Here are some things you can try while coming to grips with your surface and deeper emotions, in the context of relationships
Non reaction – when one gets triggered the emotions can easily take over leading one to insensitive behaviour to one’s self or others and so one needs to give oneself some time to hold whatever negative energy has been thrust your way and to then deal with it in a mature and responsible way rather than simply hurling it at the next available victim.
Tune in to intuition – The surface level of thoughts will be a complex accretion of many things: expectations, your own and what other people think you should be, and what others think of you, as well as the baser promptings of your ego, need to be justified and redeemed, that you were right and they were wrong, what you could have said, should have said, and then the so-called promptings of the super ego and conscience what you didn’t do and shouldn’t have said, and how you’re a bad person, and unworthy and not good enough. There will be many thoughts belonging to society and culture about everything, and thoughts that arise that belong to specific individuals who imprinted you with very specific thoughts and concepts about yourself. Amidst all these voices the most important one usually goes unheard – the voice of your higher self, or the voice of intuition, the voice of the depths, that one voice that really cares and really knows, that’s always there ready to guide you, waiting for you to still the surface and tune in. The modern popular mantra is that you just need to ‘be yourself’, but there is no yourself, or myself. You were born with a pure mind which was gradually filled by every one of your many myriad influences. You as an individual shaped your personality gradually becoming self aware and independent and by that time you had already acquired a lot from your parents, family, society, culture, television etc., some of it good, a lot of it necessary, but most of it still fixated in the ancient primitive animalistic mindset. Even what you think of as your religiosity and your spirituality is not yours, it is a mere shadow of a reflection until you penetrate it with your own heart, mind and soul, and purge heart mind and soul of all that is not Truth and Beauty!
Engage the higher understanding – the emotions are more base and lower, you find it is the first ‘brain’ the inner or reptilian (and mammalian) brain, and the higher functions of thinking and understanding are associated with the higher human brain. To immediately be driven by emotion and act on that immediate impulse is to behave in the way animals behave, but to think and consider and arrive at the right course of action, that is human and in due course spiritual. It is exercising your power of moral imagination, and you need to give yourself the chance to do that. The first instinct, when one is confronted by a threatening situation, or a perceived threatening situation, or even one that simply threatens the ego and its sense of what’s right, or more accurately its sense of how it is right and the other is wrong, the first instinct is to react and demonstrate how one is right and the other is wrong, and then to use whatever means within ones power to diminish and dominate and destroy the other. One needs to resist this primal instinct and to rather engage the higher faculty and one way to do this is to engage in some kind of unrelated thinking activity. I say unrelated because if it is related to the situation then it will re-engage the emotional mind and the self righteous thinking. Note that it differs from distraction in that it is not external content being passively experienced but rather it is an active thinking process. Something simple and clinical or pure like mathematics or geometry or some kind of analytical problem can help one to come back into the higher mind, and after sufficient engagement there will be a reorientation of lower minds drama… the higher mind can then begin to solve the ‘problem’ or may even realise that the lower mind is actually causing the problem and nothing more needs to be done.
Take steps to minimise the outer problem – there may be outer ‘issues’ that cause one inner disturbance. As far as possible it is good to address the outer issues and to remove obstacles that have been recognized to be stumbling blocks in any given relationship. Primarily we are talking about relationships and there may be triggers that repeatedly ignite fights and arguments. In reality the real problem is the inner one, but it helps to address the outer ones when they are discovered. Often deeply unconscious egos do not want to address the outer problem so that there is always more opportunities for conflict and it can almost become ritualised in a way. But through sincere and unfettered discussion outer triggers can be minimised reducing conflict and stress.
Consultation – Get into the habit of talking about things when not in a state of anger or reactivity. This is the time to have meaningful consultation, dispassionate and detached about what’s best for the relationship. Usually people hold back their thoughts on this subject thinking that there’s not need to bring it up, or it would be awkward, or cause unnecessary tension when things are actually going ‘good’ but actually that leads to holding onto things, grudges, festering, building up a mountain out of a molehill, and the snowball effect, so its much better to deal with little upsets early on, and to address issues before they turn into arguments and fights. Once it becomes a fight that both individuals become simultaneously defensive and offensive, and then there is communication breakdown, and it’s all looks like blame and it just escalates from there.
