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The One Thing that Separates Loved Ones From Strangers

 

A few years ago I frequently took the GO train to downtown Toronto for work. It was mostly a pleasant ride. However, this one lady would push everyone in her frenzy to disembark every time the train pulled into Union Station. Mostly I stayed out of it but one day, she pushed me. I decided to call her out on it. Right there, on the platform, she started screaming out threats about pushing me down the stairs. A security guard caught my eye and came over. We explained the situation to him with several other passengers confirming that this lady had been very aggressive for the past few weeks. The security guard let her go with a warning. That lady was a total stranger. My only concern in this situation was to speak out against her aggression and do what I thought was “right” in defending myself. I did not care at all about whether our relationship would suffer as a result of my speaking out.

In contrast, when I moved to a new country, I saw a lot of things that were not “right”. Living with five other people, conflict was both healthy and inevitable. The difference was that I actually cared about my relationship with these people. So I had to force myself to look past huge hurdles like emotional extremes, power imbalances and a starkly different worldview and find a way to get along with them. I learned an important lesson – from siblings to parents to spouses to kids, our closest relationships are the trickiest to handle.

Strangers VS Loved Ones

When it comes to our closest relationships, unresolved conflicts can lead to an ongoing skirmishes and resentment. When this everyday stress becomes pervasive, it not only damages your relationship and self-esteem but also robs you of a potentially powerful support system (your loved ones). Conflict with people you care about is very different form conflict with people who are transient in your life like the cashier at your local drugstore or the rude lady pushing you on your commute to work.

Conflict with loved ones is trickier to handle because we usually DO care about our relationship enough to want to make it last. It is also likely that your affection for your loved one(s) compels you to keep their best interests in mind. So mutual trust and affection are essential to establishing and maintaining healthy long term relationships. However, in times of conflict, mutual understanding is the first facet of your relationship to be dismissed.

Impact of Different Conflict Management Styles

In a conflict situation with a loved one, your relationship will take the brunt of the damage especially if one of both of you are constantly minimizing the other person’s feelings. We have all fallen into patterns of aggression, lack of sensitivity or lack of courtesy in a domestic argument at one point or another. Unconsciously or even on purpose, we all tend to do it. However, not many of us are aware that these toxic patterns of interaction set up a dangerous power play dynamic – the effects of which can linger for a long time after the conflict has been resolved.

While displays of insensitivity, aggression and power struggles are damaging to your relationships with loved ones, avoidance of conflict is also equally, if not more damaging to your relationship. Always striving to smooth things over and please the other person inevitably breeds resentment if you are always bending over backwards for your loved one. Ironically, the family member you are trying to accommodate is simultaneously being conditioned to be selfish and insensitive to your preferences because you are always putting their needs ahead of yours. When this happens, the trust in your relationship is damaged as well as your own personal sense of self-worth. Rather than engaging in patterns of aggression or accommodation, an honest, respectful (both to yourself and to the other person) and non-manipulative approach can strengthen your relationship even in times of conflict.

However, in order to reach a respectful, honest and non-manipulative relationship dynamic, both parties need to do certain internal work first. Experts of often talk about open communication, negotiation and compromise but in order to act on these peace-keeping values, you need to create the emotional and mental space for them first. Here are some Do’s and Don’ts of overcoming conflict with your loved ones:

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bitter

Day 6 – I am Grateful for the Ability to Release All Bitterness, Resentment and Dissatisfaction and Emerge Resilient

I am grateful for the ability to release all bitterness, resentment, dissatisfaction, so that I may see the blessings I miss while taking part in the everyday busy-making of life.

Sometimes we are so focused on the things that are wrong in our lives that we barely notice the good things that we are right under out noses. It takes a chance encounter, a life changing experience, a thought provoking conversation before you open your eyes and look around you with a different lens. When you do look around with a fresh perspective, you realize the beauty you were searching so desperately for, the one that you have been taking for granted, has been with you all along. You were just too caught up in the drama, the bitterness of things that didn’t go our way.

Resentment and bitterness can cloud your vision. Bitterness is a vice that holds you in its grip long after the offending incident has passed. Here’s the interesting part. When bitterness festers into resentment, it pollutes your entire being. Often, it also pollutes your relationships, your aspirations, your environment.

