Essential Relationship Skill


What many couples and individuals struggle with (including myself) is the ability to respond to a challenging situation rather than react. It has become prevalent in our society that when we feel discomfort or pain, we either react to the situation by engaging in counterproductive behaviours that hurt one another or numbing/distracting ourselves with food, tv, etc.

In a conscious relationship, we choose to respond as opposed to react. The first step required is to observe our experience as if we were watching a play. This is difficult to do when habitually; we may have been doing the opposite for years.

First, let’s explore what the discomfort is telling us. It is a messenger, a signal of something from the past, an unintegrated childhood experience. You may have noticed that a similar felt experience repeats itself over and over with various characters and situations. This is what Freud called “repetition compulsion”. Often when these felt experiences of fear, anger, or grief arises, our immediate reaction to them is an attempt to soothe ourselves by feeling better. However, by doing this…the emotional charge remains unintegrated and is destined to repeat itself once again.

Therefore, what becomes necessary is not to blame the person, or experience. We are invited to not “shoot the messenger”, ie the triggering person or the event. Contrary, we are to take the focus off the participating characters and/or situation and move into feeling the experience. The emphasis here is to get “better at feeling” rather than “feeling better”.

Thus if we remain true to our intent of responding to our experiences by keeping our loving attention on the felt-aspect of our encounters, any action that arises is likely to be responsive rather than reactive. And if we are being true to our experience by honouring the felt experience, the consequences of our activity are likely to be beneficial for all involved.

What is important to understand is that the “ghosts of the past” will repeat until they are integrated. The messengers keep sending them to you in order to give you the opportunity to feel the suppressed emotional charge and to completely digest or metabolize it.  Without reacting to the discomfort and becoming present to it, we can allow ourselves to integrate it.  This is not the same as going into the story and recounting it with our mental activity. This essentially is another way of avoiding the experience and keeping the unintegrated emotional charge alive.

As challenging as this is, with conscious practice and present moment awareness, this does get easier with time. Here are some personal tips to gain the insight, teaching and resolution.

First, become aware that our world experience is a mirror of what is within us. It is a reflection. It appears that it is outside of us; however, it represents those shadows or ghosts that are deeply suppressed emotional charges. To succeed at the task of receiving the message from the messenger (person or triggering event) requires:

  1. Taking our attention off the messenger (the physical event or person’s behaviour that is triggering us)
  2. Stepping away from the story that urges us into the reaction (in other words, detaching from the mental event)
  3. Placing our attention on how we are feeling as a consequence of the triggered upset (the emotional event).

We accomplish this by asking ourselves “how does this triggering event impact me on the level of felt perception or feeling?

Therefore, we must feel. It is not a verbal or mental exercise but a direct experience of felt perception. This turns our attention inward and not getting into a verbal description our experience (which essentially turns us outward).

We know when we feel something, usually because it feels or is perceived as uncomfortable. Our body confirms the receipt of the message by resonating with it. It then is communicated as a tangible physical sensation. This resonance may manifest as our hands buzzing, solar plexus tightening, heartbeat increasing, face flushing or any number of other bodily indicators. Once we access this felt resonance, within our body, we have received the message.

Then, once we have received the message, we are ready to go to the next step, which is to access insight. We are ready to perceive, through the felt perception, that this particular emotional reaction triggered by the messenger isn’t new, but that it is a charged emotional condition that occurs repeatedly. To access, this insight, ask yourself when did I experience this same felt resonance or feeling? Allow the answer to surface and continue to ask when prior to this setup, did I experience the same uncomfortable felt resonance or feeling?

By continuing, to ask this question each time we unearth a previously triggered upset and  we gradually uncover a reoccurring felt pattern extending all the way back into our childhood. Note: the intent is to focus our attention on specifically recalling similar emotional reactions as opposed to scanning the past for the appearance of similar messengers!

Thus this process of getting the message and receiving its insights changes everything because, by doing so, we realize that emotional reactions we feel as a consequence of being triggered have nothing to do with our adult experience. They are the consequence of the unintegrated emotional charge we’ve been suppressing for years.

This process invites us to mature emotionally. Therefore, this means that instead of reacting, we choose to respond. We choose to take a deep breath, then gracefully move out of the triggering situation. In doing so, we keep ourselves from adding fuel to the fire.

Even though the asking of these questions appears to direct our attention to the past, this isn’t what’s occurring. The past is the past. However, these unintegrated emotional charges continue to exist as energetic conditions imprinted within our emotional body. In essence, we aren’t “going back” but “going in”. The answers are all within us now. Trust them to surface when required.

Over time, our choice to respond instead of react gradually neutralizes our unconscious automatic impulses. Also, what we initially perceived as events as random and chaotic in nature, become gems of insight into our behavioural patterns. These insights are the raw material for our emotional development and maturity.

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