Gradually accustom one’s self to being ‘wrong’ – It’s ok to be wrong. You are not perfect and nobody expects you to be. If you were wrong or made a mistake it’s ok because everyone else makes mistakes too. You do not know everything and some concept or idea you may hold in your head at any given time is not necessarily the truth, in fact it is most likely not the truth. What you are saying to another person, may seem to be right in your head, may even be factual in the context you intend but if it does not have the effect of helping the other person, but actually has the effect of hurting the other person, then you have actually failed or it is then untruth. And so you have to question your motivation: “Did I really intend to help this person, or hurt this person?”
Say “I’m sorry” when you know you did or said something wrong that you shouldn’t have. If you do not then you are simply eroding trust one incident after another. Some people can sense when you are sorry and that you didn’t mean what you said, but most people need to be told, and there’s nothing wrong with saying it: “I’m sorry I said that, I was angry because of this that and that, but that’s no excuse I shouldn’t have done that, please forgive me…”
Gradually accustom one’s self to those ‘awkward’ moments – When you undermine the usual egoic pattern of interaction it is at first very awkward and strange but when that initial phase is endured and passed through it makes for much more meaningful and rewarding interaction. That awkwardness comes from the two masks facing each other, but gradually as the masks fall away there is real sincerity and real connection and that’s when true relationship begins. The majority of people may be very surprised to know that the relationships they think they have are not real, they are merely the ego’s need externalised, they are associations at best, in which the ego seeks what it needs and fulfils itself, but when it no longer gets what it needs then the association comes to an end. The fact of birth and family forces one into a certain set of relationships, parent-child, brother-sister, and to a much lesser extent extended family. These are forced relationships which you have no choice about in the beginning but later in life as people become more independent they can choose how often they see each other and whether they want to continue the relationship. In the context of the immediate family relationship there tends to be less of the mask and more of the true ego, because they live together and know each other better, and familiar with each other’s qualities and patterns. But even these can become mere associations in which the ego is again seeking its fulfilment rather than living out the process of healing. The husband-wife relationship is a unique one and is somewhere between what you choose and what ‘destiny’ has conferred on you. It is often where real relationship happens and real ego transcendence becomes essential in order for the relationship to continue. It is the one relationship where you are really and truly exposed and it can be a beautiful adventure of deepening in love and growing in detachment, or it can be a lonely nightmare and burden of dealing with one or each others’ unconsciousness and cyclical patterns of abuse, or as is the case for most people somewhere in between those two extremes.
Lower your guard, or better yet, drop the mask – Be vulnerable, allow yourself to be exposed, even allow yourself to be hurt. It’s ok to be hurt and suffering, it’s ok to be scared and unsure, it’s ok to be whatever you are at this moment, and you don’t have to hide it from others, and most of all you don’t have to hide it from yourself. In the society and culture in which we find ourselves it seems like weakness or failure to admit that something didn’t go the way I hoped, or that I am having certain feelings that I shouldn’t be having. There are many ways in which we repress, but as one becomes re-sensitized then one naturally will become more sincere about what’s going on, inside and outside. There’s a very big difference between on the one hand, saying exactly what you think when you want to because you feel you are right and justified in doing so – and on the other hand sincerely and tactfully sharing what is in your heart and mind, and what will show you that difference is the effect that it produces. Self righteousness will always engender defensiveness, negativity and reaction whereas Sincerity will always engender Trust, positive outcomes and affection. When you lower your guard you empower the other person to do the same, and it may take time, but you have to persevere with this. It’s not easy because your ‘guard’ or your ‘mask’ is the egos defence mechanism and the ego will not go down easily. Also lowering your guard may give the other person the sense that they have the upper hand and have ‘won’ the battle and then they were right all along and can proceed to do as they please. This is a real danger and is one of the things which keep such dysfunctional relationships either in perpetual conflict if both individuals are strong and aggressive unconscious personalities (these will not last long at all), or in a pattern of sustained abuse if one is strong, aggressive, unconscious and the other is weak, passive and unconscious (can last a lifetime). When one of them is conscious or becomes conscious through the dysfunctional relationship then there is hope for change and even transformation. When both people are well balanced, and conscious then there is light upon light and deep love that grows and grows towards bliss – this is a real relationship.
