20 Jul 7 Minute Guide to Level Up Your Relationships
Ever felt white hot rage bubbling up from the depths of your being? Someone says something, something happens, it doesn’t seem to fit the level of emotion coursing through your body but before you know it you’re exploding onto the situation or an unsuspecting person with words or actions that seem completely out of alignment with who you thought yourself to be. Ever had a disproportionate emotional reaction of any kind to any situation? This is what is called a ‘trigger’ a reaction brought on by any stimulus that is perhaps related (perhaps not) but is generally attached to something from the past. For example I grew up in a house with three boys and had to fight for everything, often getting the blame for anything they did because they were older and I was the only girl – whom they believed would receive a lesser punishment. This instilled a deep penchant for justice and the desire to be seen as ‘right’ within me. Not exactly ideal for intimate relationships, this trigger would become activated any time I felt someone even hint at the idea of me doing something ‘wrong’. Then target locked, the weight of all the times in my childhood I was made wrong, aimed and ready for release. Often with triggers it’s like a domino affect among people, one person is triggered and their trigger then triggers the other person. You then have two wounded children bouncing their past emotional traumas off one another like a deluded tennis match instead of the ideal scenario in which two emotionally mature adults express their feelings – without making the other wrong – whilst setting healthy boundaries and not raising their voices. How do we even get to that when we feel overwhelmed by emotion and we want to hold someone accountable for it? When we want justice for the pain we feel and we seem to think the person opposite us who triggered it, is accountable. Maybe so but did they cause it, are they at the root of this or have you felt this before? Another place, another time, another person, another conversation but here it is repeating itself. “Doesn’t anyone get it, what is wrong with people?” “Here we go again,” can play over in the dialogue of the mind. Or perhaps this is a pattern being triggered or what I like to call our spiritual curriculum being highlighted. What it is we are here to learn in life or the patterns we get to resolve and thus release the suffering they create, if we so choose. I mentioned it in my last article but it bears repeating “between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom.” – Victor E Frankl.
If we can learn to cultivate space, we can find a way to stop, breathe and reflect before we react. I discussed meditation in the aforementioned article as an incredible way to get good at reflecting, watching our thoughts, selecting those conducive to us and responding based on this. I stand by that as a great method and I’ll also say that even an awareness we have the ability to choose a response instead of just reacting is a mighty and powerful tool in and of itself. If I can pause and breathe, I can ask myself “who do I want to be in this situation?” A questioned offered by Harvard Psychologist and author of Emotional Agility Susan David. She discusses the idea that emotions are data and not directives. Meaning that much like the sensory information we take in through what we; see, hear, taste, touch and smell, emotions are simply further data on how we feel about what we see, hear, taste, touch and smell. Rather than being what should instantly direct the action we take and thus being data and not directives. She suggests instead allowing our values to direct the action we take. She even discusses how emotions when used as data can assist us in determining what it is we value. An example used is; I’m feeling guilty because my kids are back in my hometown and I’m away working. Rather than acting on the guilt as a directive, you can enquire what it is informing you on. In this case it may be pointing to the fact that you deeply care about connection and time with your children and thus you can use this information to take action in alignment with your values rather than the emotion of guilt. A very emotionally intelligent and agile system indeed.
Now the title of this article discusses the leveling up in our relationships and one may assume this is with others but as you may have guessed coming from someone who works in self care and well being, the first step in this process is the leveling up in our relationship to ourselves. How do I create a space within my own emotional landscape that is safe enough for me to breathe and open, rather than shut down or lash out? In which I feel safe enough to respond, instead of react. People talk a lot about self love in the wellness industry and of course this is important but what I don’t hear people talking about enough – is self trust. We all know what the foundation for love is, you guessed it. Do you trust yourself to face any challenge life throws at you? To always find a way to be ok, to thrive even amongst the sh*t life can dish because you know what fertiliser is made of right? Sometimes life gives us spiritual fodder. Jokes aside, if the answer to that question is no, then this is where I suggest people start their spiritual and emotional journeys – earning their own trust. Brene Brown author and shame researcher describes a recipe for trust that I’ve found to be incredibly helpful in my work with clients and my personal life too. The acronym B.R.A.V.I.N.G she uses to illustrate what it really means to trust, based on her research around getting to the core of how humans experience this fundamental principle in their relationships.
