Honouring our emotions the mindful way
Mindfulness allows us to increase awareness of whatever is occurring in the present moment without thoughts such as judgement, over analysis, or self-doubt. The practice is about watching or witnessing our inner processes with our awareness. So when it comes to learning how to honour our emotions using mindfulness practice, it is all about learning to witness the raw emotion as it arises in our body, as well as witnessing the thoughts and urges attaches to those emotions.
The nature of emotion
When we witness emotion, it is important to differentiate between feelings, thought and actions. Our emotions are the actual feelings that arise in our body. They are sadness, anger, guilt, fear and happiness. There are a multitude of other emotions, however these are the core five feelings that most other emotion stems from. Emotions are not thoughts about our emotions, nor are they our behavioural reactions. This is a very important distinction, as when we practice mindfulness of our emotion, we are simply practicing witnessing the emotion itself. Yes, re-activity involves thoughts, feelings and actions, but for the purpose of getting to know emotion, it can be a great practice to witness the emotion itself, stay present with it and simply identify it.
Only when we are clear in our process of witnessing the emotions within our body and identifying the emotion, can we begin to understand what they are about. We may experience an awakening out of confusion as we gain clarity about which emotions are arising in response to different events. For example, I feel scared when I do not know what is going to happen. I feel angry when someone steals my property. I feel guilty when I hurt someone. I feel sad when I lose something important to me. I feel happy when things in my life are generally in balance. So this is a good place to start.
Adaptive versus reactive emotion
As we begin to become acquainted with our emotional processes we may come to notice that some emotions make intuitive sense and are in proportion to the events occurring around us. These are adaptive emotions. They are primary reactions to situations that give us information about ourselves in the world. Remember, this is simply the arising of the emotion itself and not our actions or thoughts about the event. The emotions are as simple as a child’s emotional response to the world. These emotions have an innate wisdom of their own.
We may also develop the awareness that some emotions are disproportional to events around us, and they may repetitively arise under similar circumstances in ways that are individual to ourselves. These are far more complex than adaptive emotions. These emotions are often telling us more about a psychological pattern which we have learnt as a child or from a trauma or a highly distressing event. As children we are generally conditioned to distort our emotional responses. These emotions are either intensified or suppressed due to messages we receive from significant people in our lives. We learn to suppress anger, or feel guilt in situations that are not our fault, or develop anxiety when we do not know why we are scared. In mindfulness when we witness our emotional reactions which result from psychological patterns, we treat them in similar ways as with adaptive emotions. We simply bring our conscious awareness into the emotion and remain present with the sensations in our body. As we do this, we may also become aware of memories, images or senses that tell us where these emotional reactions are really from and what they are about. In this way we gain valuable insight about our emotional selves and sometimes about what aspects of ourselves require healing.
So on one hand, there are adaptive emotions which directly emerge from a situation and tell us about how the situation impacts on us. On the other hand, there are emotional reactions from psychological patterns which tell us about current life events as well as our past conditioning, trauma and psychological wounding. As we practice regular mindfulness, we generally increase insight into our patterns as well as our adaptive responses to situations in the world.
The key is awareness. Our patterns may need healing, however we can do this through seeing them clearly with mindfulness and learning how to refrain from spontaneously reacting from emotional triggers. The journey of mindfulness supports our self-understanding with compassion. This results in honouring our emotional selves, as well as increases clarity and peace of mind.
“Embrace What Is” is an on-going relaxed group that will support your mindfulness practice and help you to integrate this practice into your everyday life.
Join us on Friday afternoons at 1pm for an hour of mindfulness based training and psycho-therapeutic insights.
Call Vanessa on 0424 507 101 to book your place in this exciting and innovative group
Bookings are essential, as places are limited
I have seen many people emotionally detach in relationships under the “disguise” of practicing non-attachment. However, there is a big difference between shutting down from another person and practicing non-attachment. Personally my life has been one of flipping between destructive co-dependent relationship and detachment. “Compassionate detachment” (or perhaps non-attachment) may have been a better road to tread. However, my awareness of what these types of connections are in practice has been an on-going experiential journey of progressive understanding.
Detachment, Emotional Shut Down & Estrangement
My life journey started with harsh lessons in emotional estrangement and detachment. Both my mother and father were seriously emotionally damaged however, as a child I did not know that! I was conditioned to believe that I was over-emotional because I emotionally reacted to my parent’s physical abuse and the absence of emotional connection with both me and each other. It seemed that the world was incredibly cold, harsh and merciless from a very early age. My father arrived home from the Vietnam War when I was 6 months old. That was the first time he met me. He did not admit to having post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) however, I now know that he did. A symptom of PTSD is “emotional estrangement”, which is the shutting down from loving or connecting emotions. All my memories of my father were of this incredibly shut down, depressed, negative, angry man.
