In this series of blogs, I will look explore some key aspects of healthy communication in relationships. The first three will explore what make you go “APE” in your relationships. The next three will look at strategies for effective sending and receiving in communication. Learn more at my upcoming workshops & presentations.
Last week, in P is for Past, we talked about the emergency solutions that a child develops to cope with their environment; that children adapt to survive, and carry those adaptations into adulthood. We might call that adaptive self that we present to the world a false self, or our ego.
Because the ego was forged out of pain, it is inherently self-centered. This is not a good or bad thing, it just is. Think about walking along the beach with a friend on a sunny day, feeling a sense of peace and joy. Then you stub your toe on a rock. All of a sudden, the good feelings are gone and you are absorbed by the pain.
How does this look in relationship? When become reactive (Amygdala) and old wounds are triggered (Past), we react in ways in characteristic ways (Ego) that prevent us from experiencing real intimacy. This is when we go “APE.” We smother because we fear being abandoned, or we abandon because we fear being smothered. We cling because we’re afraid of being alone, or we distance because we’re afraid of getting too close. We become caretakers because we’ve learned that’s how we earn love, or we isolate because we’ve learned we’re unlovable. Or we find ourselves moving in and out of relationship as if we’re saying “Go away, come closer!” (the title of Terry Hershey’s book on intimacy).
When people become aware of this, the next question is inevitably some form of “So how do I get rid of it?” Here’s the rub: You don’t. You embrace it. You practice the Golden Rule with it. You learn to accept it and love it. You can’t hate parts of yourself in order to be more loving. If the ego (false self) is all about me, then the soul (true self) is all about we. And that we has to start inside – integrating the various parts of you into one whole you.
Try this exercise. Think about a characteristic or part of yourself that you do not like. Listen without judgment to what it has to say; try to learn something about yourself. Thank it for being a part of you and helping you learn; offer yourself compassion for your work in addressing it, knowing that this is just a first step. If this sounds too hard, imagine that it is someone else sharing with you about their struggle with this characteristic; listen and learn, empathizing with his/her struggle and offer your compassion.
Doing this internal work is the pathway to taming the “APE” and bringing your best self forward. In upcoming weeks, I’ll provide you with strategies for effective communication so that you can bring that best self into your relationships.