B – Boundaries. If you don’t know, ask “what is ok and not ok?” With yourself and with others.
R – Reliability. Do what you say you’re going to do, when you say you’re going to do it without hustling for worthiness.
A – Accountability. Hold yourself and others accountable in a straight forward way without back pedalling, shaming or blaming.
V – Vault. A place where things can be held in confidence and beyond not just sharing what it is my friends/loved ones ask me not to share, not sharing with them or anyone that which is not mine to share about anyone because this degrades trust just as much.
I – Integrity. Choosing courage over comfort. Practising your morals over what is fun, fast and easy. Don’t avoid discomfort, all of your greatest achievements include a degree of it.
N – Non Judgement. I can ask for help without feeling judged or judging myself and vice versa.
G – Generosity. Be generous with your assumptions, assume positive intent if you don’t have the information. Without data, we assume stories, so assume the best.
Are we upholding these principles not only with others but are we upholding them at home within ourselves? When we can start from this place of faith in ourselves and our capability to adapt and have that emotional agility that Susan discusses, we are more likely to feel safe enough to pause, breathe and respond instead of react. We don’t have to have all the answers but if we are confident in our ability to seek them, to ask for help when we need it and to do anything we need in order to feel safe and emotionally well, then we will be in good stead to handle triggers as they arise with the care they deserve. Our awareness of our own sore spots helps us to navigate them better. If we can look to the patterns of discomfort in our relationships and take accountability for what the source of that trigger or discomfort could be within us, we can start to show up to those conversations with vulnerability and maybe look at or share the pain behind that pattern and this is where true resolution really lies. Again we don’t have to have all of this figured out ourselves, we can look to friends, mentors, coaches or therapists. Seeking help is not weakness, it is strength to know where our limitations are and to take action on growing beyond them with the right support.
One of the greatest tools I have found to ‘level up’ or deepen true connection and trust in relationships, is to see the pain behind patterns. Rather than seeing someone get upset and making them wrong (even if they are trying to make you wrong for it) can we simply question, “where is the pain behind this coming from?” Even more, is there a way to offer them questions instead of projecting what we imagine the answer to that question to be? Instead of making them wrong or projecting our opinions onto them, is there a way to take the observation we have the privilege of receiving through our relationship and use it to inform a question. “How are you feeling right now?” “Have you felt this way before?” “Am I the only person you feel this way with?” “When was the first time you felt like this in relationship?” “Can you tell me about that?” Creating a space for them to share their pain with you is an incredibly huge gift, particularly in a society that prizes positivity and ‘getting on with it’. Pausing with the people you love to lean into a sticky spot and showing them that you love them ‘warts and all’ is key to developing a deeper trust and intimacy. When we have compassion for someone in emotional trigger and offer an alternative other than our own triggered response (which just sets the stage for mud slinging back and forth) we really begin to heal not just our relationships but the traumas we all bring into them. Of course again this comes back to ourselves, instead of belittling ourselves while we nurse an emotional hangover from another misfortunate episode of ‘disproportionate reaction misdirected’ there is the option to look at the pain behind our own patterns. To take full accountability and before setting the record straight and offering apologies to those who may have got caught in the firing line, we can shed some light on why it is we do what we do. Where does it all come from? With this, we come with not only an apology but some insight, so that the people around us don’t become accountable for our emotions (that’s our job) but they can better understand us and maybe it will assist them in coming from compassion while we go through the process of growing through these triggers to their eventual (and hopeful) resolution. Not only that, you set the tone for the relationship as a safe space. A place for them to come to you in the same way and share their vulnerabilities and what they’re working on, all because of your willingness to be open, vulnerable and lead by example. As Brene Brown discusses, there is no meaningful connection without vulnerability and there is no integrity without choosing courage over comfort. It takes courage to cross the bridge with not just “I’m sorry,” but “here is where I hurt, here is what I’m healing.”