Undermine the ego – the ego is an out of balance anomaly and you need to bring it into balance, which is why you have all the issues that you have, all the dramas and negativity. It is either suffering from one or the either extreme, either you have an over inflated sense of self and you have to always be better and greater and faster and cleverer and win in every situation no matter what, or you have a deflated ego in which you are unworthy, not good enough, broken, victim or loser. Both of these types can try to manipulate their outer appearance and personality to appear to be ‘successful’ or at least “ok” and “fine”, but true success lies in undermining or overcoming the ego and achieving BALANCE or a balanced personality… but more accurately transcending the ego altogether (but this leads to a much more deep and intense subject which borders on the so-called ‘mystical’, ‘metaphysical’ and ‘transcendental’, a place that souls can only venture when they have achieved some measure of balance.
Understanding – Take some time to see the other person, with whom you seem to be in conflict, in the context of their life and how their influences have led them to behave in whatever way may be unpleasing to or discordant with you. When you recognise that someone else is acting in a certain way as a result of unconscious patterning, negative influences and maybe abuse, that caused them to have anger and or violence or whatever the manifestation of their unconsciousness, when you recognise this it becomes less personal, it si not that person doing something against you, but rather it is in a sense all of humanity doing something to all of humanity, and you two are merely the particular examples of this. It empowers you to break the cycle.
Prayer and Meditation – Depending on your particular religious and personal preferences you can use prayer and meditation to help disengage from conflict situations. Either praying together or apart it helps by engaging an even higher mind than the human logical mind, it connects with a higher consciousness, with higher love, and with a real power that is ever waiting to help people.
Create a shared treasure of memories – Make up a beautiful personalised creative photo album scrapbook, or diary or some such record in which you capture your happy times together, and even significant learnings or realisations, holidays and blissful shared moments or experiences and make it something special and even sacred, and use it in times of conflict and misunderstanding to reconnect to the deeper foundation of the relationship. In the heat of battle it may be hard to remember and decide to use it because you know that it is going to undermine the fight and maybe cause the battle to end, but that’s when you need to remind yourself that this is precisely what you want. You don’t want to fight (and the continuous arguing and fighting) to cause the relationship to erode and degenerate, you actually want the relationship to grow and flourish and to cause true joy and happiness, peace and tranquillity, and it can!
Forgiveness – After all these when things still don’t seem to be working out and you can’t seem to understand each other then it would seem like forgiveness is your last resort, especially when the other person is bound to you and you to them. No relationship is fully bound for ever and if nothing is done about it then it will end in separation. Sometimes separation is necessary for a time and then people come together again after they regret and realise how petty they were and how they should not have forsaken the relationship for the sake of their egos desires and needs. But other times they realise that the association must come to an end for the sake of all concerned and though it is difficult and sad sometimes it must be done, because either one or both parties are completely unwilling to change and make it work. But forgiveness is always an important part of making it work at any and all stages and even during and after separation. Forgiveness is that recognition that both of you are imperfect and both can make mistakes but that the relationship is more important. Forgiveness is not a passive acceptance of what a person is doing that is wrong, it is an active acceptance of the person, with all their faults and flaws, and the decision to release any negativity, resentment and blame for the sake of trying again, moving forward. We have to forgive each other many many times, regardless of who was right and who was wrong, because regardless of who thought they were right, someone was hurt and forgiveness is the soothing of the hurt, the healing of the wound. Right and wrong cannot be judged by mere mortal minds like ours, but the willingness to restore peace and to take responsibility and change, these kind of sign are indicators of the real “right” and the perpetuation of the arguing, fighting, blaming pattern is the real “wrong”. But that is not to say that conflict is all bad, because conflict helps resolve problems, it brings them up, and if it is dealt with in a mature loving way it can be overcome and a higher deeper level reached in the relationship. Forgiveness is about seeking that higher deeper, and letting go everything that does not get you there. The old “forgive and forget” is an illusion because the memory of these things, past hurts and what was said, cannot truly be erased from ones memory but in forgiveness these past transgressions and fights must be left in the past and not revived at every opportunity or whenever the ego wants to gain the upper hand again.
Live in the NOW – Be present with each other and avoid past and future. This will help stay rooted in the deeper foundation of the relationship. Give the other person your full attention and be with them in the moment together. Being truly present you would not react and interrupt but rather listen and become a deep space. A deeply unconscious person will know how to push your buttons and push you into engaging in the battle, and push you to react and lose the stillness and depth but one has to remain calm as far as possible, and talk about how to solve the problem that is now in front of them, be practical and remember the techniques and steps that can be used to disengage and try to lovingly persuade the other person to try any of them.
