“All violence is the result of people tricking themselves into believing that their pain derives from other people and that consequently those people deserve to be punished.”
I met someone recently who pushes my buttons, and not the good ones. When I am around him, I feel irritated, there are judging thoughts running through my mind, I am trying to figure out how I can get away, I want him to be different than the way he is. I actually think I am justified in my feelings because I know other people feel the same way I do.
But where does this get me? I’m right…but so what?
Truth be told, feeling right doesn’t even feel that good. I feel the arrogance of being “holier than thou” in my body like a ten-pound weight in my chest. Being right certainly doesn’t put me any more at ease when I anticipate encountering this man again, and it doesn’t bring any more love into the world. In fact, I am trapped, a victim of my judgments and opinions. And I am contributing to disharmony and strife.
Please Change so I Feel Better
What I am experiencing is a ubiquitous phenomenon that is at the root of all interpersonal difficulties: we want other people to change so our uncomfortable feelings will diminish. I want my new acquaintance to not be overbearing so I won’t feel invaded. Mary wants her husband to not throw his clothes on the floor so she can find relief from her frustration. Joe wants his coworker to stop talking so much so he won’t feel bored and irritated.
We give up our inner comfort to something we cannot control – the behavior of other people. And, oh, the lengths to which we will go to try to control them anyway!
When we don’t own our emotional reactions, we run the risk of wreaking havoc on our lives. We leave relationships, gossip, criticize, fight, manipulate, and spend our precious time rationalizing our opinions to ourselves and everyone else around us.
Is this what we really want? Do we want to promote friction and divisiveness – or do we want to be free of undesirable habits and meet the world with an open heart?
True Healing by Turning Our Attention Inward
It is so easy to blame and accuse. But the beginning of a bold and courageous enterprise is to turn our attention away from the other and directly into all the distressing emotions we strive so hard to avoid. We stop seeing others through the veil of our own pain, and compassion naturally arises – for others as well as ourselves.
Rather than being an annoyance, our reactions to other people can be viewed as a golden invitation served to us on a silver platter. They are a mirror that reflects back to us areas of unexplored emotion and inner secret places where we wall ourselves off. Being triggered by others becomes a time of celebration: we get to see where we are stuck, we have the opportunity to free ourselves, and as one book title suggests, we can say, “Thank You for Being Such a Pain.”
The inner investigation of our triggered reactions toward others reveals so much tender information. If you lash out at your partner, you might realize you are actually afraid. If you judge and constrict your children, maybe you feel helpless as a parent. Take any relationship that causes you stress or displeasure, and like a trail of breadcrumbs, follow your reaction back into yourself to its source. I can guarantee you your discovery will be illuminating.
The Opportunity to Clean Up the Past
Often, the strong feelings that arise in our interactions echo an unresolved relationship from our past. If you were criticized by an overly demanding parent, it won’t take much for a boss correcting your work to seem like a tyrant in your eyes. If you were abandoned in your youth, a friend calling to cancel plans at the last minute may cause you to feel like you are five again. Any reaction that seems too intense for the situation at hand has undoubtedly triggered some old, undigested feelings.
What to do with these emotions that are revealed? Love them with all your heart. Surround them with affection. Let your heartfelt attention permeate them entirely. And once they have drunk their fill, notice that you now see others in a fresh light. Where before you saw an aggressor or a nuisance, the clouds part and you see a tender being who is scared, hurt, or needy. Now the relationship, you and the other, have the potential to be transformed.
Author and teacher Byron Katie says, “Things don’t happen to you, they happen for you.” The challenges in our relationships are an offering, a gentle tap on the shoulder asking us to deepen in our commitment to freedom. Can we take care of ourselves and free our interactions from being repositories of our pain and suffering? Can we look into another’s eyes and rest in the space of non-separation? Can we declare an unmitigated, “Yes!” to truth, to life, to this very moment?
This is a topic that hits home for all of us. I’d love to hear how you are meeting these relationship challenges in your own life.
For an exercise in unconditional acceptance, have a listen to: You Are Welcome as You Are.