“When you meet anyone, treat the event as a holy encounter. It’s through others that we either find or love our self. For you see, nothing is accomplished without others. When you eliminate the concept of separation from your thoughts and your behavior, you begin to feel your connection to everything and everyone.” – Dr. Wayne Dyer
Wayne Dyer’s quote touches on one of the basic tenets of how I live my life: Always leave the place where you are better than how you found it. That goes for physical surroundings, but it also goes for leaving an encounter with a person better either spiritually, emotionally, and/or psychologically. I joke with my husband sometimes that if lots of strangers show up to my funeral–it’s all the store clerks in our vicinity. New York is not known for its customer service (sorry NY for the stereotype, but there are a lot of cranky people in the area), but I am determined to stay pleasant, kind, and personable. If I can’t find anything to say that is kind or I don’t have that opportunity, I say “thank you” in my mind.
One of the ways we exist in the world is how we interact with those we care about, and how we deal with those in our families and families of origin. In my family of origin, in the past if there were any perceived issues with someone, one modus operendi was that you were attacked (sometimes without the person’s knowledge at first–the drama is stirred up beforehand) then the accuser(s) withdraws. This type of behavior essentially leaves any type of resolution or communication cut off. It’s a form of punishment which serves to separate and ostracize one or more members of the family because of their perceived faults (unfortunately, sometimes it is when a member really needs the family the most). All judgments are based on the accuser’s experience and perceptions (and projections). This is a hurtful and ineffective way of being in the world–especially in a family. I find it to be a manipulation of sorts–I want you to be a certain way and if you won’t be, I will reject you and withdraw. This behavior reminds me a little of Parental Alienation. Mom/Dad I don’t like something you are doing so I will attack and withdraw. That’s not a beneficial way of teaching our kids how to be in the world. In my family, it’s been the reverse. You (the black sheep)–we don’t like you anymore (or some part of you). We will attack and withdraw.
This is where you can ask the question: How’s that working for you?
Life is too short to be picking each other apart and putting others down. We’re all doing the best we can in every given moment. All of us are gifts in the world. No one is perfect.
Those faults you see in others are faults you don’t want to see or acknowledge in yourself.
We are each other’s teachers; we teach by example, we don’t have to be the one “teaching you a lesson.” That’s not supportive, loving, accepting, or honoring–it’s punitive. It’s keeping family members separate instead of embracing who each one is individually and loving you for who you are in the world. You’re good enough.
Acceptance of others is hard when you can’t accept certain aspects of yourself.
What is worrisome is when the attack and withdraw method is used in life; if the recipient isn’t emotionally or psychologically strong enough, it can play on their sense of not being enough. Social rejection can be devastating for some people. On the flip side, it can also teach you a lot about yourself and help you to become stronger in who you are. You begin to realize maybe it’s better you aren’t accepted by the group/family. Their dysfunction can be harmful to your health.
Shirley Maclaine was recently on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday program and Oprah asked her who have been her greatest teachers. Shirley said something like “my enemies.” When you encounter tension/separation in your life–it can be a fantastic learning opportunity. My family has provided me with the gift of knowing I am enough, of not caring what others think, and of becoming clear on who I am and who I want to be in the world. The dysfunctional/ineffective ways of relating are unloving, but they have provided innumerable opportunities of growth for me. We all yearn for connection, for support, for love–but sometimes we do the opposite–we push others away when we need it the most.
We all have a threshold where we feel we’ve reached our limits for happiness and love. It feels uncomfortable when we reach our limit–it can feel frightening, so we unconsciously begin to sabotage our relationships or life.
I also recently completed an assignment on work-life balance for therapists which I found to be highly enlightening. One of the tendencies I have is to become overly involved in my work and school. I put a lot of effort into them. After reading an article on workaholism for this assignment, I noticed I have some of those traits. Yikes! My father I believe was a workaholic. He spent so much effort on his company, that at times it was to the detriment of his family. It’s no wonder–he lost his wife, their baby, his 25 year old son–he’s gone through a lot of loss. Guess what helps you get through it without processing the pain? Work. That can be a “good” (effective, life-enhancing) or a “bad” (creates separation, distances you from your feelings) thing. Work-life balance is a tricky thing–but it’s your relationships that I believe should take priority in life.
Relationships don’t thrive when people are trying to make you into someone they want you to be. That creates separation.
Relationships don’t get better by someone putting on you that they don’t like some aspect of you, your partner., by criticizing your parenting, or by attacking and withdrawing. By the way, when someone criticizes you as a mother, it’s the one thing that people know to say that is the ultimate insult. It’s intended to hurt–and hurt big. To me, it shows how deep the other person’s anger, hurt, and pain is inside themselves. Their intention is not to help a person become a better parent by pointing out their faults–but to hurt or harm another (and this is especially revealing when their own parenting is in question). This again creates separation, not connection.
I was hesitant to publish this article because it’s so personal to me. I think my family of origin issues are common, but I do not feel that you have to exist in the world this way. It may feel normal–after all it may be all that you know, but it isn’t healthy. We learn from our parents and then often will take what we learned (because it was what was modeled to us), and live our life that way–by default. Without introspection, talking about it, positive support, a way of knowing another way is psychologically healthier, or without therapy or coaching–I don’t think people’s patterns of behavior change all that much from generation to generation. I wish this article would open up dialogue with my family. It’s long overdue. Part of the process of a marriage and family therapist is to become differentiated from their family (another article, another day). Maybe you recognize some of your own family of origin issues in this article. Maybe you’ve realized you’re continuing some of the unhealthy patterns of communication and relating. We all want to be connected, but how we go about it can be counterintuitive to our intentions.
I don’t think people really mean to push others away when they withdraw. What they are really saying is, “I am so emotional/in pain right now and I can’t find the right tools to express what I need from you or even what I need from myself. ” And if some of my family members were to have said this, I think I would fall over. I have expectations for them that reflect expectations I have of myself. They aren’t there yet. And that’s okay. I honor where they are in their life and who they want to be in the world. However, I want to exist in a world feeling a “…connection to everything and everyone.” It doesn’t mean I compromise my values and allow myself to be treated poorly, it means I choose my battles and accept others as they are not who I wish them to be.
UPDATE: My family and I have long since worked on our most sensitive and emotional issues. I am grateful to know they are open to growing and healing our connection. This is a lifelong process which I am thrilled I have the honor to go through this journey called life with them.