Welcome back to our journey along with Kevin Schoeninger as he continues to explore the Big Questions of life. This week in Spiritual Growth Monthly, Kevin takes a deeper look into how we can improve our relationships; not just romantic ones, but all our family, work, friendship and casual relationships as well. Even our relationship with ourselves. In fact, Kevin explains, how we get along with ourselves is the basis for how we get along with other people. If we don’t respect and care for ourselves, it is difficult to respect or care for anyone else.
One of the little questions Kevin asks within the Big Question of love and intimacy is “Why are we so hard on each other?” Why do we snap and criticize the people we care about the most? When something goes wrong with our day, or in our world, why do we always seem to need someone to blame?
There is an old song that tells us, “You always hurt the one you love.” Sometimes, I think, it’s because they’re an easy target. But one primary reason, Kevin explains, is that we tend to project our own failings and inadequacies on to other people. We see in them a mirror of what we don’t like about ourselves, and it is easier to attack someone else than take responsibility for our share of the problem.
The closer we are to someone, the more of ourselves we are apt to see. But we are also surrounded with people every day, who are vital to how we make a living, or go about our daily lives. Looking at them with kindness and charity, impacts how they feel, and we receive that kindness back, reflecting our own choice to be loving and kind.
Kevin calls this idea of projection a “fundamental truth” about relationships, and repeats it, so we’ll take the time to consider what all it entails.
“We project onto others our own internal tensions, issues, and fears.”
We do it at work when we become annoyed and resentful of our coworkers, or we think a belligerent customer has ruined our day. We do it at home, when our family members don’t live up to our expectations. If we are not careful, we take those internal tensions and fears with us wherever we go, and project them on to everyone we meet. Then we blame others for the issues and fears we brought to the relationship in the first place.
Could a better awareness of projection be the key to better relationships? If we can change this tendency within ourselves, would it allow us to experience the real love and intimacy that we want and need? Kevin asks us to consider that it could. And we do that first by taking responsibility for ourselves and our own happiness.
Oh, no, you might think. I am already so tired from all the responsibilities I have. I am tired of being the one who carries all the weight at home or at work. I am tired of trying to make everybody happy. I am tired of the financial burdens or all this stress.
But Kevin doesn’t ask us to be responsible for how other people feel. We only have to be responsible for ourselves. I got a wakeup call about this several years ago at a management seminar. The speaker said that many business managers make the mistake of trying to make their employees happy, which never really works. What we were really responsible for, he told us, was ensuring a safe and fair work environment, to give workers the training and tools they need to do their jobs, and to treat everyone with respect. Whether they are happy or not was up to them.
Up to that point, I had operated my share of a corporate business as a little family. Manager as mom. I listened to everyone’s problems and held all their hands. But as my job responsibilities grew, with over a hundred employees under me, I could not do the work I needed to accomplish unless something changed. About the same time, my boss told me to “stop trying to be a camp counselor, and just do your job.” That worked! I let go of everyone else’s problems, and took back the responsibility that was really mine. They didn’t all like it, but it made me a better boss. And they became stronger people in the long run.
When we stop carrying other people’s responsibilities, we can finally carry our own. What must we take responsibility for? As Kevin puts it, we are responsible for our feelings, how we interpret our experiences, and we are responsible for our results. “No matter what someone else is doing, no matter what the conditions around you, it’s up to you how you interpret it, how you relate to it, and what you do about it.”
If we want better relationships, or more love and intimacy, it is up to us. No one else. No matter what.
One way we learn to be responsible for our feelings, Kevin says, is by taking better care of ourselves. When we love and accept ourselves, faults, fears and all, we mirror that as well, and find it easier to love and accept those around us. If we always hurt the ones closest to us, then we have to start with not hurting ourselves.
Kevin has this laid out in detail, which I encourage you to explore. In more general terms, the next thing we need to do after we own our feelings is learn how to express them without blaming anyone, and how to truly listen to what other people have to say.
Anyone who has ever had much training in human resources management might have heard of these ideas as “active listening.” Rather than laying blame on someone for their actions, you can really only tell them how that action made you feel. Because, once again, it is only our feelings we can be responsible for, not their behavior. Sometimes people have no idea that they have hurt us, or they can’t understand why we feel the way we do.
The second part of active listening, then, involves doing exactly that. Not just hearing, or thinking about what you want to say the next time the other person takes a breath. But really listening. Letting the other person have the floor and say what they need to say. If the other person is not ready to talk, then you also need to be willing to listen when the time comes.
Kevin calls this concept “sacred listening.” Thinking of listening as a sacred activity helps us realize how essential it is to our existence. True intimacy can never exist without listening…to each other, and even to our inner selves.
The more we listen to each other, the more we grant others the right to design their own happiness, and the more we gain the freedom to make our own. And real intimacy happens when people who are free decide to love and accept love in return, without conditions and without blame.
For Kevin’s entire article, to learn more about him, and to find a link for personal counseling, visit www.spiritualgrowthmonthly.com.
P.S. Want to be part of a community of like-minded souls committed to applying spiritual practice in their lives? Well take a look at Spiritual Growth Monthly. This is our members only community where we share insights, tips and group coaching to support your continued growth.
What’s do you get as a member of SGM?
You get a weekly audio message from me to encourage you and give you more insights into your practice. Membership gives you private email access to me should any questions come up for you. You also get access to our members discussion, plus much, much more.
Go here to get a 3-week trial for just $1.
Check out the weekly messages on Spiritual Growth Monthly today!