How can we be in right relationship? The Buddhist Eightfold Path describes an end to suffering through viewing the world and ourselves as interdependent. It is a practical guideline observing mental development and accountability towards others, with the goal of freeing the individual from limiting identification and delusions. It leads to a clearer understanding of what causes suffering and how to free ourselves from it. Great emphasis is put on the practical aspect, because it is only through practice that one can attain this clarity. Psychotherapy offers a complimentary understanding of how to work with our own psychological content, increasing our ability to recognize our own delusions. This is key in overcoming the blocks that keep us in destructive relational cycles. Right relationship is implicit within the Eightfold Path of Right View, Intention, Speech, Action, Livelihood, Effort, Mindfulness and Concentration.
Our personal relationships are intimately connected to our larger communities and society as a whole. The changes we make at a smaller, relational level affect the whole. Recent studies show that it is not a constant, harmonious connection with someone that is seen as most important but the repair of disconnection, or resolving of conflict that helps us to feel intimate, seen and healed in relationship.
An interesting article on women and relationship in psychological development:
We are born with the innate capacity and desire to be in relationship. Meaningful connections with others increase our sense of self and psychological development. There is an interactive responsiveness in relationship establishing connection or disconnection. Connection, disconnection and repair patterns are forged over time and the first relationships with our caregivers set the tone for future relationships.
We often hide from uncomfortable experiences in relationship. From past trauma in our primary relationships, we cut off parts of ourselves and form judgements around them. We become unable to function in areas of our lives that bring up these feelings we are unable to integrate. We develop an identity centered around rejecting painful parts of ourselves or our experience. I believe this translates into not accepting another or being unable to recognize how to respond to their needs. We are too caught up in rejecting ourselves to open to another and all of who they are. The totality of who we are suffers when we cannot express all parts of ourselves or experience in relationship. These identities do not reflect who we really are and require a lot of energy to maintain. The pain itself is layered by patterns of avoidance and denial as we find the feelings unbearable and overwhelming. We then compensate by building up identities that seek to abolish the painful feelings. For example, we become “nice” in relation to our anger. In my experience, anger can be a motivating force when it is expressed respectfully.
When we fully feel a painful emotion such as anger, we can free up the energy that is used to stifle it, thus becoming more free and engaged in our relationships. Here, we can learn how to express ourselves fully with another and build trust by having the other person witness what we find is unbearable within ourselves. We often chose to cling to our old identities and patterns as they provide a sense of comfort and security, a way to navigate in a world where we believe we need to protect ourselves. Regardless of their untruth, we maintain them as safety mechanisms to avoid being flooded with feelings we think we can’t handle. Through the trust and empathy found in secure relationships, we can become more spacious and allowing to all of our experience and the experience of others.
Infants and children communicate their needs to their parents. The understanding of the child’s needs by the care giver is based on what is perceived in response to what she or he has heard. If there is not a natural response to the child in a way that the child needs, disconnection happens. If the mother can recognize this, repair is possible. But when there is frustration or other non-soothing responses, the child has no choice but to self regulate. Self regulation is useful, but when it gets in the way of relating, or emphasis is placed on it, it can be a problem, resulting in isolation, defensiveness and rejecting mechanisms. Two important qualities are developed in these first relationships: trust and empathy and these are the building blocks of healthy, secure relationships.
We can develop the skills we need in our first relationships to self regulate and to repair disconnections in other, future relationships. Trust is built when the child’s needs are met or when the disconnection is repaired. The success of the child’s ability to self-regulate later on is related to the infants’ experience of responsive mutual regulation early on. We can also build trust and empathy after these early years, but it takes greater awareness and work to go against any mismatched patterns of non responsiveness. The infant will anticipate mismatched patterns in future relationships, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy feedback loop. These disruptions can result in the child taking themselves out of relationship and focusing increasingly on themselves or on the other person, upsetting a balance between the two. It is not a matter of avoiding conflict, but a matter of finding successful resolution of mismatches. This provides strong developmental functions. To develop an empathic relationship, we must be open to the influence of the other person and to be willing to respond to the person’s unique ways of being in relationship. When we recognize the other person as their own, whole self, empathic to our needs but also containing their own unique needs, we can offer them a more open and respectful presence. It takes both partners to come to this realization in order to build a strong relationship.
I am excited to start another season working at CIIS Public Programs and Performances where I will be involved in workshops such as “Attached: Using the Science of Adult Attachment to Find Love and Build Fulfilling Relationships with Amir Levine and Rachel Heller” and “Yoga & Psyche: Psychological Integration through Yoga with Mariana Caplan” as well as “Tibetan Compassion Practices: Working with Terror, Trauma, and Transcendence with Steven Goodman.” I will keep posting notes from these events!