Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Relationship school

Most of us learn about relationships by unconsciously observing the behavior of those around us at the time of growing up.  Usually, this is a passing down of the baton of karma from the prior generation.  Our interactions with our family of origin and caretakers largely defines how we think about and how we handle relationships.  By the time we are into adulthood, this becomes so ingrained in our persona that we often are not even capable of seeing destructive behaviors in ourselves and thus are incapable of changing it.  For example, if we witness a lot of abuse, either physical or emotional, we think that is it normal and we don't even recognize it as something that can be, or needs to be, addressed.   And we keep repeating those same patterns over and over again in our lives, attracting similar abuse.  Deep down, we know something is not right, but at a conscious level, there is no awareness of it.

If there were a relationship school, it would probably need to address the issue of emotional intelligence and would cover topics such as:
  • Identifying and processing emotions (which includes how to tune into, and listen to one's intuition).
  • Paying attention to non-verbal cues in communication such as tone of voice, facial and bodily expressions.
  • Building a healthy self-esteem, and maintaining healthy boundaries (which covers aspects of building relationships such as trust and intimacy, and also identifying manipulative behavior).
  • How to effectively deal with bullies.
  • Making eye contact and connecting with people at a soul and empathic level, not just merely exchanging words in a conversation.
  • Actually processing feelings in relaxed way when interacting with other people instead of freezing up and trying to play a role that one might be expected to play.
  • Learning the art of diplomacy which is communicating one's needs in an effective way looking for win-win situations.
  • Being aware of differences in the personalities and views of others and learning to work with them, and even appreciate them, rather than labeling them as good or bad.
  • Healthy ways to handle conflict.
Learning about emotional intelligence has been a long journey for me that begun around 12 years ago triggered by my failing physical health.  I mentioned a couple of books in this post that were my starting point.  Since then I have read numerous articles and blog posts on the 'net looking for information about the above topics.   I have learned a lot, but I still have much to learn.  Perhaps the biggest lesson of all for me has been that most aspects of relationships are not black-and-white but rather shades of gray.   Some of the things that I'm now aware of, that I previously wasn't are:
  • I became aware of the concept of narcissistic parenting, how it is passed on inter-generationally, the emotional damage to the children, and the near impossibility of resolving the situation in an amicable fashion.
  • I tend to place the feelings of others over my own.  This essentially leaves me trapped in guilt as I'm never sure if I was right standing up for myself (which something I rarely do to begin with).
  • There was tremendous abuse all through my childhood, both at home and in boarding school, both physical and verbal.  Because of the abuse at home, I thought the abuse in boarding school, though a notch higher, was normal.  As a result, I tend to live out of fear, and have continued to attract abusive situations even in adulthood.  It complicates decision making because instead of trying to decide what makes me happy, I'm focused on finding ways to look good in the eyes of other people.
  • I am unable to create and maintain healthy boundaries.  This leaves me very vulnerable to manipulation, and unable to create healthy relationships.
  • It is very hard to recognize and change these negative behaviors.  As I recognize and point them out, people that are used to manipulating me become increasingly violent.  This awareness results in a very disruptive change to most of ones defining relationships.
  • I tend to have a "victim" mentality.  This is because I find it hard to assert my power and prevent people from walking all over me.
  • I have a somewhat warped concept of what "love" is.  Because of the way things were with my family, I associate love with pain.  
  • I have a general lack of trust of people and I'm always trying to control my experience which comes from a place of fear.  I miss a number of opportunities as a result.
All of these findings are relatively new for me and addressing them is a work in progress.  Prior to that I felt sad all the time, but I couldn't point to the cause.  Now it's clear that a large contributor are my under-developed relationship skills and the consequent low emotional intelligence.

Why is it that the subject of relationships was not taught in school?  To me, that is definitely more interesting than a lot of other subjects that I spent so much time learning but that are completely useless to me in my day-to-day living.

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