We are social beings. Relationships to ourselves and to others are
essential for our very survival. This last year of isolation during the pandemic, in which some of us have been alone and others more confined to home with partners, children, or relatives, has been a test of these relationships. Here, we offer a roadmap for navigating conflict that can arise in these important relationships.
We are sustainable systems. We need all of who we are. A relationship starts to destroy itself when we throw out the parts of ourselves we judge to be unacceptable. Can you imagine how different your life would be if you treated the parts of yourself you liked the least with love and compassion, instead of carrying forward a pattern of non-acceptance and self-hatred?
Understanding Our Human Feelings
As human beings, we are in the challenging and paradoxical position of living in the now yet carrying the “then” of our past with us. Our bodies record and hold the memory of all that we have experienced. This is important to know because it offers a route toward understanding our feelings, which then allows us to take responsibility for how we feel. This, in turn, allows for a greater depth of humanity and meaning in our lives. The feelings, fantasies, and dreams that reside in and emanate from our bodies contain the truth about who we are.
For many of us, the notion that we carry our history in our bodies is not a welcome idea. We would rather believe we’ve made it through our lives unscathed and successfully learned to let nothing bother us. Others of us realize we are still deeply impacted by our childhood but need help to detach from those memories and feelings and the behaviors that mirror our parents’. The knowledge that we carry our history in our bodies allows us to expand our experience beyond the purely intellectual, where we may remain stuck. Accepting our feelings allows us the option to contain our behaviors and have a choice about how we live our feelings. With this knowledge, we catalyze change.
Our Sacred Selves
What is true is that we have learned to survive, each of us in our own individual way, given the unique story of our life. What is also true is that we are deeply impacted by our childhoods. As our individual, unique ways of surviving become clearer to us and we learn new, simple, and direct ways of expressing ourselves, we become more aware that we are either supporting our aliveness with caring and compassion or, in subtle or not-so-subtle ways, living a life of denial.
We believe our bodies are intrinsically sacred, not intrinsically evil, and that our feelings and thoughts cannot possibly be wrong. We can only choose whether to accept or reject them. It is how we project our feelings and thoughts that impacts others in a loving or hurtful way. When we accept ourselves we naturally tend to love others, and when we reject ourselves we tend to hurt them. The truth is, we are all capable of becoming off-center, behaving clumsily, and making mistakes. Our perceptions can be way off because as children, in order to stay safe and to belong in our families, we learned to shift, distort, or dismiss our own perceptions entirely, in order to see only what was acceptable to see. This is how we felt we could belong in our family.
Come As You Are
The most common misconception that many of us have about relationships and the process of transformation is that we need to change who we are and get rid of what is “bad” in us. Many of us believe that some of our feelings are bad or even evil, and that we must somehow learn to have different ones. It is not our feelings of anger, hate, or contempt that create societal wars or wars within our relationships—it is what we do with these feelings that has the potential for war or peace. We create peace by softening out of our defensiveness and considering the ways we resemble those we most react to. Living in this way, we no longer have to repress or deny our feelings and project them onto others. We no longer have to live as if parts of us are unacceptable and need to be thrown out. We learn that we can “come as we are,” and that all of our feelings have meaning. We need acceptance for every emotion to feel whole and alive.
David Gilroy, Psy.D., LPC and Donna R. Baker-Gilroy, Psy.D., LPC, are Partners at Hartford Family Institute. Donna and husband David provide therapy and workshops for couples in conflict. They have developed a specialty that combines psychotherapy with a Buddhist form of conflict resolution called “Beginning Anew” and are authors of the book Transforming Relationships: Come As You Are. They also provide training to psychotherapists in the HFI Professional Program.