How do you deal with conflict or challenging relationships? Do you allow sad or disappointing moments to get in the way of your relationships with people? Are joyous and fulfilling situations left uncelebrated, pushing you and your loved ones further apart? Or are you able to use these highs and lows as catalysts to bring you and those dearest to you even closer together? And even overcome the blocks and barriers that might have developed in relationships with family and friends?
Friends and family at arm’s length
There have been various events in my family history that had the potential to bring us closer together. They didn’t because we were all consumed by the pain, fear, anger and despair we were feeling and trying to push away as well as nursing our own wounds. How do I keep going? What can I do to make this better? How can I get over this? How could this happen to me? Why do I feel so angry or numb or disconnected? None of us were willing to come out of that place of hurt enough to actually talk about it and connect to each other. The emotion would have been too overwhelming, exposing the scar too painful and sharing the grief too raw.
And so, it gets pushed aside, ignored, swept under the carpet in the pretence that all is fine. Everyone knows it’s not, but no one is willing to take the first step to talk about it and get things moving. Years and decades can go by like this with families remaining distant from each other because they cannot bring themselves to talk about how they feel. So, the resentment and sorrow remain and people who could truly and deeply love each other remain strangers to each other instead.
Just because you love someone, does not mean you share intimacy with them at an emotional level. You may love your parents and siblings but how deeply do you know them and how fully do you allow them to know you? I can say from my own experience that keeping those close to me at arm’s length has felt more comfortable than getting to know and accept them with all their foibles. Or share with them my fears, hopes and dreams as well as my moments of weakness and strength.
Pain can keep us apart
It doesn’t have to be this way. I learned this recently on a coaching training course. One of the participants shared how the death of his brother had encouraged his family to talk more, listen more and accept each other- worts and all. It was a beautiful mirror to how my family could have reached out to each other and nurtured our relationships. Instead these events pushed us further apart.
Pain is a powerful force. People feel compelled to move away from it. The mind makes no distinction between physical and emotional pain. You react the same way by pulling away. Pain is deemed something bad and we are programmed to move away from it. That behaviour has its value. Yet the source of the pain has not changed or gone anywhere. That’s why you get triggered when similar events occur. You’re bringing the pain of the past into the present, amplifying your reaction to this present event.
For example, I have a challenge with my family where I do not feel they listen to me. It has always been that way. For many years it has frustrated and angered me. So, whenever I do not feel like any person is really listening to what I’m saying, I can get inappropriately frustrated and angry which does not serve either of us. I lose control and they think “who’s this nutter?” and it doesn’t make them want to listen to me any more clearly and try and understand me any better!!
Go into the pain
Coming to terms with that pain has done wonders. Rather than fight it, instead I go into the pain. The blocks and feeling stuck, unaccepted, unappreciated and misunderstood have given way to understanding why they find it hard to accept, appreciate and understand me. The answer lies in their past and with that my compassion makes it easier to accept the situation. Compassion is a huge value of mine as people first and foremost need to be seen, heard and understood. My understanding brings down my barriers which in turn lowers their barriers and suddenly we have a more open and loving relationship.
So, my new learning is that every event, whether deemed positive or negative, has the ability to be used as an opportunity to bring people closer together. By sharing our feelings with people, we show our pain, hopes, dreams and aspirations. When listening to people share, we witness their humanity and may even recognise it in ourselves. The key is to listen to each other and share in our vulnerability, where our deepest feelings lie. This bonds us and connects us far deeper than pretending that everything is OK all the time. From this vulnerable place, people open themselves up at depth so that they can both get where the other is coming from and resolve their differences.
Conflict is not bad
When everything is OK share that, celebrate, whoop for joy and revel in the joy you witness and share with another. And when things are less than OK, share that too- cry with them, be with them, be angry together and be in sorrow. It is part of being human. When there is conflict between two people, it is an opportunity for both of them to take responsibility for putting it right. It is a chance to grow themselves AND the relationship. What role do you play in this situation? How can you understand the other more deeply so that they can take responsibility for themselves and their role in the situation? When you accept responsibility for yourself, it enables you to retain the freedom to be fully yourself.
We all have times when we are perhaps unlovable, or someone is perhaps being unlovable. Only by giving extra love will we be able to find our love for them at this challenging time. I harboured resentment towards my parents for many years. Yet, by understanding them more deeply, I found greater love for them and it has brought us all more peace and deeper connection. Conflict is not bad. It is an opportunity, more than any other, to allow relationships to grow. You can learn more here:
Relationship is everything
It builds relationship. And everything is about relationship. My sister was like a mother to me. She is 14 years older and moved abroad when I was very young. For many years I harboured anger, hate and resentment towards her. Only recently have I begun to share with her my feelings- not in a blameful way, but simply to listen to her side of the story and share a little of my pain. For the first time I heard HER pain of leaving me behind and missing me growing up. It was like the stuck emotions between us dissolved away.
Notice that I gave her the chance to speak first and showed a willingness to understand. She felt heard first. THEN she is in a place to hear me and more deeply listen and the healing can take place.
I will admit, I am blessed with a sister who would actually share and listen. It has made our relationship far deeper ever since and the relationships I have with her children. Yet not all people are willing to listen. Even when they may say they are trying, you can feel whether they are or not.
Then, it is about coming to understand them as best you can and healing the pain you feel inside for your own sanity, peace and well-being. Try to understand how they have come to be as they are- there is ALWAYS a painful story there and hurt people hurt people.
Over to you
Would you like to be closer to friends and family members? What things might be getting in the way? How would you like your relationship to be? How do you feel about sharing more of yourself with family and friends and knowing them more deeply? What have you done to build bridges? What worked and what didn’t? How could you go deeper? If you’d be willing to share, I’d love to hear from you. Happy to make it public. Please post in the comments box or on social media. If you’d prefer a private conversation, you can always DM me or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
Pass it on
If you know someone whose relationships and well-being might benefit from stronger and more open relationships, please pass this blog on and help those relationships heal.