[youtube height=”480″ width=”940″]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g4VbVNg7F3U[/youtube]

I once cared for a terminal cancer patient who had lost it all. I mean this in a literal sense. When he was diagnosed, he lost his job, his physical abilities, his beloved garden, even his wife who left him for a more physically able man. Yet, every time I saw him, he was polite, even kind, always trying to make others feel comfortable. When I asked him how he stays so positive, he replied with words that I will never forget.

[quote align=”center” color=”#4acb58″]“I have a few days left to live.  I refuse to let cancer win by spending those precious moments checking off the things that didn’t go right for me. Wherever my wife is, I hope she is happy. We don’t need two people suffering through this horrible illness.”[/quote]

His generosity of spirit brought tears to my eyes – but it was his utter lack of bitterness that left me stunned. This man who had been served the worst imaginable circumstances, was sending cosmic goodwill to the one person who should have been by his side but had deserted him in his worst time of need.

[message_box title=”AFFIRMATION” color=”beige”]I am grateful for the human ability to forgive and move on. I am grateful for the release of bitterness, for dissatisfaction , grudges, and resentment. Releasing pent up bitterness not only frees the other person from the shackles of your negative energy, it also ironically frees you , releases you and cleanses you from whatever pain you are holding in your heart. I solemnly resolve to release all bitterness from my mind. I choose to remember instead the liberating power of a joyful mind. Regardless of the awful things I’ve been through, the heartache that loved ones have inflicted upon me. Regardless of the countless personal dreams I’ve seen crash and burn, I promise myself that from this moment forward, I will release the failures – both mine and those of other people. Starting from this moment until my last breath, I resolve to choose freedom. Freedom from bitterness. Freedom from resentment. Freedom to focus on positive things that will drive me in the direction of my dreams instead. [/message_box]

So here’s the thing…

In order to turn your disappointments into learning opportunities,  you need to nurture a mindset of resilience. Resilient people bounce back from disappointments and failures, using these setbacks as rungs on the ladder to success. Resilient people:

Remain accountable.  They own up to their part in the problem. They make no excuses. They never play the victim card.

Remain optimistic.  In the best-selling book, Rainy Brain, Sunny Brain, author Elaine Fox talks about the fear-seeking brain and the pleasure seeking brain. Those that have a sunny disposition are optimistic, friendlier and also likely to get more of what they want out of life. This is based off of actual research. So remain optimistic – it might just make the difference between achieving our dreams – or not.

Have strong boundaries. Many people confuse being a people-pleaser with being compassionate. Resilient people create and exercise strong boundaries for themselves. When people walk all over them, they react by reinforcing their boundaries, clarifying what is acceptable to them, and what they will not stand for. They do not react with complying and then feeling bitter or resentful.

Avoid self-bashing.  As important as it is to not let people walk all over you, resilient people realize that it is also unacceptable to beat yourself down. Whatever mistakes you may have made in the past, forgive yourself.

Ask for help. Resilient people know when they are in need of help and seek it. They recognize the fact that if they do not tend to their issue, it will only get bigger and take more energy to resolve.

Learn from challenges. Resilient people don’t dread challenges. They relish them. Opportunities to learn, grow and to refine their methods in their quest for success. Challenges are just learning opportunities in the grand scheme of things.

Stop seeking control. Resilient people recognize that everything in life will not be under their control. They learn to be flexible and roll with the punches life throws at them. They learn to let go of the petty things and choose to focus instead on what matters to them.

Embrace change. Resilient people welcome change. They know that change, both good and bad presents opportunities for personal growth. They learn to accept change and even thrive in it.

This list was inspired from (but not exactly the same as) ’10 ways to be better, not bitter, through deep challenge’ by Kathy Caprino

Today’s Task

I want you to start noticing how you feel inside. Start noticing how incidents throughout your day make you feel either positive or negative. Grab a piece of paper, make three columns:

Column 1: Notice the events that trigger feelings towards the negative end of your emotional spectrum. Simply make a note of them without analyzing, making inferences or judgements

Column 2: Write down your reactions. Did you react with your gut? Did you think about it first? Do you believe that negative statement in your head or one someone else has said is true? Is your reaction external (verbal communication, physical action) or internal (introspection, anxiety, brooding)? How does your reaction impact your thoughts.

Column 3: Identify the underlying issues. Did the comment about your weight strike a nerve with you because of larger body image issues. Did your brother’s comment about getting a ‘real’ job make you feel inadequate? Rank each incident from 1 to 10. 1 being very important, 10 being  not so important. How important is this issue in your life. Which ones align with your goals? How much energy should you expend on it?