Self, In Relationship To Others
I learn the most about myself through my relationships with other people. This can be in the context of friends, family, romantic partner(s), co-workers, neighbours, and even strangers I encounter in coffee shops; everyone seems to have something to teach me. Not only do I learn through simply listening to their lives and experiences, but also in how I react to them in general.
I like to think that each person I connect with acts as a sort of mirror that allows me to see who I am. Of course I may already have an idea of who I am as an individual (what my struggles/strengths are, how I connect, learn, love, etc.) but it’s only when I place myself amongst others that I can really see these things in action. If I pay attention, I notice parts of me (both good and bad) are reflected off of them and back onto myself. Some people can emotionally and mentally challenge me by triggering old wounds that I haven’t yet healed, and their presence alone can make me feel angry and irritated. Other people make me feel incredibly loved and cared for, simply because their nature is aligned with characteristics and/or perspectives that are similar to mine or other people that I know and admire.
Once an internal reaction is generated, my work can begin. First things first, It’s helpful to be aware of feelings as they arise and able to associate them with the appropriate stimulus. For example, understanding that my insecure feelings only started after hanging out with ‘X’ for the afternoon. This alone can take some time to get the hang of. It takes practice and a willingness to carefully examine thoughts and feelings as they arise in the moment to be able to pinpoint where they’re coming from or who/what is triggering them. However, once it is understood, I’m then able to look into what is underneath the immediate reaction; perhaps ‘X’ made me feel insecure, but what is the root cause of that insecurity? It could be because ‘X’ spoke on and on about a really great motorcycle trip they went on, where, because of how in the moment they were, they had all of these unique experiences and chance encounters with sea captains in dive bars while traveling in Cape Cod. After hearing their story, I begin to think about how their in-the-moment-flow quality is something that I lack and wish I had. So it isn’t that I want to have their exact experience, but envy the qualities that allowed them to have it and therefore feel insecure in my ‘lacking’ state. Most times I find that it’s not necessarily mono-causal and there can actually be many things that contribute to a particular feeling.
It may sound difficult or time consuming but investing the energy into doing this work has really allowed me to grow as a person. It wasn’t until I got into a serious long-term relationship with my partner and had no option but to face myself in the context of our relationship if I wanted it to progress that I realized how valuable (and essential) doing this work was for me. If I wanted growth (both within our partnership and for myself as an individual), then I had to start seriously looking at what was happening on the inside, what things I wanted to work on, and how I could feasibly start chipping away at it. Once I started here, it made sense to extend this consideration/examination onto all other connections in my life.
It can be overwhelming to feel all of the things that come up, especially if they’re intense, uncertain, or uncomfortable. It’s normal and comes with the territory. I find that even taking note of the discomfort in the process is important and worthy of doing. Our inner worlds and outer experiences deserve our attention because they are intimately in communion with one another. In doing so, we are better able to not only understand ourselves but also shape our realities by becoming active agents.