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Three Signs it’s Time to End a Mentor Relationship

Shannon Thomas LCSW-S
By Shannon Thomas LCSW-S |Southlake, TX

Many of us have had the experience of a great mentor in our life. When the conditions are just right in the mentor/mentee connection, we’re comfortable showing up to meet with our mentor no matter how we may be feeling. We know we’ll be received with compassion, love, and grace no matter where we might find ourselves emotionally or physically that day. It’s a safe place for us to be honest about our feelings of life that are coming at us too fast. As an entrepreneur, I know my growth has been cultivated through having a few different mentor relationships throughout this journey. We can experience exponential personal and professional development when the environment is right for us to explore, ask a million questions, and let down any walls we may have brought into the mentor/mentee relationship. It takes time to build an environment where authentic transparency is the norm but well worth the effort. Elite Daily writer, Katie Gonzales, shares with us in her article titled, Walking in her shoes. Why everyone woman needs a strong, female mentor a few of the many benefits of having a great mentor.

What happens if we find ourselves in this unique relationship and it begins to unravel? Some mentor relationships change because one person moves out of the area or a radical career shift makes the connection no longer as beneficial. Sadly, other times the mentor/mentee bond goes through a transformation because three factors crept into the relationship and severed the attachment from the mentor.

Rejection

How do you navigate the relationship when your mentor becomes indifferent to what’s happening in your life? It may seem odd that someone who committed to being so involved in your life would turn cold, but it does happen. What causes a mentor to change her attitude towards you? As a therapist, I’ve worked with clients who experienced a suddenly emotionally distant mentor when the mentee’s career began to take off. The mentor/mentee relationship was suitable when the mentee needed the mentor as a wise guide, but when the mentee found their own professional voice, the mentor checked out. Jealousy is often at the root of this type of rejection. We especially see this if the mentee becomes successful in the same career area as the mentor. This happens more often than people realize because many of these relationships stem from a mentor having professional experience in an area that the mentee wants to grow in. The possibility of the mentee outpacing the mentor is a built-in risk with these types of connections and unfortunately, the pair don’t always navigate through the waters of mentee success. Business Insider writer, Lindsay Dodgson, has some wonderful insights and tips for handling the sting of rejection in her article titled, Why rejection hurts so much – and what you can do to ease the pain.

Gossip

When the conditions are just right in the mentor/mentee connection, we’re comfortable showing up to meet with our mentor no matter how we may be feeling.Once a mentor succumbs to jealousy, resentment, or indifference, gossiping about the mentee often follows. Depending on how toxic the mentor is, the gossip could range from “discussions” about the mentee with others in their inner professional circle, all the way to straight sabotage of the mentee within professional groups. I’ve personally witnessed both of these events occur in what was thought to be a safe mentor relationship. How do you know if gossip has seeped into your mentor relationship? Other people start knowing things about you that you never shared with them or their attitudes about you shift despite not having any direct contact with them, other than your disgruntled mentor. When this shift takes place, we must assess the level of risk that having the wrong mentor can create in our life. It’s at this point that we must stop the hemorrhaging of negative filtered information coming from the mentor and cut ties. If we disengage with a now toxic mentor, their gossip no longer feels like an insider’s perspective. It will stand out to others for what it is – petty gossip meant to target the former mentee. In these situations, distance is a useful tool to protect the mentee.

Discouragement

Unhappy mentors show their true colors when they begin discouraging the mentee and her work. This is very different than healthy, constructive feedback, which is exactly what a good mentor is supposed to do. Discouragement feels entirely different, and if you’ve experienced this from a former mentor, you know exactly what I mean. How do you distinguish between normal mentor critiques and a disgruntled mentor? The tone your mentor uses. Healthy mentors phrase feedback with compassion and desire to help the mentee grow. A toxic mentor uses passive-aggressive methods meant to discourage the mentee. She’ll take on a catty tone of communication and conversations will have an edge to them. Long gone are the days of warmth, only to be replaced with uneasy exchanges between the mentor and mentee. Passive-aggressively mocking the mentee’s goals replaces the once supportive environment.

What is a mentee supposed to do if she finds herself in a relationship that’s changed? Some mentors aren’t consciously aware that they’re experiencing a change in their hearts toward the mentee, so it could be helpful to try and have an open conversation about the situation. On the other hand, if a mentee looks at the mentor’s pattern of conflict resolution and sees a line of other peer relationships that have crashed and burned, it may be best to politely put an end to the connection sooner rather than later.

If you find yourself needing to end a mentor/mentee connection, it’s important to celebrate the growth that was experienced during your time together and honor it by not allowing the goodness to be tarnished by your mentor’s new unhealthy attitude. Life changes and so do our relationship needs. Learning to let go in the right season is one of life’s greatest gifts we can give ourselves.

Shannon Thomas LCSW-S
Shannon Thomas LCSW-S |Southlake, TX
Shannon Thomas, LCSW is the international best-selling author of Healing from Hidden Abuse: A Journey Through the Stages of Recovery from Psychological Abuse, and the owner/lead therapist of an award-winning counseling practice in Southlake, TX. Bridging clinical advice with pop culture language, Thomas...Read More
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