Have you ever heard the saying that goes something like “You can’t control what happens to you, only your reaction to it?” I love the way Victor Frankl puts it:
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.
When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.
Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” - Victor Frankl
I’ve thought about this concept a lot, especially when it comes to relationships and I wanted to share some of the things I’ve realized along the way. We all have relationships that challenge us. Often they’re in our family, sometimes they’re in the workplace or sometimes they’re your partner. Either way, they’re relationships that we are in some way forced to resolve our differences in, which is fortunate as that helps us grow and mature. In hindsight, I’m most thankful for the challenging relationships I’ve had as they’ve held the biggest lessons.
I used to be triggered so easily by certain people in my life. Some small thing that was said could send me into a fit of frustration. It’s interesting to note how that no longer happens. It was a gradual change that happened over a few years and was the result of the inner work I was doing on a whole, not anything directly related to the people I was interacting with. I was starting to take responsibility for my responses to everything in life. My responses to situations and people but also my responses to my habitual thought patterns and my emotions.
There were some key pieces that helped me go from having knee-jerk responses to being able to more consciously choose my responses to others.
#1: Realize that oftentimes it’s not about you
Only someone who is hurting or frustrated or feeling threatened feels the need to lash out or blame. When you make the conscious connection that they must be feeling pretty crappy inside and that you’re just witnessing the tip of the iceberg you can have compassion for their pain. Just knowing this in the moment takes it out of the space of “I must have done something wrong” to “This person is hurting and I’m just witnessing the effects of that.”
#2: Don’t fuel the fire
Recently I saw a short video clip that spoke about responding to contempt with warm-heartedness. It’s interesting to see what happens when you don’t respond to negativity with more negativity. It’s like pulling the gas away from the fire. I think every argument stems from two people who both need to be right. What happens when you no longer need to prove someone else wrong? There’s no foundation for an argument. They say “You’re wrong - THIS is the way it is!” and you say “Okay.” Argument over.
#3: Don’t expect others to recognize your response
In order to offer compassion or love in an unconditional way, we have to be completely untethered from people’s response to our responses. It would be nice if everyone would acknowledge and praise us every time we choose to respond and not react but that won’t be the case. Choose a compassionate response not for anyone else’s sake but for your own. Choose to be compassionate because anything else feels less than the goodness that you know yourself to be.
I go into greater detail and get more into the nitty-gritty of challenging relationships on my Patreon page where some of the Patrons have been sharing their thoughts and have had some AWESOME additions.
"If I 'meet and greet' as my true Self, all will unfold as beautifully as possible! Do we meet in fear, or do we meet in Love?!" - Mark Zanger
Can you think of a challenging relationship that forced you to examine your reactions/responses? Tell me how you dealt with it in the comments section below OR join the conversation over on Patreon.
For more content like this check out my blog post "How is this helping me?"