Monday, July 26, 2010

The Gift of Difficult Relationships

I think each of knows one or two people who are triggers. You might have a person in mind right now where the mere thought of interaction makes your heart pound. Your mind might go to past injustices or dreaded future encounters. To the things you really want to say to that person, or to things that they have said or done to you. Even to wanting to hurt them, with words or actions, to get back at them for the hurt and pain they have caused you.

Whether these relationships are at or outside of work, they can be incredibly helpful to us as pointers to our own challenges. What are the concepts that we hold dear that these people threaten? What stories do the relationships present? Seeing this can be helpful. But it may not be enough.

I have a couple of people in my life who I use as barometers for how I am doing. When I feel centered and present, things tend to roll off my back. I have tended to think of this (while congratulating myself) as "turning the other cheek," but I've come to realize that it can easily turn into "looking the other way."

In the guise of evolving, too often I have simply avoided. And when I am in a different spot--a little tired, a little cranky--all those feelings come right back up. I don't find they have changed very much. They run deep.

Addressing difficult relationships is not just about acceptance of the situation or seeing the story. Sometimes, it feels to me that one has to be totally honest, first with oneself, and then, potentially, with the other person. Why does this other person bring up these feelings for you? How and where does it hurt? What is the story that you are telling yourself that causes so much pain?

Eventually, that story will change or dissipate. But these feelings can be very sticky. They can hang on for years. To have courage in the face of these feelings might mean that you talk to the other person. And this can mean a kind of fierce truth about what you are feeling. You may want to talk about how you have felt hurt, or attacked, or demeaned, when something happened. At the same time, this should not be about the other person, nor should you accuse them of intending this result. In fact, you may want to acknowledge the other person probably did not intent to hurt you. (It can be incredibly helpful just to see this.)

There are no guarantees. Perhaps the relationship will not improve. But maybe the naked honesty, the moment of genuine vulnerabilty, will open a soft spot that wasn't there before. Maybe there will be a possibility of heartfelt dialogue. And while that conversation may be difficult, it could also lead to something better than today.


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