Time-out – Sometimes when nothing is working and the battle is escalating then the two contending parties need a time out, just 15 to 20 minutes apart, in another room, or one takes a walk, or sit in silence together or whatever it is, but just disengaging from the battle. Often the whole basis for the argument or fight then dissipates and one or both parties realise that it was ridiculous and not worth all the effort and time. But sometimes they may come together and be able to talk calmly and more productively about the ‘problem’ or perceived problem.
It matters what you feel – Another popular modern mantra “It doesn’t matter what others think!”. That is partially true but not in the context that it is popularly used. You should not allow other people’s limitations to limit you from Truth and your spiritual path… but part of that path is interacting with all the people who reflect you back to yourself. You must consider what others think, and more especially what they are feeling, or rather, how your thoughts, words, actions make others think and feel. They reflect you to yourself because you are as yet unconscious and cannot see yourself. So you must be perceptive and aware and you must be capable of changing in response to what you see. You must validate another person’s feelings regardless of your opinion or feeling about it.
A specific technique for conflict resolution – This method was developed by Thich Nath Nhan, Buddhist monk and global teacher, nobel peace prize winner, who developed it and uses it to great success in his work and community. It really can and does work if done properly.
STEP 1: Choose some object that is a symbol of beauty and purity like a candle or flower, or any such thing.
STEP 2: The two parties involved in the conflict sit together in a quiet private space and revise the terms or rules and guidelines of the technique:
RULE 1: Follow the sequence
RULE 2: Do not interrupt the other person when they are speaking
GUIDELINE 1: Try to focus on your feelings rather than blaming and judging.
GUIDELINE 2: Try to remain calm and focus on what is beneficial and helpful towards generating and sustaining peace
STEP 3: Decide who goes first. The first person must take up the object (candle or flower) and say what it is they like, admire or love about the other person. And more importantly what the relationship means to them and why they are willing to work on it. They then hand over the object and the other person must do the same.
STEP 4: The first person again takes up the object and this time says what they regret or are sorry for in their own behaviour, basically apologise for whatever they may have said or done that was misunderstood, mistaken, or wrong, or whatever, but the focus is on themselves and what they have said and done. They then hand over the object and the other person does the same.
STEP 5: Finally the first person takes up the object again and this time explains what the other person has said or done and how it made them feel. This may come across like blaming but it is not meant to be a blaming session but rather an understanding and a learning process. It may hurt, it may make one want to react or justify themselves, but according to the rules the other person cannot say anything and must allow the speaker to fully unburden their heart and speak their mind. They then place the object on the table and the other person takes it up and does the same.
STEP 6: When he/she is done it is preferable not to talk further about the matter, and what most people who do it properly find, is that there is no need to continue talking, arguing or fighting. Often after using this method the conflict ends and a realisation takes place, or a reorientation and the ‘issue’ or ‘problem’ or ‘conflict’ appears very trivial or petty within the context of the overall relationship. It is a reminder and it places the relationship in a higher stronger context which the ego cannot touch or break down. But the ego will resist and the biggest challenge to the two people or parties in conflict is to actually remember and agree to use the technique because it is essentially and ego undermining technique, and therein is its power.
Some of the above are techniques and guidelines for normal everyday application one one’s own to enhance the re-sensitization process to one’s own true self, and also to others. Some of them are specifically for dealing with conflict and resolving arguments and fights and strengthening relationships. I sincerely encourage you to read through these a few times and try at least one of them and if it works then try another and another. Holding all kinds of abstract concepts in the head and keeping all kinds of inspiring influences close to the heart are useful and helpful but you will find that in times of need all these things are forgotten or thrown out and you are really exposed and your patience and sincerity is really tested to its depths and the ego intensifies its efforts to win and destroy, and it is in times like these that you need solid practical things that you can turn to and do, and you will find that in time they become an inner habit and don’t have to be done formally any more, and that is a sign of great progress, but the greatest sign of progress will be the common understanding and shared vision. Re-sensitization to your Self and re-sensitization to other people are vital stepping stones and you may find that through this process you are transforming and you are no longer who you thought you were. This also may be disorientating for those who need to stability, control and routine, but if you have the sense of adventure then you will allow it to transform you into all that you can be, regardless of the other person and what happens within them. And your inner effort on yourself will be far more powerful and valuable than any effort you make on the other person, that is effort to change them and improve them. The best you can do is change yourself and allow the other person the opportunities you have allowed yourself.