“A wise man must remember that while he is a descendant of the past, he is a parent of the future.”
                                                                            -Herbert Spencer

There is no greater way I know of to know ourselves than through our relationships. We have relationships with ourselves, with our family members, our friends, our colleagues, and with significant others in our lives. Our future relationships are so influenced by our first ones; our parents and caretakers. What is unresolved in these first primary relationships gets played out within us, and all our other relationships. We may think we have worked everything out and have hashed out their early effects on us, and then something or someone comes along and we become triggered or reactive.

How do we know we are triggered or reactive? We know through a feeling. Suddenly we may feel angry, or we may feel defensive or we may have an uncomfortable or unsettling feeling in our bellies. The question here is that when we are reactive, do we take the time to really notice the feelings that are brought up in us or do we just react instinctively and unknowingly?

Most likely we do a little of both. When we take the time to listen to our inner reactions we then have an opportunity to learn. I was working with a woman a few weeks ago and I was the student. This was a workout class for me and I was describing how the previous week some muscles in my inner thigh reacted from something we had done. My trainer began to feel badly that inadvertently she had requested an exercise that had triggered a painful reaction in my body. As she began to talk about her feeling I realized inwardly and spoke outwardly about how this was a gift to me. I also noticed that she was in fact having her own internal reaction what I had said.  I asked her to please not feel badly as it is really a great opportunity for me to learn more about my body. My saying that did not stop her from feeling bad, but it did speak of a need of mine for her to not feel bad. It also could be an opportunity for her to look at what happened in her that made her feel bad.  I did, on the other hand, receive much-needed information regarding an old injury of mine and I did learn more about how to work with it. In addition, I saw how I was concerned about her feeling badly even though it is out of my control. This is an example of the reactive dynamic on a physical, body level, as well as on an emotional level. t is the same dynamic on every level.

In this example, it is regarded to my relationship with my body and with a teacher as well as my need to control how she is feeling and her distress at possibly contributing to my hurting. What happens when we learn how to work with our reactions with our partners or siblings or parents, etc.? It becomes about listening; truly listening to the other and to us. As we do, we have a door open inside of us to an earlier wound. When someone tells us something or says something that we feel a reaction to, let’s just listen first. What did they say? Can we even repeat it back to them? How do those words make us feel? Are we uncomfortable, angry, sad, happy, what? This becomes a doorway to learn about an inner connection to an earlier hurt that wasn’t resolved. Another way to say this is that we have an opportunity to bring something that was acting in an unconscious way inside of us to the surface where we have greater consciousness. We have a new and deeper awareness of us. As we see ourselves more clearly we can then see the other more clearly. 

As my father is no longer with us, I have some distance from him and my reactions to him and to my sibling’s reactions to him. With this distance, it is easier for me to see not only how things get brought up in me, but how they were brought up in my siblings in dealing with his decline and his passing. He had become a fall risk and in his own difficult way, he was resisting help; whether the help was in the form of a wheelchair or a sling for his injured elbow. Change was always difficult for him and also doing what others ask of him to do as he needed to do it his way all the time. Recently he took a fall and injured his elbow. My sister had to take him to the emergency room for x-rays to rule out a fracture. It turns out it was a dislocation and not a fracture, but required a sling to support his elbow. Most of my siblings were afraid he wouldn’t use the sling and also that he wouldn’t accept the help of a wheelchair. In fact my sister did have to push him into the wheelchair as he wouldn’t walk; he just stood in place. 

In this situation, I found it easier to keep my distance and to realize that his being obstinate in the face of change is his issue and problem. There are people in place at the facility where he lived to help to take care of him. My sister described how badly she felt as she had to push him into his wheelchair and leave him with his feelings. My brother also felt bad. Sometimes it is hard to see when we have such reactions in relationship to another, that we are in fact being triggered from an earlier time in our lives. Can we look into ourselves and see what an appropriate feeling for that situation is, and what might not be, but is instead a doorway to our inner world? That is the task for us all, to know what is an appropriate reaction to this time and place, and what a reaction to another time and place is. When we are reacting or triggered, what is in fact happening is that we are instantly transported to an earlier time and place where something occurred where we have unresolved feelings. Can we go back to that earlier place and shed light on us in that time? An important key to negotiating the terrain of our current relationships rests on us being able to do so. When we take the time to recognize our feelings that are brought out, and they are about us, we connect with us at a deeper level and instead of reacting, we engage with the other.

Recommended Resources: 

A wonderful book I wholeheartedly recommend is called: Getting the Love you Want, by Harville Hendricks.

It wonderfully goes over what we unconsciously being into our relationships as well as beautifully choreographed exercises, metaphorically, to follow to help us along our conscious pathway.

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