My mother on the other hand, made it clear that she had no desire to have children and seemed to take it out on me throughout my childhood. So detachment had to be cultivated in me to survive my childhood. I learnt to hide myself and to shut down my intense emotions because it only made things worse. In order to cope, I found my own way to shut down from the world around me!!! I learnt the fine art of dissociation and daydreaming!
I do not even think I was aware of shutting down emotionally as an adult in intimate relationship until relatively recently. I have been on the receiving end of punishing behaviour from men in relationships without knowing why. I now see they were reacting to their own perceptions and pain patterns that were triggered by my withdrawal. My shut down however, was an unconscious coping mechanism I learnt in my childhood to survive from my parent’s emotional disconnection. When these men either became volatile, destructive or abandoning, then my abandonment and fear patterns were re-ignited. I concluded that people simply hated me and were going to go out of their way to hurt me no matter what I did. I now see that they WERE reacting to something… my emotional detachment!!!
In psychology we have coined the term “healthy attachment bond” which means an early childhood relationship with significant others that consists of love, trust, supported autonomy, and stability. These are the building blocks of healthy intimate relationships later in life. There are some schools of thought that suggest we can create an inner sense of love and security later in life even if we do not have these early relationships with our parents. Being of the camp of people that believes in the possibility of deep inner change and healing, I advocate that we can re-create a healthy attachment bond in adulthood. It needs to be in intimate relationship (outside of the early parent/child relationship) that these attachment bonds can be formed. A friendship can provide these to some degree, and friendships can be deep and enduring. However often they lack the everyday intimacy and affectionate connection that may be needed in developing a safe and secure attachment bond. An intimate relationship needs to be supportive, loving and stable to cultivate a sense of inner belonging and permanency within the couple relationship. Through this connection, each individual can cultivate a sense of stability and love within themselves individually.
The biggest difference between developing inner safety and security as a young child in a healthy parental relationship and two people developing it in an adult intimate relationship, is that the adults require conscious awareness and good communication skills to be able to pull it off. As a child we are totally reliant on the healthiness of our parent. As an adult we need to constantly practice self-awareness of our already damaged emotional patterns and then communicate them with each other before a safe and secure attachment bond can form.
The Practice of Non-Attachment in Intimate Relationship
The practice of non-attachment in intimate relationship is yet another step forward beyond the safe and secure attachment bond. It is not possible to practice non-attachment until healthy attachments are formed, otherwise they are really only different manifestations of unhealthy detachment. The practice of non-attachment is being able to detach from our own and the people’s patterns while simultaneously being able to connect and love ourselves and others beyond the patterns.
Non-attachment is non-reactive. It is being able to remain present and calm while allowing others to do what they do. Of course it does not mean stay around aggression or violence. Rather it is about “right action” that values self and other, without becoming caught in blame, criticism, reactivity, rescuer/victim patterns, detachment or enmeshment. Non-attachment is being able to remain in a space of compassion and respond to events rather than react. By default, this involves a sense of inner-security, self-love and stability to be able to remain emotionally centred and not become caught in the hurricane of interpersonal relationship dynamics and intrapersonal patterns.
What does attachment mean to you in you relationship?
Emotional memories of the past can haunt our unconscious and sometimes conscious mind for a life time, if we do not heal our relationship with those memories. If the memories are traumatic such as child abuse, the loss of a parent, or a traumatic event, then the energy attached to these memories can be debilitating. How we work with the emotions that are attached to those memories is vital to overcoming the pain. The experience of distress, overwhelm and loss is captured in Julie’s story, as is her journey towards healing the emotional wound.
Julie accessed counselling because her relationship with her teenage daughter was rapidly deteriorating. She was concerned for her daughter Sarah, but felt she could not even talk to her, no matter about help her from her self-destructive behaviour. Sarah was 14 years old and had adopted a new group of friends who were drinking alcohol and partying. Julie was beside herself. Her anxiety, frustration, hurt and anger were consuming her throughout the day and night. She could not focus at work and her memory was failing her. She would walk into rooms and completely forget what she had intended to do.As we explored Julie’s situation further it became apparent that while Sarah was causing some real concern, Julie’s reaction was more intense than it needed to be. Her anxiety was severe and was stopping her from thinking straight or appropriately responding to the current situation with Sarah. So we looked a little deeper.
The distress that Julie was trying to cope with was familiar to her. I asked her to feel into her emotional distress and remember the earliest time she could remember feeling that way. She soon found a time when she was 14 years old herself, where her grandmother died. She remembered her Grandma, but she was not particularly close to her. Her mum, on the other hand was incredibly close to her own mum. Julie remembered becoming very nervous and frustrated around that time. She remembers that her thoughts and dreams became very dark and she withdrew from friends and social activities. Julie did not remember too much more about that time, but she decided she would talk to her own mum about what happened back then.
