What This Past Year Has Taught Me About What I Value in Relationships
“Feelings of worth can flourish only in an atmosphere where individual differences are appreciated, mistakes are tolerated, communication is open, and rules are flexible – the kind of atmosphere that is found in a nurturing family.” -Virginia Satir
Difficult weeks, months, and years can teach us the most about ourselves, our priorities, and our values in life and relationships. Challenging times are what illuminate what we need to work on and heal. For me, this past year has been a long, winding roller coaster that presented many opportunities to grow and appreciate the differences in others…to become more tolerant…to communicate openly and become more flexible, loving and understanding.
I know not everyone has the same values. But to me, some of the characteristics below are staples of a flexible relationship with unconditional love, one that tends to energize me and fill me up. And of course, the flip side is a toxic, positional (and sometimes abusive) relationship with conditional love – that tends to be draining. Below you will also see my values and the characteristics I strive to embody in my own relationships.
Positive instead of Negative
We are all guilty of complaining and being negative at times… I’ll be the first to admit it. It can feel good to vent! I completely understand the value of processing and getting emotions out. But once we get through the initial purge (via exercise, art, writing, etc.), our lingering thoughts can become a pattern and we ruminate. We focus more on the negative than the positive. Our mindset becomes a skewed, smoky lense from which we view life. Or perhaps we get to the point of black and white thinking (also called Splitting) where everything is one extreme or another (no grey / middle ground). Things (and people) are either good or bad; nice or evil. This extreme type of thinking is toxic to ourselves and to others. It’s not a balanced way of viewing ourselves, others and the world at large. Another phenomenon called Negative Sentiment Override can also occur, where we take neutral or even positive events or comments and spin them negatively. Most of the time this is unconscious; we may be completely unaware of the negative mindsets we have.
A negative mindset breeds unrealistic expectations of ourselves and others, creating an unhealthy and shame-inducing “perfectionism”. Expectations lead to inevitable disappointments and resentment, so we are always going to be suffering if we have such rigid thoughts. We must strive to nurture a more realistic and forgiving outlook, one which balances negative with the positive. Otherwise we completely skew history and reality if we only look at people’s negative qualities and judge actions from the proverbial high horse. Sadly, it’s so much easier looking at the negative than the positive. Fear and scarcity cause us to forget about positive qualities, good experiences, love and compassion.
Gratitude is a great way to remedy this.
It takes much awareness and practice to shift our mindset, but it can do wonders for your health, peace of mind and relationships. I personally love to surround myself with others who are grateful, positive and live in an abundance mindset! A gratitude practice forces us to look at the good things in our life. It can help us subtly shift to a more balanced perspective that can bleed into the rest of our life. We must also be aware of and catch our negative thoughts so we can redirect them to something more logical, balanced, and maybe even positive. Remember, we are not our thoughts. We have our thoughts. We don’t have to buy into them and believe them. We must challenge them, otherwise our thoughts have power over us.
Owner Mindset instead of Victim (Blaming) Mindset
The victim mentality has always been a pet peeve of mine. I have prided myself on being able to take responsibility for my actions (including my mistakes), how I contribute to conflict, apologize for my errors, and repair when I have done something wrong, hurt someone, or not acted as my best self. I am not a fan of sweeping things under the rug (I wasn’t even able to as a child) and prefer to face struggles and conflict head on — addressing it — and resolving it.
When someone blames me for issues in our relationship and refuses to take responsibility for their contribution, it most definitely reduces my respect and trust for them. Especially if it’s a pattern. Relationships are two way streets and no one is a true victim, but some people do have a victim mindset that can stay with them throughout their life. Be careful with someone who is in this mental space… they have their own unresolved issues, often rooted in childhood, which they have not thoroughly worked through. They “wipe” and project their problems and emotions onto others. They take the “easy” route in blaming everyone and everything else for the problems in their life. Otherwise, if they started taking ownership, they’d be forced change – and change is painful and scary. What they may not realize is, when they blame, they give away all of their power. They’re saying, “Hey, I have no power here because it’s all your fault… I have no power to change my beliefs, thoughts, emotions, or circumstances. You have all the power.”
This blaming victim mentality can sadly also be a learned trait that can get passed down between generations. Individuals with the victim mentality are often manipulative and draining. Sadly, they are also in a great deal of pain. They subconsciously want others to suffer as much as they internally suffer. (Which is where the saying: “hurt people hurt people” comes from). I’ve been there myself, and it’s not a very attractive or uplifting place to be.
Ownership, on the other hand, is a very attractive, empowering quality to have.
I have the utmost respect for others who also take responsibility for themselves, their behaviors, and how it all contributes to their life. It’s not easy, and takes a HUGE mental shift, tons of discipline, and a tolerance to look at our own pain and patterns. At the end of the day, it helps you to gain immense respect, forgiveness and compassion for yourself. It takes a great deal of self awareness, courage and humility to get there, but it’s 100% possible. Like they say:
The truth will set you free, but it will piss you off first.
