Here is a reoccurring theme that I see in my therapy practice. “I wish he would do his emotional work so that I could feel more loved, safer, more calm and my needs were better met.” Basically, we’re saying that it’s another persons fault that we feel the way we do.
We project onto our significant other. At a certain point we feel we can no longer tolerate what we see in our partners (which is really ourselves) and may feel we have to leave the relationship. If we don't get any help at that time and we leave our current relationship, then we often start the cycle all over again with a new partner. Sure, it takes a while before ‘we’ (our material) catches up with ‘us’. There is often a honeymoon phase of getting to know each other, where we are on our ‘best behaviour’ presenting our best selves. But inevitably, our projections return. Why...do you ask? I believe it's because we want to grow. Relationships are a sure way to do that. Personal growth is right there, staring us in the face, 24/7. The uncomfortable, intolerable feelings that we meet in our relationships, (those 'deal breakers' that often lead us to feel that we need to break up) are our own, unbearable, internal feelings.
A past partner once said to me (and often use it in my practice) “My fourth wife was more like my Mother than my Mother!” I've always loved that line. A bit of levity goes a long way in therapy when used properly. If we don't take back our projections and gain self-awareness, we unconsciously orchestrate situation after situation that reflects the message we need to learn. For example, we are often attracted to the very people who scream the very messages we need to get into our blind spot.
There are also personal blind spots, not related to external relationships. We have many internal relationships. For example we have internal relationships to our creativity, spirituality and sexuality to name a few. These internal relationships operate much like the external ones do. They can be healthy, respectful, and loving or they can be unhealthy, negative and unloving. In fact, many people are far more generous, loving and kind to others than they are to themselves. This imbalance is often caused by past injuries and trauma. (A longer story to get into another time.) We carry limiting patterns and habits around with us for years, decades even, causing us to feel stuck, angry, isolated, sad, frightened and/or in pain.
Internal relationships can be worked on just as effectively as external ones. External relationships are a great mirror for our internal selves and therefore offer potential for growth.
I enjoy Byron Katie. I will grossly simplify it here, so if you are interested in learning more about The Work you can visit her at www.thework.com. It goes something like this...If I say “I hate my partner.” Then my 'turn around statement' is “I love my partner, I hate myself.” And I sit with that. If I say “I hate my partner” and follow up with the question "how do I feel when I say these words?" And then if I say “I love my partner.”… and once again sit with how I am feeling...and then ask "Which do I prefer? What feels better?" I then choose how I will feel.
Now if my partner is doing something obviously abusive towards me, then another action is needed of course. I'm not saying that there's never a good time to leave a relationship, there is. But the bulk of my work is not within those situations. It is the self-inflicted misery we put ourselves through when our partner is doing his or her thing, unbeknownst to us. I call this our 'shadow at play.' If we can lighten the whole thing up to where we can smile or have a giggle at our own internal shadow then it has less power over us and we are a whole lot happier all around. It is then no longer "shadow" material that we are packing around on our backs and in our hearts and minds, etc.
How do we want to think, believe, feel, sense and behave towards ourselves and others is the million dollar question. Secondly, how do we get there?
It begins with building healthier relationships, both inside and out.
Photograph was taken on a hike at the Rouge Valley National Park, Toronto, ON