The Truth Revealed
The next session, Julie emerged appearing sombre and quiet. After a short while she began to talk. She talked about her discussion with her mother. Her mum had spoken to her for the first time about becoming deeply depressed at that time, and while her mum and dad had hidden it from her conscious mind, Julie unconsciously had picked up something was happening that was very distressing. For a period of time, her mum had suicidal thoughts and had attempted suicide several times. Because Julie did not consciously know what was happening, but she could pick it up unconsciously, she had never processed it or made sense of it. So the emotional memory simply lay hidden until her own daughter hit that age, unconsciously perpetuating a new dynamic between her and her daughter based on anxiety of self destructive behaviour.
As Julie discovered more about that time and what she was feeling, she realised that her emotional reactions were more proportional to the time when she was 14 years old herself. No longer did she feel like she was going mad! Her inner-emotional landscape had a reality that made sense of her emotional reactions. Julie began to become more conscious of what was then and what is now. She learnt how to step back from her projections onto her daughter and respond to the current situation with appropriate healthy boundaries rather than distress, angry outbursts and anxiety. Over time she felt more calm and in control over her life. Her emotions made more sense to her which eventually gave her sense of mastering her reactions to situations with her daughter.
Mastering Our EmotionsLearning to understand our emotional reactions rather than remain controlled by them opens the door to taking our power back from the emotional intensity, and make effective decisions in our life. Without seeing where her emotions really stemmed from, Julie would not have been able to respond to Sarah’s needs as well as she did. Processing the emotions rather than suppressing or avoiding them is essential to learning to work with them. This takes adopting some new practices such as mindfulness and self-awareness, however the results are definitely worth it.
“Surfing the Waves of Emotion” workshop will be held on the 7th July 2012 in Coolum Beach. Don’t miss out on learning how to distinguish between adaptive emotions and emotional memories, work with your emotions, and a whole lot more!!!
Have you ever experienced emotions that were disproportional to a current event only to discover the emotional reaction was really from your past?
[Note. All stories used in this blog are fictional characters based on the wisdom I gain from working with clients. No character in this blog is an actual person or a client]
Conscious relationship is one of my passions because I love and honour love itself. While intimate relationship is only one type of relationship where love can be cultivated, it fascinates me because I believe there is so much potential in our intimate relationships, rather than misunderstanding, separation and heartbreak. My hope is that increased awareness of gender and relationship will lead to us healing ourselves and our hearts.
Learnings from my Personal Story
From a very early age I had a deep longing for love. My dad was a Vietnam veteran with PTSD and my mum was psychologically and emotionally shut down. So neither one of them were connected to love within themselves, their relationship or with their children. The only time the word love was even used in their household was when we were getting the strap … “I’m doing this because I love you!” So needless to say, my first introduction to so called love was abuse. There was a deep sense of “wrongness” for me as a child. I knew this was not love! And yet there was no affection, encouragement or half way positive messages about who I was or who I might become.
Perhaps what gave me the deepest sadness in my family of origin was that they were so emotionally shut down. Like androids, these people were not connected to themselves or each other. The aimless, depressed negativity drove me crazy! Later I was to know this as unconsciousness… deeply shutdown patterns that blocked them from the life force… blocked them from love! So my earliest desires to wake up, become conscious and embrace love originated from early childhood experiences.
Over the decades as an adult, I have accessed counselling, spiritual healing, kinesiology, body talk, holographic kinetics, and anything else I could get my hands on! Today I wake up feeling happy! There are times when challenging things happen in life, but my perceptions and beliefs are largely positive. Sometimes I witness my thoughts and their attached emotions, spiral into the old family patterns, but I see them for what they are… simply unconscious patterns that detract me from loving life.
So what does all this have to do with Conscious Relationship?
I learnt in a very real way the importance of healing myself before I can create a conscious, healing and loving intimate relationship. I cannot say I am fully healed… I know that is not true! But I am on my way!!! Becoming more aware of my unconscious patterns that are triggered in intimate relationship, I can take responsibility for my 50% of a relationship and learn from it. My dream for intimate relationships is where both people become consciously aware of their own psychological patterns and learn to create love rather than pain.
This involves understanding the differences between genders and honouring those differences. If women are generally emotionally based creatures while men are often physically based, then what can we learn from each other in regards to respecting each other? It is not so much about becoming like the other, but rather to understand what the other is about in how they approach life. The idea of opening to happiness through connection, honouring differences and complementing our partners in intimate relationships, is the cornerstone of conscious relationship. By observing and learning from our own reactions, we can learn to give better to our relationships. By learning how to communicate even when we speak different languages, we can create shared meaning and purpose in our relationships. By understanding and appreciating what the feminine and masculine give and HOW they give, we can increase gratitude and reduce resentment. This is essential if we are going to shift our intimate relationships from the average, shut down relationships that exist in the sludge of life.
