Relationships: Both the Poison and the Cure

by | Aug 9, 2022 | Healthy Relationships

Last week, I described how I’ve come to describe the process of change and growth that we humans go through as the Change Spiral underlying much of my work.

The quality of spiraling can feel like a revisiting of themes and patterns in our lives as we move through the four domains of relationships, healing, capacity building, and communicating.

It can also feel like an unwinding – especially of various forms of cultural conditioning that keep us collectively stuck in cycles of shame, blame, violence, and dysfunction.

This week, we’re going to focus a little more deeply on the Relationship domain of change. Relationships are foundational to our well-being. We’re both wounded in relationships and healed in relationships with each other.

Pain in our relationships often jumpstarts change for us.

  • We may find ourselves stuck in repeating power struggles.
  • We get hijacked by rage when someone ignores us or diminishes our dignity.
  • We keep quiet and shut down so that someone doesn’t get angry at us.
  • We start to long for more intimacy or more connection or more play.
  • We notice we’ve started to hide our authentic selves for the sake of external harmony.
  • We feel weighed down by a heavy cloud of self-judgment and self-criticism.
  • We’re listless and lost, longing for more meaning and purpose.

Simply put, something in our relationships with ourselves and others feels “off” and we start looking for ways to fix it and feel better.

Although conflict in relationships is often deeply troubling and hurtful, it is this exact discomfort that can be the spark leading to meaningful growth and our embarking on the journey back to wholeness and connection.

Our relationships can be both the poison and the cure.

Relationships are often the source of painful ruptures AND ALSO the source of healing and repair.

Anytime that we find ourselves triggered in a relationship, flooded by strong feelings, shutting down, avoiding, or fighting, we can recognize it as an important gateway into deeper healing for ourselves. (We’ll discuss healing more next week.)

For now, just recognize that when our parents or caregivers were not able to adequately meet the wide range of needs we had as children, we still looked after ourselves. We learned to adapt to and cope with both garden-variety distress and, in some cases, unfortunately also higher-voltage trauma.

We may have adopted an attitude of radical independence. We may have learned to move into patterns of denial and dissociation, of blaming others, judging others, and externalizing issues. We may have developed habits of withdrawing, shutting down or self-reliance.

We coped. We adapted. We did the best we could with imperfect conditions.

The problem is that these adaptive coping mechanisms now show up as default ways of being in our adult relationships and are often mistaken for “who we are.” Instead of identifying with our past and our stories, let’s remember that these adaptations have simply become both superpowers and liabilities for us today. For example, if we learned to tune into other people’s needs as a child in order to stay safe and connected in our relationships, we may have the superpowers of being highly attuned and empathic but the liability of having a tendency to abandon ourselves.

While these ways of responding may have been useful when we were young and dependent on others, they often now reduce our ability to show up openhearted and vulnerable in even our closest relationships. Our ability to connect authentically with others may be underdeveloped and we may have a tendency to shut others out, especially when the people in our present remind us of the people from our past.

We will dive into the healing work domain in more depth next week, but for now, just remember that it really is in openhearted, empathic, compassionate relationships where we can begin to unfurl our true selves and heal the hurts of past relationships.

In truly healing relationships:

  • People offer time for us to discover how we feel.
  • People respond to pain with empathy and compassion.
  • People create space to uncover our authentic selves.
  • People encourage us to speak our truth, and we find our voices again.
  • People gently witness our struggles and victories from a place of shared humanity.

These are many of the skills and capacities we explore together on our Wednesday calls and in my full membership program.

I am continually inspired by the community of caring individuals who show up for themselves and others in healing, empathic ways, supporting one another on their journey from fragmentation to wholeness again.

Next week, we’ll delve more into the domain of Change Spiral that follows relationships: Healing.

Were any of these ideas above eye-opening for you? Does it give you some inspiration to consider relationships as a pathway to healing? Speaking of healing, anything you’d like me to respond to on that subject in next week’s post?

I’d love to hear more. Leave a comment below.

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