Flexible instead of Rigid
I find rigidity and controlling behavior to be another draining trait. I am an INFP on the Myers Briggs Personality Inventory, so I am somewhat biased, because I am pretty flexible and adaptable by nature due to my “P” (“perceiving”) vs J (“judging”). Don’t get me wrong, though, my “J” can overpower my “P” sometimes, depending on the situation. It’s something I’ve worked on desensitizing to increase my own flexibility. Neither one is good to the extreme, and I strive to have a good balance. However, in our society, many people are very attached to objects, time, schedule, behaviors, beliefs, perspectives, etc. that they have to feel in control at all times.
This can often translate to attempts to control other people, and can lead to draining, abusive and toxic relationships. This type of extreme indicates that they may have not worked on their own issues. It’s important to explore why the control issues are there in the first place so they can be healed. This is how many people feel in control of their own life, by having control over others. Trying to control everything and everyone is impossible… and exhausting. It can be hard to let go of control and realize that we only have control over ourselves. We don’t have control over others, tragedies, loss, pain, the unknown, and death. The more rigid we are, the more controlling, narrow minded and less tolerant we usually are. The more flexible we are, the more we are open to change, new ideas, new ways of thinking, and new experiences. Rigidity can also correlate with being less able to put yourself in other people’s shoes and see others’ experiences as valid (empathy).
Everyone has their own “stuff” to work on.
The source of control issues is most likely unresolved trauma. It’s downright difficult to stay “soft” and vulnerable amidst adversity and tragedy, so we get “hard” instead. But we must restore our faith in the Universe, otherwise, we resist reality. We must accept what we don’t have control over. I strive to have compassion by remembering that if someone is rigid with others, they must be rigid with themselves. And that’s got to be pretty miserable. Everyone is different and makes mistakes. To evolve as a species, we need more tolerant, flexible and forgiving people in this world. And that’s who I choose to be and whom I choose to have in my own life. And gosh, are they a relief to be around!
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.Serenity Prayer
Love instead of Hate
Again, this is pretty similar to positivity instead of negativity. In both ways you are either living with faith in Love and Abundance, and the belief we are all connected. Or you are living in Fear and Anger, with a Scarcity mindset, and the belief we are all separate (with ego running the show: “my way / thoughts / beliefs / perspective is right and everyone else is wrong.”)
Sadly, hatred is something that can get passed down through the generations. If we ourselves, as parents, are consistently choosing fear, hatred, anger, resentment, bitterness, negativity, rigidity, blaming, and victim mindsets… there’s a good chance we are choosing a path of extremes, and very likely we are choosing a path where hatred is possible – and modeling that for our children.
Those who choose to not give in to the hatred–to the “dark side” and continually choose the side of light–are my kind of people.
Just as with negativity, we all have the ability to choose hatred and fear instead of love. The biggest sign that someone is choosing a path of Love instead of Hate / Fear is their daily thoughts and choices. Someone who every day, amidst adversity, is repeatedly choosing to challenge their fear based thoughts and replace them with more loving, kind thoughts. One of my favorite affirmations is from Gabrielle Bernstein’s book May Cause Miracles: “I forgive myself for choosing fear. I choose to see love instead of this.”
The Buddha urges us to let go of our anger even after extreme difficulties. Here are famous verses from the Dhammapada, the sayings of the Buddha: “‘He abused me and beat me, he threw me down and robbed me.’ Repeat these thoughts and you live in hate. ‘He abused me and beat me, he threw me down and robbed me.’ Abandon these thoughts and live in love. In this world, hatred never ceases by hatred, but by love alone is healed. This is the ancient and eternal law.”
Grateful instead of Ungrateful and Entitled
Again, this lines up with many of the characteristics above. People who are grateful tend to be more joyful, positive, flexible and choose a path of light. They are owners and take responsibility for themselves and their life circumstances; and they choose love and abundance every day – over hate, fear and scarcity. When we aren’t grateful for what we have, we tend to focus on what we don’t have, which automatically creates and maintains a fearful, shame based “not enough” mindset.
I love bringing up the Law of Attraction when it comes to mindset and mental health.
To sum it up, our thoughts are energy, and they attract people and circumstances in our life. For example, if we are constantly thinking about what we don’t want (I don’t want more debt, I don’t want toxic relationships, I don’t want more stress and drama, etc.) ironically, we tend to get more of that in our life. We must shift our thinking to focus on what we DO want in life. For example, we must choose thoughts we want to manifest (such as, I want to make $100,000 this year, I want healthy relationships in my life, or I want more peace and love, etc). Not only should we think about we want, but we must ask for it, believe in it, and then allow ourselves to receive it. Gratitude and visualizing these wishes as if they’ve already happened will help your practice immensely.
“The law of attraction is always working, whether you believe in it or not.”
Addressing Conflict and Repairing instead of Avoiding Conflict and Cutting Off
As I mentioned earlier, I am not one to “sweep things under the rug.” Doing so results in issues which never get addressed and resolved. Since I have a spiritual outlook on life, and believe in reincarnation, I see this as a big spiritual issue, because if we are choosing to not learn and grow from our experiences and work on our relationships – we must therefore must do it all over again in the next life. Or some karma may manifest in this life or the next.