How we connect to our intimate partner is a choice! If we struggle with resentment, criticism, guilt or condemnation towards our partner, then perhaps it is time to heal. First this process is in each individual self. Secondly, the relationship itself may need healing. Becoming conscious simply opens the door to healing and finding happiness in relationship. Conscious awareness is an on-going process that sometimes requires guidance through therapy, self-help avenues and other healing modalities. But it is worth it!!! For it is the difference between mastering ourselves and our relationships, and perpetuating the living hell of the unconscious relationships of the past. Without compassionate awareness towards ourselves, there cannot be love for another.
What are the important ingredients of Conscious Relationships in your experience?
I remember as a little girl, cringing when my mother overtly put my dad down in public. In front of friends, she would say all the things that he had done wrong in her eyes. Then she would go on to say that she was so attractive while trying to flirt with some other man. And this was in front of him! OK, he had his issues, but then again so did she! So my education had begun in the battle between the sexes. This battle continues as stories shared in women’s conversations and popular women’s media still degrade the masculine. There are masculine cultures and media that degrade the feminine as well. However this blog focuses on the feminine degrading the masculine.
In my blog “The Effects of Masculine Culture on Men” I focused on masculine culture and how the norms and attitudes did not help men to connect with their emotional selves. Today I want to look at how aspects of feminine culture do not help women to understand or embrace their emotions in a healthy and responsible manner. Due to unhealthy attitudes, women can remain emotionally hurt, bitter and shut down from listening to and understanding men’s experience.
The Princess Myth
Something I see and hear over and over again is an idea that women are better than men in an incredibly condescending way. It is subtly and sometimes even overtly portrayed in advertising, media and in conversation where the gist is that women should self-righteously accept “the best” from him because she “deserves” that. Some women argue that because women have been so oppressed for thousands of years, this is women’s way of re-building their sense of self. The feminine has experienced millenniums of oppression and abuse from patriarchal society, but then again so have many groups of men. I am not down grading the feminine wounds (both conscious and unconscious) as she does need healing and honouring. What I am saying however, is that this healing is mutually exclusive with downgrading the masculine.
Attitudes that degrade the masculine, such as “we don’t need him”, “all men are bastards” or as in one recent women’s magazine article “Five reason why boyfriends are bad for your health”, are generally really unhelpful and do not help the feminine heal. The attitude that “women are queens and should be treated like royalty” is not how the feminine needs to be honoured by the masculine. The masculine energy may be about giving and the feminine energy may be about receiving however, between a man and a woman this dance is one of real intimate connection and not conceit. These unattainable expectations of women caught in the princess mindset leave a lot of good men feeling helpless and disheartened when their intention is to make their female partner happy. And yes there are a lot of good men out there who genuinely try to make women happy.
Princess beliefs and expectations seep into girls minds from a young age. They are heavily socialised. If a girl is not confident in her attractiveness then she often has very low self-esteem. Messages in fairy-tales, media and through family conditioning about women being lovable and having feminine purpose are often tied up with body image and physical attractiveness. Without being perceived and treated as if they are attractive, girls will often not develop a confidence in their attractiveness. This can be disastrous in intimate relationships as these women are more likely to find themselves in abusive relationships or with unavailable men. However the flip side to this low self-worth is a grandiose self-worth based of self-perceived attractiveness that degrades others. Underneath is of course insecurity. However the princess pattern can underlie manipulation, false concepts of love and unleash the Goddess “Kali” when she is not treated according to her expectation.
Beyond the Princess Myth
There is something in the middle between the grandiose self-image and low self-image, and that is a realistic self-image with the ability to participate in real interpersonal connection with both men and women. In this space, the feminine may understand and know the pull towards false self-image (in both extremes), however she is able to re-connect with herself in a way that opens her heart and mind to listen to other people’s perspectives, and especially men’s perspectives.
In this space, the feminine is also aware of her emotional self and that she thinks differently from the masculine in some fundamental ways. She may be still healing wounds of being trivialised or abused just because she is an emotionally-based thinker. She may still be learning how to acknowledge and honour her own emotional wisdom. However, she would have no need to compare herself with others, nor would she feel the need to put men down or immaculate men. Rather she aims to develop a strong inner core and deep intuitive knowing of herself. She would know she is all about love and does not need to manipulate to get it.
