Enemy or Friend?

How many of you reading this are experiencing conflicts in your relationships? How many of you have recently broken off a relationship with someone or have been told by another person that they don’t want to see you any more?  If you feel you are a going through a challenging year then let me put your mind at ease and tell you we all are. Like an old wound that’s been festering under a low quality plaster, the issues that we have been experiencing in our relationships over the years are rising to the surface and causing an escalating series of conflicts. This is happening in private, business and political relationships resulting in family breakups, company feuds and even war between nations. So many of us have reached a stage where we say “Enough is enough! I wont be treated like this any longer!”. Why is this the case and how can we turn these conflicts into relationships with a solid foundation of peace and mutual trust?  The key is RESPONSIBILITY – we need to take full responsibility for what we are experiencing instead of blaming others for the conflict.

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Our society is essentially a web of co-operative structures. Marriages, families, friendships, business partnerships, companies, nations are all examples of the same basic structure, where a group of people commit to live together and co-operate for the common good. When these structures run smoothly every member feels respected and cared for but when there is disharmony the structure starts tumbling like a house of cards where there is an imbalance in the relationship between two or more of the members of the structure. What is the route cause of this disharmony?

When we feel dis-respected or mistreated, we become hurt and angry. We instinctively protect ourselves by pushing away those who are doing this to us. But lets take a closer look at this statement “He or she is doing this to me!”. Because there is a fundamental difference between how we perceive another person is treating us to how that person perceives he or she is behaving. The reason for this is our own blind spot – our own emotions. How can we see each other clearly and avoid misunderstandings? By first working on the invisible but by far more important relationship – the relationship with ourselves.

Instead of judging others by the way they treat us, we need to re-define this to the way we react to others. Instead of seeing others like some kind of external force we have no influence over, we need to become aware of how we perceive ourselves as our external relationships are simply a mirror of our relationship with ourselves. Because the simple truth of the matter is that it’s not the things we say to each other which is the driver of our relationships troubles. Its how we feel about ourselves that determines what we say to each other and how we interpret each other.

Lets walk through some examples:

  • A man gets hurriedly on a bus and asks the bus driver if the bus will stop at his office address. The bus driver gives the man an unfriendly snort and ignores the question, instead pushing the accelerator causing the man to nearly fall without having time to find a seat. The man thinks: “What a rude bus driver”. But digging deeper what could be the truth behind the curtain: Without being aware the man may have been feeling stressed about being late for work and phrased his question to the bus driver in a rather short way. The bus driver in turn may have seen the man dressed in an expensive suit and felt unhappy about his lower-income job. Because of his insecurity about himself, he may have interpreted the man’s question as rudeness and as a result reacted by ignoring the question all together and speeding up the bus.
  • A woman has her parents visiting for the weekend. She feels tired and insecure about being a good mother to her young children. She feels guilty for sending her children to daycare so that she can have some time to herself. During the visit she constantly feels criticised by her parents as they are pointing out all the mistakes she is making when taking care of her kids. She starts pushing her parents away and telling them to mind their own business. Her parents, on the other hand, notice her tiredness and because they care about her and their grandchildren wish to help her by giving her advice. They are however unaware of the fact that they feel insecure about themselves. Now that they have reached retirement age they are worried they are of no use any more. They interpret their daughters reaction as being rejected and evidence of their fears.

What the people in the examples above don’t realise is that they themselves are creating their experience. Their own feelings are the driver behind how they are acting towards others and how they interpret others actions.  So how could these conflicts have been avoided:

  • If the man getting on the bus would have understood that his worries about being late for work were a result of his insecurity of not being a valued employee, he could have avoided becoming stressed and phrased his question to the bus driver in a more respectful manner. Alternatively if the bus driver would have felt happy in his job, he would have responded differently to the well dressed man getting on the bus.
  • If the daughter would have felt confident about being a good mum, she would have understood that the reason behind her parents behaviour was their own fears. Instead of shouting at her parents she may have asked them in a kind way to help her differently such as being happy and making her laugh about the little challenges with her kids. If her parents would have felt confident about themselves, they may have understood that the real reason they were giving their daughter advice wasnt to help her but to satisfy their own need to be useful. They may have understood that what their daughter really needed wasnt their advice but instead emotional support.

We act and react based on how we feel about ourselves. In order to change our relationships we need to become aware of our own feelings and like a compass change from negative to positive emotions. We need to resolve the relationship with ourselves.

If you feel inspired by what I’m writing, try this exercise for yourself.

  1. Think of a current conflict you are experiencing, whether in your private life or at work, and make a list of how you feel. The table below shows an overview of the main emotions which can be your guide.
  2. Next, against each of the emotions you have listed try to find the reason why you are feeling the way you are feeling? Try not to blame the other person involved in the conflict or people from your past, but instead focus on yourself.
  3. Ask yourself the question: When was the first time in my life that I felt this way? What occurred back then that created this feeling in me? Try to find the root cause for your feelings.
  4. Then make yourself the following commitment: “I promise myself to stop feeling this ………”
  5. Then watch what happens in the way you perceive yourself and your current conflict…

Please share your experiences as I would love to hear from you.

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