Relationships and Personal Growth

Every person, all the events of your life are there because you have drawn them there. What you choose to do with them is up to you.“Richard Bach.

This past month I have been focusing on relationships a lot. Obviously, there is the global issue of the relationships of nations to each other which we are faced with every time we switch on the TV: North Korea’s arms race, the Middle East, China’s rise to a superpower, Canada’s foreign policy to name but a few.

Then there is the ongoing observation of relationships in our environment: couples who are meeting, getting married, fighting, or getting divorced; the office relationships that are constantly shifting; relationships between different business and between those businesses and their clients; etc.

And then there are our own relationships – with family, spouses, friends, colleagues, the butcher and the baker, the neighbours etc. But one relationship we usually like to forget about when we think about this extensive topic is the relationship with our Self – and the relationships that build that Self.

When I broke my ankle at the beginning of July I knew that there was something important for me to look at. I don’t often hurt myself that badly and the few times I had done it before amazing things happened within me. However, not even I imagined what would be coming my way.

With a broken leg it is fairly difficult to do anything. So there is plenty of time to reflect and explore. When thrown back on ourselves like this it is also a good exercise to stay silent for a while and to listen past the immediate inner voices that blame ourselves for bringing about the accident. If we sit long enough in this silence we begin to hear those deeper messages that we usually avoid – and often they have to do with our relationships with others.

When sitting on a sofa, unable to get up and get a glass of water without creating a major event, we have to ask our spouses/partners/parents/friends for help. What is that inner voice saying about that? Who am I in relationship to those people when the usual patterns are broken? Do I feel that I am worthless because I can’t look after my family? Do I feel guilty for asking someone else to get up for my water? Or do I feel entitled to this help? Do I get impatient when the other is slow in responding to my request?

Just hearing and honestly acknowledging these questions and their answers already tells me something about my Self. I may find out that I am more dependent on my spouse’s respect and acknowledgement than I thought I was. I may realize that the reason for being busy all the time is not only a lot of work to do but feeling needed and wanted if I do things for others. Or I may begin to understand why others are reacting aggressively to what I see as my request for help – they may see it as a command.

Of course I can also learn a lot about my Self when I listen to the conversations and reactions others have with me: do they tend to be cautious with their wording as if they are afraid I may explode; are they non-committal, fearing that “I’ll take their arm when they offer a hand”; are they careful in their communication as if not to hurt me; or are they overly “open and straight forward” and don’t seem to care about my feelings. All of this offers important ideas about who these people think I am and how I would react.

But over all this may take me closer to looking at my Self but it doesn’t take me into my Self. That only happens when I am open to the possibility and ready for the challenge. For a challenge it is.

When I allow my view of who I am to change a whole lot of things will change. I will find a different relationship with my own feelings and will be more honest in my replies and reactions. It might not be as easy to “keep the peace” once I have given myself permission to follow my feelings and set proper boundaries around triggers and behaviours. I might have less time to spend on other people’s needs when I discover the pain and damage that results from not looking after myself properly. But most importantly, once I have opened that door and seen a part my Self that I have disowned it is almost impossible to go back and forget about it.

You could ask: why do it then? Sounds somewhat selfish and doesn’t sound like lots fun for others, either. Well, for one it isn’t always our own choice. A serious illness or accident can force us to rethink our life and relationships. And the people we are with and those we meet often have a surprising ability to bring us closer to our Self by pushing all the right buttons. But aside from that, this journey is rewarding in itself. It is a bit like going to the gym: it might not really be fun to get up in the morning and go to get your muscles pulled in ways you didn’t know they’d go. But, man, does it feel good to be able to sprint up that flight of stairs or to look into the mirror and see those abs gently bulging.

Speaking of mirrors – that is another reward of doing this journey: new relationships. No matter if those are going to be new people who come into our lives or if there is going to be a change in the existing relationships – the mirrors will change. For a while at least we will find a new and likely happier balance. We won’t allow harmful and painful relationships to ruin our lives. And we will be better able to see those “flaws” in our friends’ behaviour as an expression of something that is going on in us as well.

Of course not every problem in a relationship is about us. It takes two to tango and it takes two to create disharmony and conflict. One of those two is you in your relationships. So the next time you feel someone is pressing your buttons, remember that you have a choice: you can get lost in the conflict, become furious or feel victimized and follow your usual pattern; or you can accept the mirror and ask your Self what it is that it needs to be aware off or change, change it and then decide on a new action. You might lose that particular dance partner – but you may also be surprised at how much smoother and pleasant the tango is going to flow.

Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.“Anais Nin

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