The feminine, like the masculine, is potentially amazing! She is all about emotional understanding, interpersonal relating and love. However, the feminine potential is not possible without the masculine (and visa versa). The healing shift for women is to recognise the role of the feminine and masculine in our lives and support both energies to live in synchronicity. We are in essence about love, not resentment and hostility. So embracing men in our lives in a realistic way is a loving act and is based on feminine wisdom and connection.
Questions to Women….
Have you ever noticed the princess myth within yourself?
How were you able to overcome the pull of socialization?
Rebuilding trust after either one or two people in an intimate relationship has betrayed the other is a challenging processing. It can be the trust is broken be repetitive small things such as not turning up on time to an arranged meeting. Or it may be big things such as an affair. The broken trust may result from lack of understanding another’s perception. For example, one party may not have known that forgetting to buy fish on Fridays is sacrilege. Or it may be that there was deliberate deceit, often mixed with avoidance, denial and maybe even harboured resentment.
To re-build trust in a couple relationship the key is to communicate and if both parties want to repair the relationship, then they need to embark on a healing process. If it was a legitimate mis-understanding then there needs to be exploration of values, significant meanings of events, and family of origin norms and patterns. It is very normal to not understand your partner’s nuances because they grew up in a different family with different rules. So now is he time for exploration and open communication between the couple which can enrich and deepen the connection, if both people are in the space of compassion and an open mind.
If the betrayal was deliberate, then rebuilding trust can be more difficult, especially if the betrayal was big, such as an affair. This healing process involves the person who broke the trust becoming very open, transparent in their thoughts, feelings and actions, and incredibly patient while their partner recovers. It is very normal for the person who has been betrayed to need to ask a million questions, go through intense anger and hopelessness, and wonder if it is worth continuing the relationship. The person who betrayed the other needs to earn their trust back, through openness and displays of commitment. It is hard work! However eventually, it can be rewarding as it can bring skeletons out of the closet and motivate both parties to look at what has been denied or avoided in the relationship. Ironically, it can even bring people closer, but only if they enter this process. If it is glossed over or the person betrayed has not been able to re-build the trust in their partner, then it can be excruciatingly painful or the relationship can disintegrate.
Trust is an incredibly important ingredient in healthy intimate relationships and needs to be nurtured and cultivated if the relationship is to thrive. Ultimately, the key is to cultivate openness, respect, good will and communication from the beginning of the relationship and seek professional help at any point in the relationship if needed. This maximizes trust and minimizes misunderstandings or even deceit. If both parties hold positive, loving attitudes to each other, open communication can occur and trust can build.
Have you ever healed trust in your intimate relationship?
What aspects of your connection did it deepen?
Often your partner’s differences were what originally attracted you to them in the beginning, and yet as the relationship progressed into the second stage those same differences can become the bane of your existence. They say “opposites attract” and this is can be very right. The two types of relationship are the complimentary ones, where the couple shares very similar traits, and the ones based on opposites. Most intimate relationships fall into the second category. Why are we attracted to our opposite? What do we gain out of this experience in relationship? And perhaps most importantly, how can we work through these opposites so that the intimate relationship can grow stronger?
Opposites can balance the scales. When people with opposite traits work together they can create very effective teams, where the couple can achieve a lot more than each one on their own. However for this to happen, each party has to be able to appreciate and respect the other one’s differences and abilities in their own right. In an intimate relationship the lack of understanding of those differences, along with unrealistic relationship expectations, heightened emotional attachment and psychosocial stresses, can result in relationship breakdown.
Consciously Know Yourself
A conscious process of understanding your partner’s opposite qualities can be an amazing and beautiful journey rather than a heart wrenching battle. We are often not aware of our own qualities within ourselves and how we operate in the world, so it is very difficult to openly communicate and share who we are with our partner. So many people do not know why they react the way they do. Their unconscious conditioning ends up dictating their unconscious reactions which only lead to misery.
So the beginning of consciously working through differences with your intimate partner is KNOW THY SELF! Self-awareness is vital. We are so often busy psychoanalysing our partners and judging their “down falls” that we do not recognise the importance of turning the magnifying glass around and looking into the mirror, as Susan Jeffers would say. If both people in the relationship spend time getting to know themselves, the couple will have a far smoother journey in getting to know each other and respecting differences.
Mindfully focussing on your own thoughts, emotions and actions can create a more rewarding outcome than trying to tell your partner that they are a certain way, or that they should do a particular thing your way. By focussing on yourself, I am not referring to focusing on what you ‘want’ but rather what is your process of relating to your partner. What you want is important too, but it is secondary to the process of how you are both communicating when it comes to working through relationship differences.
The reason for this is that often “what both people want” is not the problem. Rather problems emerge due to mis-interpretations of each other, which could happen through body language, tone of voice, emotional reactions, semantics or attachments to expectations or unconscious conditioning. The relating style itself is often what gets in the couples way. Spend time witnessing and understanding your own reactions to your partner differences and see if you can then both talk about you own experiences.
