[A month (and two Musings) ago, I first explored Honouring Our Humanity. My intention was to write next about Honouring the Humanity of Others. But as life unfolded I realized, through my own experiences, the importance of shoring up our foundations of honouring ourselves. Part 2 emerged last Musing in Gratefulness and Delight, and Part 3 continues here – a crucial bridging piece. To the extent we’re NOT honouring our own humanity, we’re asking too much of ourselves to truly give others the gift of honouring them. I’m curious, what’s your sense?]
Bruce and I were having a conversation recently in which I mused “do you think there might be a time when it would be possible for you to feel triggered by something I’ve said or done, and in that moment still be curious about what’s happening in me?” His response was “not without overruling the parts of me who’ve gone into their protective stances of withdrawing and cocooning.”
In hearing that word overruling, everything inside me was on alert! While I have a strong preference for us to stay in connection and have him be curious, I definitely didn’t want this if the cost was him overruling and running roughshod over parts of himself. That experience gave birth to this Musing.
I realized again how much our patterns of relating in challenging situations are based in our experiences as kids. In his family, he had two styles modelled. His Dad who withdrew (so there was an absence of mentoring), and his Mom whose response was withdrawing, and from time to time exploding in anger (a pattern that was painful for him, so he’s tried to avoid repeating).
Most of us have had precious little teaching, and perhaps less modeling, of healthy, respectful ways of relating with each other when there’s difference in styles, conflicting needs and desires, or other complex situations.
Headbutting – whether with another, or butting our own heads against the proverbial wall – clearly isn’t the optimal way for us to honour or show kindness to ourselves or each other … even when (perhaps especially when) we’re sure we’re right and the other person (or part of us) is wrong.
What would it take for us to become curious instead?
Even when our underlying values are in alignment, the combination of unique life experiences, varied areas of giftedness, styles and preferences will often mean we have differing perspectives and desires that make the need for having the skills for navigating these differences critical.
Truth is, even within ourselves, in any given moment we can have parts of us that have competing interests and desires.
And to the extent that we’re engaged in headbutting – whether within, or between us – we’re likely to remain at odds with ourselves and/or each other. Being able to have conversations where we can openly and respectfully share perspectives is a crucial step in bridging what might originally seem like huge chasms of difference.
The conversation between Bruce and me that triggered this Musing, had come as a result of his withdrawing after he’d been offended when I shared the way an action of his had impacted me. I was ready to continue speaking and add “and if we find ourselves in this situation again, this is what I’d prefer you do ….” when I realized he was already ‘withdrawn and cocooned’. To have shared those words in that moment would have been disrespectful on my part, and likely engendered ‘headbutting’ between us on his – definitely not bringing us closer!
In that moment, I needed to hold those parts of me that could clearly see an easy way to connection. I let them know that as much as they wanted that, this wasn’t the time. We needed to wait for Bruce to make connection with himself; holding, soothing and processing what was happening within him, in order for him to be available to reconnect with me.
The next day when he was ready to re-engage in conversation, as soon as I shared with Bruce what I’d prefer him to do if the situation we’d been in arose again, he immediately said “If I’d heard that, I wouldn’t have had to withdraw!” There was part of me that wanted to be righteously indignant, saying something like “See, we went through that for no reason!” … AND, thankfully, I had enough presence in that moment to quickly hold that part and gently remind her that this response surely wouldn’t give us the connection we wanted!
Even though it had taken us longer to get back to feeling close, I was thankful that we’d both been respectful of our own humanity, and not violated ourselves in pushing for resolution before it was time.
Still there were questions alive in me …
“What else is possible here?” and “What makes it easier for us to be
open to other perspectives?”
Once again I remembered and was thankful for the work of Dick Schwartz developer of the Internal Family Systems which I continue to explore.
Many of our tender (often younger) inner parts often had experiences of trauma or emotional overwhelm where there was little or no deep witnessing, validating presence to support them in making meaning of what was happening.
These parts of us have needed to navigate adult life with a limited or skewed perspective or understanding (and therefore capacity to cope).
In situations of complexity like this maze finding the way through at ground level on our own would be very challenging. What if we had access to a view that gives a different or wider perspective? Even though the task may still be challenging, the journey can often be simpler and easier, or more elegant. This is one of the real advantages of being open and curious about the other person’s perspectives as we explore and co-create …
In their attempts to navigate life with these inadequate or faulty perspectives, rather than expand and offer their original unique contributions, some of them have understandably limited, or shut these down. Instead they’ve taken on the role of protecting us from having to again experience anything that might trigger a remembering or a repeat of those painful emotions.
Some, in their commitment to this, have become managers – limiting, organizing or orchestrating our experiences. Others have developed into firefighters – springing into action at the first sign that the managers’ attempts to handle things aren’t being successful. Unlike the managers, firefighters will do whatever it takes to keep those painful memories and/or emotions in exile. Their commitment is such that if necessary they’re even willing to up the ante in ways that can cause damage to ourselves, or others around.
It’s these ‘inner world’ of internal relationships that we, as chronological adults, are often expressing in the ‘outer world’ of our relationships with ourselves, within our families, friendships, workplaces and organizations. And when that’s the case, we’re understandably unlikely to be open to being curious about other perspectives. Our hands are full defending and protecting our own.
In engaging with the practices of deeply respectful, wise witnessing and mentoring presence from what Dick Schwartz calls our Self, we begin to build trust between that Self and the parts of us that have taken on these protective roles.
As they begin to see that there might be more viable, life giving alternatives than those they’ve held, they can let go of the burdensome manager and firefighter roles they’d taken on. And as this occurs, these protectors can again focus their attention on making their original contribution – enriching our lives and releasing even more Self energy.
This in turn makes it easier for us to begin to relate to ourselves and others with far more curiosity, confidence, and compassion. These changes in us will ripple out – impacting (and hopefully inspiring!) others to follow suit.
I’m committed to saying ‘yes’ to the call of my life. To nurturing these RICH relationships first within myself, and as that difference is realized in me, to share and co-create this with those whose lives I touch. Making a difference in our world one heart and life at a time – starting with mine.
Will we experience challenges to our honouring our humanity as we live in our world? Absolutely, as Bruce and I found here, without a doubt! And, these moments give us a chance to become even more compassionate, curious, courageous and creative in honouring our own, and each other’s humanity as the works in progress that we are.
I’m curious. Can you see these patterns operating in your life? Do you have examples of either challenges or celebration moments? Perhaps times where you can clearly see that honouring your own humanity opened a space for you to honour the humanity of another? Or not? Either way I’d love to hear from you!
If any of this feels resonant, and you’re looking for a way of creating (or perhaps deepening) connection with me and some of our Realizing RICH Relationships community, or if you have questions, I hope you’ll consider joining us on Tuesday October 23, from 8-9 pm ET. It’s our usual 4th Tuesday of the month no cost, At Home with Maralyn & Friends call – the EVENING version. Remember, you only need to register once for these calls, if you’ve not yet done so and would like to, click here.
Maze – Benjamin Elliott on Unsplash