Why your most difficult relationship can be your greatest teacher

Are you in a difficult relationship with someone in your life or a challenging situation that presses every one of your buttons and triggers an unusually strong reaction in you? Does the very thought of this person or situation send you into a mental spin that lasts for days, weeks, even months?

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Have you ever wondered how you could improve things so there’s less charge and more harmony, at least from your side?

Whether it’s a past relationship or a provocative situation that still upsets you, or a relationship that you can’t end because they’re family or you live or work with them, then the most empowering approach is to change your inner orientation to that person or situation.

Why on earth would you want to do that, when they’re the person with the issue, you might ask?

Good question.

The simple answer is you have very little control over how others behave. If someone chooses to be rude, offensive, judgmental, unfair, irrational or narcissistic, that’s their issue. You can’t change them no matter how much you would like them to be different. Yet how you react to them and how you continue to relive their words and actions is your responsibility; that’s your issue.

Once you recognise that you have no power in trying to control how others behave, the question becomes, well where do I have power in this relationship or situation? What is in my control? What are they are triggering in me?  Can I accept this person for who they are or the situation for what it is? Asking yourself these types of questions is significantly more empowering than blaming and resenting others, and can in fact be game changing.

You may notice that you don’t like how you feel when you’re with this person. It can bring up uncomfortable feelings (ie powerlessness, anger, frustration, resentment) and you may behave with them in a way that doesn’t feel like “you”. That’s because you often leave yourself when you’re with challenging people.  It can feel like they take your power, but in actuality you give your power away.

When you react strongly to someone, chances are something about them hooks you back into your old unfinished business from the past that has nothing to do with this person. This is classic shadow dancing: you each trigger old hurts and wounds in the other.

It’s also a ripe opportunity for learning how to become less triggered in these situations.

Wouldn’t that be nice?

The interesting thing about personal growth is pretty much everything that goes on in your life is actually about you. It’s about how you relate to others and to yourself. Sounds narcissistic, but it’s far from it. Your relationships mirror back to you your relationship to your life. So if you find yourself triggered by someone, instead of ruminating over what they said or did, please pause for a moment and ask yourself:

What if they are teaching me about how to be more accepting, more loving, more connected to others?

What if they are showing me what my unmet needs are?

What if they are teaching me about empathy, patience, and tolerance?

What if they are teaching me how to stick up for myself, find my voice, not take things so personally, or how to have stronger boundaries in my relationships?

Ultimately, it’s about acceptance.  Acceptance of yourself and acceptance of others as they are. And with acceptance, comes the freedom to make different choices. Most of us receive feedback and instruction on our behaviour until we leave school, but after that there are less opportunities for real feedback on the areas in us that could do with a bit more attention.

These tricky situations and relationships are your best opportunities to make real leaps in your personal growth and maturity, because they show you your blind spots in a way that no one else will. They are a gift (albeit of the painful variety…). It might sound crazy to welcome your adversaries and be grateful for what they teach you, but if you are able to do this, then you are doing true soul work. What’s more, as you start to extract the lessons and apply the hard-won understandings to your life, you may well find yourself unfazed by similar situations in the future.

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