Know Your Intention
Another aspect of working through differences in intimate relationship is the intention that both people bring into this process. Good questions to ask yourself include:“What do I want to achieve by working through these differences?” “Am I trying to change my partner so that they are more like me?” “Am I trying to defend or justify myself because I believe my partner is attacking me?” “Am I here to better understand myself and my partner’s differences and learn to respect and honour them?”“Is my mind set about ‘both/and’ where we learn to use our differences to balance and complement each other rather than what I think is ‘right or wrong’?”
Knowing your own intention and being able to openly verbalise this intention is helpful to resolving or working through differences. Often the solution is not to make the ‘difference’ go away but rather is about both people agreeing to how the differences can be beneficial and of value to their relationship.[Disclaimer: This only applies so long as there is no abuse in the relationship. Physical, sexual or emotional abuse is not a relationship difference or even a relationship issue for that matter]
Projection is when we superimpose our own idea of what another is saying or doing that is more about ourselves than the other person. We all do this in intimate relationship. In fact, the three hardest types of relationships are parent-child, child-parent and partner relationships because in these relationships we are most prone to projection. There are positive projections as well as negative ones. A great example of positive projection is when we fall in love. In this projection the other person becomes our “ideal lover “in our mind, but who we think we see is our inner projection of that person and not that person themselves.
Negative projections can include when your partner reminds you of the perceived negative attributes of your parents, or it could be when your partner becomes the evil kid who used to harass you at school or your teacher who hated you. The projection is a previous memory of some other person who in some way hurt or angered you earlier in life. This process is incredibly common in relationships.
Again, the key to overcoming projection in intimate relationship is firstly, self-awareness of the projection, and then to consciously dis-identify your partner from that projected image. What tells you that your partner is not actually your mother or father? How are they different from that evil kid? When was your partner loving, supportive or your best friend? So working through differences will not make your partner change who they are, however it can help couples to stop polarizing their differences and stand together in a way that uses their differences to complement each other.
When have you appreciated your partner’s differences?
Can you think of a time when you projected another person or previous experience on to your partner?
What makes conscious relationship different from other types of relationships is that both partners make a conscious commitment to work on themselves personally, interpersonally and spiritually. Rather than committing to an ideal or a concept of “a relationship”, they are committing to a process. This process is a journey of individual self-awareness, and a conscious exploration of intimate relationship including open communication and a sharing of felt experience in the relationship. In a nut shell, people who chose to be in conscious relationship are choosing to look at themselves, and listen to their partner with respect for their wisdom and observations, knowing their partner is their perfect mirror!
For conscious relationship to work, both people involved in the relationship need to be open to enhancing self-awareness of their childhood patterns. They need to recognise that these patterns are likely to be triggered in their relationship by their partner. The process of exploring their emotional reactions then becomes an internal psychospiritual one, rather than simply blaming their partner for hurting them or being difficult.
There is an important distinction I wish to make here. In looking to your own patterns for what is being triggered by your partner, I am not talking about martyring yourself by blaming yourself for another person’s bad or unconscious behaviour. To look at yourself is to witness the thoughts, emotions, physiological responses and actions that arise in reaction to your partners actions. For example, it may become apparent that your partner’s behaviour reminds you of your passive-aggressive mother or father, and therefore your reaction is sensitised (or suppressed) to this type of treatment. In identifying your pattern, it may also alert you to the minor problem that the reason why your partner’s behaviour reminds you of your parent’s passive-aggressive treatment, is because your partner’s patterns actually are passive-aggressive.
Unconscious Patterns in Action
This is a real relationship issue in the tangible psychological reality of human interpersonal relating. It also needs to be addressed on the level of psychological healing and as well as energetic healing. If we step back to the hypothetical person who has become aware of their reaction being triggered by their partner’s passive-aggressive behaviour, they too have their 50% of relationship healing to do. Why have they been involved in a relationship where their partner treats them that way? Do they honour or value themselves? Had they learnt a childhood conditioned pattern of unworthiness or tolerating passive-aggressive behaviour, which then kept them in that relationship dynamic?
Both people in this hypothetical relationship had patterns that fit together like a key in a keyhole. And that is why they are the perfect mirrors for each other. While they stay in those unconscious patterns, they will replay that dynamic where one holds the control through passive-aggressive means, and the other is de-valued and “the victim”. They will be caught in a dance of suffering that will either lead to separation or emotional shut down in order to stay in the relationship, unless they heal their respective patterns and the relationship dynamic.
