Grab a partner and give this a try. Stand facing your partner, holding your hands up and pressed against each others’. Now, both of you push against the others’ hands.
What happens? Do you feel tension? Does one of you lose your footing? Does one of you ‘win’?
Now stop. This time one of you will push and the other will ‘absorb’. How is this different? How does the relationship shift?
Let’s take a look at this from the outside. During our lifetime, we find ourselves in a lot of relationships- parental, sibling, romantic, friendship, etc. In these relationships, we are bound to have conflicts pop up- moments where there is tension, where both of us are pushing and we all of a sudden feel triggered to react.
But most of us never stop to look at what we are actually reacting TO.
The short answer?
When we ease up, allow flexibility and hold the space for another to have their own experience- yes, even push at you at times- without pushing back, we allow them greater flexibility to change their experience. When we remain rigid, holding fast to our perspective, our beliefs, the tension increases, and incidentally this is also when people tend to act in regrettable ways because they are acting from subconscious fight-or-flight patterns instead of their hearts.
Early in life, especially as we start to experience what it is like to understand that we are separate from others (especially our mother), we develop beliefs and often supporting habits that become the ‘things’ we need to do in order to keep love intact. When we are babies, we can lie there and poop in our diapers and we are loved just as much as if we are clean and cooing. We are unconditionally loved.
As we get older, more autonomous and have more awareness around our separateness, we start to develop empowering or disempowering beliefs related to our understanding of how we can be separate from others and still belong or how we can be loved for simply being ourselves- the things we need to do, or the person we need to be in order to be loved and lovable.
Many of us become bogged down in ‘shoulds’ based on others’ expectations, or our (mistaken) perceived understanding of others’ expectations. These ‘shoulds’ are the rules by which we must abide if we want to be loved and lovable, and belong in a given group (family, relationship, etc.).
Think about your parents. Whose attention do you most crave? What life-long patterns have you created in an attempt to acquire that attention? Patterns of achievement (sometimes over-achievement), personality traits (happy, agreeable), characteristics (this is common for people who struggle to lose weight) are some of the different ways we alter our natural state in an attempt to please or ‘belong’ with that parent and in the world. Take note: this is a sub-conscious process that was established early in life, so don’t expect it to be something you think you believe, but rather a rule that you unknowingly or subconsciously abide by.
These become the contracts with others and with ourselves that we live the rest of our lives through, unless we take the time to notice them and ask ourselves if we are being authentic, if these beliefs are true, and if they are still serving our best interest.
I recently watched a Tony Robbins video where he was talking about his relationship with his son and how he kept trying to ‘teach’ his son about work ethic, worrying that he didn’t understand how important it was or that he didn’t have any. His son, in turn, kept pushing back.
However, there was a shifting point in their relationship where Tony wondered why this pattern persisted despite his best efforts to ‘convince’ his son, and realized that perhaps there was also a lesson in there for himself that was being missed.
He sat his son down, apologized, and asked his son to teach him how to ‘chill’ (which his son was masterful at, but Tony not so much). It turned out to be a great opportunity for Tony to learn how to be more present with his family, his children and wife benefitted, and I can only imagine that his body thanked him.
In return? Through apologizing, which removed the weight of guilt and shame around his son’s natural abilities, his son reacted with a strengthened work ethic- on his own terms.
Now, I don’t mean to imply that removing the judgement and pressure will always result in the very thing you were trying to instill in the first place because that just isn’t the case. In this instance, I think that when people get connected to their own inner desire to make a difference in the world and be their best self and the need to resist that is removed, they will inherently become a master of their own work ethic (the balance of which can vary from person to person).
Sometimes the traits you are trying to instill simply aren’t a part of their journey or look different than you might expect them to.
Coming to terms within yourself is just as much a part of that journey
And within this interaction is also a gift for you. Every conflict always has a learning opportunity for everyone involved- you just have to find it. For Tony, the turning point was when he realized that his relationship with his son was two-way. It wasn’t just him passing down everything he knows to his son, but there were actually lessons to be received in this relationship as well.
We are on this journey together to learn and grow from each other. The mistaken notion that the parent knows it all and is teaching their child how to do everything ‘right’ is outdated and limiting. If we want to collectively make the world a better place, increase the love and feel more connected to our children, we need to be open to all the lessons life has to offer, including those received from our own children (or the children in our lives).
The skill of being able to notice when we are getting worked up, look inward and ask ourselves- what is the lesson here for me- is invaluable. When we can identify what rules the other person is breaking in our internal collection of ‘shoulds’, we can learn a valuable lesson from the other person which in turn calls back more of our ‘wholeness’.
The very best gift you can give to others is permission to be their truest self, the space to explore that and the reminder that you love them regardless of how it looks or whether you understand it.