Conflict Resolution and Spiritual Growth
Since I value harmony, love and peace, this is a big “yuck” for me in relationships. I dislike not being on good terms with anyone, if I can help it. I like to repair and resolve issues, even if that involves having difficult conversations, setting boundaries or limiting contact with the other person. I understand more than anyone that conflict is not fun; that it’s uncomfortable, scary and awkward (USA) – but mostly in the short term. When we address conflict head on and work on repairing with others, we challenge ourselves, which promotes self awareness and spiritual growth. It also helps us get out of our old patterns and heal old wounds.
When we avoid conflict and cut off, there is often a victim blaming mentality underneath that pairs up to be a toxic combination with the ego: (“I am right and they are wrong.”) This shows lack of empathy and inhibits personal and spiritual growth. With this approach (and pattern) you will surely go through life burning lots of bridges, leaving a long trail of former friends, co-workers, family members, and partners who “betray” or “wrong” and make your life “horrible”, etc. Which creates a victim narrative, where you aren’t even partially responsible for what went wrong because it’s everyone else’s fault.
When you address conflict in your life, the message you’re saying is “I want you in my life and I want a relationship with you,” “Our relationship is important to me,” “You are worth working on this with.” When you avoid conflict, the message you’re saying is “This relationship isn’t important to me,” “It’s not worth working through this,” or “It won’t make difference,” which is ultimately giving up on and abandoning the relationship.
Isn’t unresolved conflict even more uncomfortable and painful in the long term?
For most people, it tends to bubble up inside and create resentments, anger, fear, anxiety, negativity and shame…which can eventually turn into mental health, emotional, and physical issues – even down to a spiritual level. Continually running away from relationship challenges truly creates a monster to be faced later. And you are the ultimate loser, because it impacts your own well-being and creates unnecessary suffering.
Intimacy is not possible without conflict resolution and repair. Therefore, conflict resolution is an extremely important life skill. I personally find it extremely attractive (and relieving) when people are willing to work through challenges and disagreements in relationships. Yet many people were never given or modeled the tools to do so. I try to practice these skills (such as active listening, courage, empathy, validation, compassion, and vulnerability) whenever I can. I choose the more difficult road full of growth and self discovery whenever possible, even if I resist it in the moment.
When we experience things that are USA (Uncomfortable, Scary and Awkward), we know we’re on the path towards spiritual growth.
True Forgiveness instead of Holding onto Anger, Grudges and Resentments
This goes hand in hand with the above; avoiding conflict and possibly going to the extreme with cut off, instead of addressing conflict and working on repairing your relationships (when possible). It takes a long, hard look at ourselves and our contributions. We must drop the ego / victim mentality and take responsibility for our actions, as well as embody qualities such as humility, empathy, compassion, vulnerability and understanding for true forgiveness to occur. I pride myself on being open to forgiveness, even if the other party isn’t necessarily asking for forgiveness or working on healing our relationship with me. Of course it’s a heck of a lot easier to forgive when the other party is accountable for themselves and their actions, with the mutual goal of repairing, but this is sadly not in our control.
Holding onto grudges, anger and resentments is toxic for our health and overall well being. It creates high amounts of cortisol (stress hormone) which impacts our nervous system, which in turn impacts our digestive system, hormones, our adrenals, inflammation, pain and tension in our body, our mental state (anxiety and depression), and of course our view of life.
When we don’t forgive, we are punishing ourselves more than anyone…
by holding onto the excruciating pain of what happened – and adding to it with the pain of their negative, fearful thoughts. I’ve been there, and it’s not a fun place to be. It is much more attractive– and a huge relief– when you meet others who also value forgiveness as much as you do. They want to treat others how they themselves would want to be treated. They see the value of letting go of unnecessary drama and contempt, for the health and peace of everyone. They give the gift of grace to others and let things go. They realize that someone’s mistakes don’t define them.
But first, we must ask if we struggle forgiving ourselves? The biggest thing I’ve noticed, is that those who struggle with forgiving others, often struggle forgiving themselves. There’s so much emphasis on forgiving others, that we often never learned the importance of forgiving ourselves – or never practiced doing so. Whatever we struggle with with others most often shows us what we need to work on ourselves (because relationships are like mirrors, they reflect the Shadow Self).
Are you wanting to improve your relationships?
Self work typically must happen first before other relationships can improve. I urge you to work on yourself. Not just you, but for your family, friends and children. It is so worth it, despite the growing pains. Therapy can be a great way to start practicing a greater sense of self awareness and shift in beliefs, mindset, behaviors, and the results we get in our lives. Improved relationships, much like many things in life, is an inside out job. It all starts with you – and how much love and acceptance you have for yourself.
Let us begin this New Year with gratitude from the lessons of the past, letting go of all that is not serving us in the present, and attracting love, peace, and positivity in the future.
Now I would love to hear from you.
What are the things you value the most in relationships? What characteristics trigger or drain you? How do you handle this? Do you have any spiritual practices? Do you also possess any of the traits that trigger you? Let me know in the comments below and I look forward to going deeper with you. Much love, self-care, and gratitude.