Healing Unconscious Patterns & Relationship Dynamics
No one is good or bad or even right or wrong. In couples work it is usually more productive to adopt a “Both/And” philosophy, if both parties are willing to work through their respective patterns. In conscious relationship work, it is important for both people to embrace compassion and understanding for themselves and each other, while gaining awareness of and responsibility for, their respective patterns. The potential blessing of conscious relationship is that through their union both people will be alerted to, and will heal, those patterns that would otherwise keep them locked in suffering.
In this process it is vital to remain in the mind-set of healing rather than blaming self or other. It is no-one’s fault! The only question is “do you want to continue this dance?” And for the record, by leaving that relationship and finding another one, they are likely to unconsciously re-attract another person with the same pattern, or they will flip over and play out its opposite next time around. This is because we all have patterns that we need to heal! The only way to release yourself from what may feel like torture, is to consciously heal yourself. If your partner is willing to do the same, then co-healing the relationship dynamic could lead to strengthening the relationship.
The above example of this hypothetical couple, is just one dynamic out of many. There are many possible patterns that can be triggered in relationship and played out by a couple. If there are relationship issues that are causing one or more parties grief in their relationship, then therapy with a trusted psychotherapist could help.
Can you see how your partner is your perfect mirror?
What are your patterns that are being triggered by your partner’s patterns?
Commitment is one of those words that can either recruit people into holding on tighter to their relationship, or running a mile. It can elicit fears of being controlled and confined, or fears of abandonment and betrayal. One thing we know about commitment though, is that it is a word that can create a great deal of anxiety and stress in intimate relationship.
Commitment, Attachment & Relationship
Given that “commitment” is an emotionally loaded term, it is no surprise that it can cause havoc in our relationships. However, a lot of people do not know what commitment really means to them. In fact a better way of phrasing “commitment” could be “I really fear growing too attached (or not attached enough) to this relationship”. We could even say a better term for what a lot of people are really speaking about when they talk about commitment, is “attachment”.
Buddhist philosophy states that attachment to any idea, thought or emotion causes craziness and suffering. In intimate relationship we are heavily socialised to be attached to expectations, images, ideals and emotional states. These beliefs and concepts about relationship are defined by childhood conditioning, media, peers, broader culture and subcultures. They tie into some of our deepest fears and concepts of self-identity. So when we begin to understand the term “commitment” we need to deconstruct and clearly understand these external constructs.
Another reason it is important to understand these constructs is because if we lack awareness of how we are thinking about relationship and commitment then we cannot begin to make sense of our own reactions, or the roles that we unconsciously expect another to live up to. And the other person would not have a clue how their ‘beloved’ thinks it is “supposed to work” if that person does not know or communicate those ideas, and visa versa. While a lot of people may hope for long term committed relationships, the lack of self understanding and open communication can result in misunderstandings, power struggles, mutual blame and eventually separation and heart-break.
Conscious relationship is simply about self awareness and consciously working with another person to co-create a shared union and journey together. Conscious relationship can ‘hold the space’ for open conversations about relationship ideas and constructs that we often take for granted and assume that everyone else shares. What a myth … that we share similar ideas, expectations and meanings about relationships and how they should work! So a consciously shared understanding helps couples to navigate otherwise confusing territory at the level of the mind.
But wait there’s more…
Childhood Attachment, Emotional Wounding & Relationship
Even with this head-level-deconstruction of commitment and relationship, there are also our emotional reactions and childhood patterns that are so easily triggered in intimate relationships. A great deal of emotional reaction that is triggered in intimate relationship is more to do with early childhood attachment experiences with significant others, rather than a conscious adult-adult relationship.
These attachment-issues feel very real to many of us, and can recruit the most independent, rational person into a cringing, crying child or a screaming, tantruming toddler. It is like intimate relationship triggers all of those intolerable emotions that we shut off from our conscious awareness when we were infants. Here is perhaps where conscious relationship is the most powerful. Conscious relating teaches us to become mindful of our own patterns, even our intense ones. In conscious relationship, emotional reactivity is seen as an opportunity to learn and grow both as a person and at a soul level. John Welwood discusses these types of concepts in his writings. John used the term “sacred fire” to describe the deep transformational (and often painful) change intimate relationship can inspire. I love the term “sacred fire” because it captures the poetic beauty of intimate relationship, the spiritual dimension, and the heart wrenching agony that can accompany it. Intimate relationship can be like creating diamonds… including being compressed by the boiling hot molten lava deep within the Earth! But conscious relationship offers us meaning for the experienced pain rather than leaving people baffled and bitter…
In conscious relationship “sacred combat” and emotional reactions are indicators of childhood wounding. Our partner is seen as our mirror (rather than our enemy with deep psychological problems!). Our partners can show us where we are still wounded. So when it comes to commitment in conscious relationship, there is more opportunity to work through the deeper emotional issues that inevitably emerge, rather than being torn apart by them. This helps people to stay together in relationship and therefore, it can be said to strengthen commitment in relationship.
