up when we're feeling our own despair. We never serve anyone with our pity, though. I don't believe anyone would thank you for staying in something due to feelings of guilt or fear. If you can no longer love a person for all they are with everything you've got, it's time to speak up.

When we're in a toxic relationship (and by that, I mean emotionally or physically abusive), it can be more complicated to stand up for ourselves. Sometimes it's because we're "hooked in." We know the relationship doesn't feel good, but we're convinced it must be true love, otherwise why would we feel so desperate? In relationships like these, something unhealed is in play. There's some dynamic between you and this other person that's similar to something from your past that you have not fully addressed. There is pain within you that needs your kind attention. Almost all of us have made the mistake of thinking if we could just get our happy ending in the now, it would heal the one we didn't get earlier. But it doesn't work that way. In plainer terms, if your dad took off when you were three, you aren't going to fix your abandonment issues by getting your partner to commit today.

In the professional arena, it can also get complicated. Maybe you're in a job and it's keeping a roof over your head, but your boss is disrespectful and you feel crushed every day. I would say that's too high a price to pay, and it's time to get busy looking for a different job. But again, there can be things at play beneath the surface. Work realm or not, a lot of personal stuff may be in the mix. Maybe you feel triggered by your boss or your colleagues. Maybe feeling disrespected is a larger issue for you, and you feel your blood boiling when someone cuts you off in traffic. My point is, sometimes we want to leave a situation but there are unconscious drives making the way out seem impossible.

So how do you start to move toward freedom when you feel stuck? I'm not going to give you 50 ways, but let's try four.

1. Get very clear about where you're at. If you're dealing with a personal situation, try to identify the root fear. Is it a fear of change? Is it a fear of hurting or negatively impacting those you love? If it's a professional situation, ask yourself why you aren't actively looking for another job. Do you think you should feel grateful for what you've got, or that this is the best you can do? Don't try to fix anything, just bring it into the light so you can see what you're dealing with. Unnamed fear is debilitating. If you can name it, you can work with it.

2. Realize if you're being motivated by fear, shame and guilt, you will never be at peace, and you will never be able to offer everything you've got. Understand, too, the people around you can feel that, whether they're able to identify what they're feeling, or not. You never do anyone any favors by denying your reality. And you can't nurture anyone else well if you don't also nurture yourself. If you need support so you can act on your own behalf, now is the time to get it. Support might look like starting a yoga practice. Carving out some time in your day that's just for you to get quiet and come back to yourself. Most of the time, we know the answers. We just don't always want to accept what we know. Support might also look like finding a great therapist. If you're in an abusive relationship, I can't recommend that highly enough.

3. Communicate. Sometimes we just don't know how to begin a conversation. If you're in a relationship and you're unhappy, try, "I'm in pain, and I need to talk to you about it." If you're in a professional situation, start with, "I'm looking to make some shifts so I can operate at my very best, and I'd like to talk to you." It's usually the first sentence that's the hardest, because it feels like jumping off a cliff. Once you're in the air, though, you'll find a bridge appears between you and the other person. This is called communication, and it's the only way you'll ever be heard clearly. People can only know you to the extent that you allow them access to your interior world.

4. Act with integrity. If you need to end something or shift something, don't leave people in the dark. Whether you've been on one date, or you've been with someone for decades, there's not much worse you can do to a person than act as if they don't exist. Uncomfortable conversations are hard, but putting your discomfort above the tender heart of someone else, is not the way to go.

You have a finite amount of time and energy, and you really don't want to spend too much of it in situations that crush the light out of you. You don't need 50 ways to speak up, you just need one that works for you.