All of our issues come up in our relationships – our fears of domination, rejection, abandonment, of being wrong, embarrassed, or humiliated. Relationships bring up our deepest fears of loss of self and loss of other, which triggers our deep learned protections – anger, judgment, withdrawal, resistance, and compliance.

While our dysfunctional patterns emerge most clearly in primary relationships with a partner, these patterns are certainly activated in friendships, work relationships, and relationships with our parents and children. Therefore, if you are not in a primary relationship with a partner, do not despair! You can still be learning from and evolving through all your relationships.

Craig, one of my clients, has not been in a committed relationship for about seven years. Yet most of the work we do together revolves around the problems he has in his work relationships and friendships. Craig is a person who hates to be controlled by others. As soon as he feels someone wanting something from him such as time, attention, or approval, he feels smothered and withdraws. He is highly sensitive to people coming to him from an inner emptiness and “pulling” on him to fill them up. However, his withdrawal doesn’t work well for him. When a “puller” comes up against Craig’s resistance, the other person tends to pull even more. Craig, who doesn’t want to appear rude, ends up giving himself up and caretaking – giving the person what he or she wants. He then feels angry and finds himself not even wanting to be around that person any more. This same dynamic occurred in both of his marriages.

Craig is in the process of developing a powerful adult self who can speak his truth when feeling pulled on rather than withdrawing or complying. He is learning that it may be loving to himself to be open to learning with the other person and say something like, “I feel there is something you are wanting from me. What is it?” He is learning that it may be loving to himself to say, “When you pull on me for approval (or time or attention), it doesn’t feel good. I would like to have a caring relationship with you, but I don’t want to be responsible for your good feelings.”

Every interaction we have with others is a reflection of our beliefs about ourselves, and we have the opportunity to learn from each difficult interaction. For example, if we believe we are inadequate, unlovable, not enough, or unimportant, we will tend to take personally others’ cold or judgmental behavior toward us. We may feel rejected and alone, and respond with anger, resentment, hurt or withdrawal. Our painful feelings and reactive behavior can alert us to the fact that we need to explore our limiting beliefs about ourselves. If you know you are a caring and compassionate person, and your definition of your self-worth is based on who you are rather than on what you do, how you perform or how you look, then you will be much less likely to take other’s cold or judgmental behavior personally. You might respond with understanding, compassion or with gently removing yourself from the situation, but you would not feel hurt by other’s behavior, nor would you get angry, resentful or withdrawn.

All our relationships and our reactions to them provide fertile ground for our personal and spiritual growth. If you are willing to notice all painful interactions and feelings – even to people with whom you are not involved, such as the person who cut you off on the freeway or the clerk at the market who was rude – you can learn much about your false beliefs about yourself and about what you can and cannot control. Your feelings such as anger at the person who cut you off on the freeway or resentment toward the rude clerk are red flags that let you know it’s time to look within and explore the beliefs that are causing your difficult feelings. When you recognize that your feelings are coming from your own beliefs rather than from the other’s behavior, you are on the road to personal responsibility and the personal power that comes with that.

Margaret Paul, Ph.D. is the best-selling author and co-author of eight books, including “Do I Have To Give Up Me To Be Loved By You?”, “Do I Have To Give Up Me To Be Loved By My Kids?”, “healing Your Aloneness”, “Inner Bonding”, and “Do I Have To Give Up Me To Be Loved By God?” Visit her web site for a FREE Inner Bonding course: http://www.innerbonding.com or mailto:margaret@innerbonding.com.