Commitment itself is multifaceted. It can be understood as a shared agreement or intention, or something that waxes and wanes throughout the life of a relationship. Some people say commitment is a belief that we should stand by no matter what, while others say it is an experienced connection that may grow over time. Some say you make commitment happen, while others say commitment grows in its own time. For some, commitment creates the safety and security the need in a relationship to relax, while for others it signifies confinement.
In knowing that commitment does not have a simple meaning, the importance of a conscious process to explore and co-create commitment becomes evident. If the shared meaning of commitment is one based on both love and freedom… then the creation can be beautiful indeed!
What does commitment mean to you?
Have you experienced a conscious process in your relationship to explore commitment? If so, please share your experience….
When I was young, I used to imagine my perfect man and intimate relationship. He knew me o well I did not have to tell him what I needed… he simply knew. And he was so loyal and faithful, I did not even think he could hurt me or let me down in any way. And he was so affectionate and verbally communicative, I just knew how much he really loved me … And then I grew up and experienced Real Life!!!
The Cold Hard Reality of Relationships
The childhood romantic dream often becomes shattered and annihilated through life’s all too real experiences in intimate relationship. So many people are then left bitter. They sometimes blame their ex-partners for destroying their lives and devastating their hearts decades after separation. Some people never recover from some relationship breakups, other try to piece their lives together and prepare themselves for their next relationship. Some people turn their backs on intimate relationships altogether and decide to live a peaceful life alone.
The drive and motivation for relationship is extremely strong for a lot of people. It is not so much a consciously thought out drive, but rather more like an emotional magnetism. Rationally, a lot of people acknowledge the difficulties and challenges of intimate relationship, especially after they have tried it a least once or twice. Healthy relationships are found to be generally positive for people’s mental and physical health, however, unhealthy relationships can have the opposite effect. But it is often not reason that drives us… instead it is ‘chemistry’ (or maybe karma)! And the casually? Everyone, especially our hearts!
The Real Reason Why Relationships Don’t Work
As hard as it is to acknowledge… the reason our intimate relationships often fail is not because our ex-partners are idiots, but rather because working through unconscious patterns is legitimately difficult! Relationships commonly bring up emotional wounds and reactivity from childhood that we thought we had outgrown. As a couples counsellor, it is amazing how couples behave towards each other that they would not otherwise be seen acting dead towards anyone else in the same way. It is like all normal respectful ways of relating to other adults goes out the window when you are sleeping with that person.
In a previous blog on unconscious relationships, I described how childhood patterns and emotional memories can keep us bound in unconscious painful dynamics. I also explained how these unconscious reactions usually begin to surface in the second stage of the relationship. Click here to read more about unconscious relationships. The answer to escaping from these unconscious relationship dynamics is to become conscious of our own emotional patterns. This is the art of conscious relationship.
Conscious relationships do not guarantee that a relationship will last. However it is a conscious practice that significantly improves the chances that it will last or at least will be respectful. It does not mean that unconscious patterns and emotional memories will not raise their heads… they will! What it does mean is that there is a process that people can work through their emotions and gain self-awareness. In turn, this increases the chances that a couple will not separate because they could not work through the pain and aggravation of their patterns being triggered by their relationship.
Conscious Relationship is first a process of knowing thy self! The more aware of how our childhood conditioning results in our reactions to current life events, the more we can take our power back from the patterns. Mindfulness practice is a great way of discovering what these patterns are about. If we witness our thoughts, feelings and actions we gain clarity of ourselves and our choices. In conscious relationship, the trick is to communicate your awareness of your own patterns with your partner rather than believe your partner is the cause of your pain and then blame them for it. This last sentence is the key to conscious relationships… so read it again slowly and carefully…
In conscious relationship, the trick is to communicate your awareness of your own patterns with your partner, rather than believe your partner is the cause of your pain and then blame them for it.
Over the next few blogs I am going to cover a range of different topics about conscious relationships. These blogs include:
- What commitment can mean in a conscious relationship
- How our partner is our mirror in intimate relationship
- The attraction of opposites in intimate relationship
- Gender differences in the felt experience and expression of emotion in relationship
- Fundamental differences in communication between men and women
- Strategies to overcome gender differences in communication
- And finally, the difference between sex and conscious love making
Conscious relationship is a beautiful process of self awareness in context and the reflection of another. It is in intimate relationship that we can learn our toughest lessons, and that we have the opportunity to look at ourselves with the eyes of truth, where before we wold not dare.
How could your intimate relationship benefit from increasing self awareness with your partner?