It takes courage to cross the bridge with not just “I’m sorry,” but “here is where I hurt, here is what I’m healing.”
No matter who you are or how you grew up, we all have patterns and we all have the pain they stem from. It’s ok, this doesn’t make a person broken, it’s the price paid for a meaningful life. You don’t get to have victory without risk and maybe a few failed attempts, you don’t get the rush of seduction without the risk of rejection, you don’t get to love without facing the fact that life is impermanent and sooner or later, we all lose whatever and whomever we love. This doesn’t have to be grim, this is the beauty of life, the ceaseless and endless change that inspires and urges us to give thanks for what is here now. The impermanence that invites us not to take a single thing for granted, even our pain that offers us the opportunity for growth, knowing that it too will not last. To appreciate who is willing to share their most precious resource with us, their time and presence and to potentially honour that gift by showing up to these relationships ready to lean into the discomfort or sticky spots as willingly as we lean into the deliciousness and fun. Ready to drop our guards and open because we want to be loved more than we want to be right. We want to be seen, heard and understood.
Oprah Winfrey has worked with thousands of people; 2 presidents, perpetrators of violence, victims of trauma, housewives and Queen Bee (Beyonce) herself, people from every walk of life, race, religion and creed. She said of every single person she ever interviewed, they all asked her a variation of the same thing afterwards “was that ok?” Did you see me, did you hear me, was I understood? We want to be seen, we want to be heard, we want to be understood. If we can take accountability for ourselves and our responses, cultivating space so we can respond instead of react, maybe we can then start to show up for the people we love with that same space. When we see someone we love in the throws of a trigger can we pause and ask ourselves “what is the pain behind this pattern?” Then move from a place of loving compassion to offer questions (not projections) to invite them into a space they feel safe enough to share and potentially begin to heal the birthplace of the very pattern they are living out before your eyes. What I am advocating is more compassion in the way we deal with ourselves and each other. What I am not advocating is the tolerance of abuse. If you or anyone you know is being emotionally, physically or spiritually abused then part of the self trust we discussed is moving yourself to safety, whatever that looks like, no matter what it takes. So what will it take to create that safe space for ourselves and through that, build the faith and trust that no matter what life throws our way, we’ll be ok? Doing what it takes to trust that we are going to find a way to not just survive but to thrive and to use this faith to then to create that same safe space for response and trust in our relationships too. To lean into pain and discomfort together, with compassion. What a gift we can give to ourselves, each other and the world. When people commit violence and atrocity I wonder what would have happened if somewhere along the line of that person’s life, someone had the tools and emotional agility to address that person’s pain with compassion before the patterns it produced grew to have them commit the acts of violence. This is why I believe emotional tools are not just for those hungry to progress, emotional tools are a necessity if our society is to start to heal some of its ugliest wounds. It’s our responsibility as human beings to respond with ability to our own internal landscape and to develop emotional agility in the face of our external. Read, seek, assist, ask for help – call me biased but the journey to emotional wellness is the most worthy inquisition of one’s life, for it will determine who you are, how you experience life and how others experience you. “Am I being seen, am I being heard, am I being understood in alignment with who I am and who I want to be in this world?” We are in this together and we don’t have to walk this path alone, in fact we don’t get to. If you don’t have the tools, seek them, seek advice, seek assistance and if you do have tools that work, share them! Next time you feel triggered, pause take a breath and ask yourself “who do I want to be in this situation?” Ask yourself “do I want to be right, or do I want to be loved?”