“You don’t develop courage by being happy in your relationships everyday. You develop it by surviving difficult times and challenging adversity.” – Epicurus, philosopher
“They are all about relationships…starting with myself…”
Bonnie’s original call was to ask me if I work with people with what she called, ‘food’ issues. When I asked for clarification she said, “I love food!” When she arrived and filled me in with the details, it was much more complicated.
Bonnie was in the medical field, an experienced physiotherapist. She was a ‘big boned’ woman with jet black hair and a nervousness that reminded me of a cautious cat. She had been married for seven years to Clay and they had no children.
Bonnie came from a large birth family where she was a middle child with two older sisters and two younger brothers. One of her sisters, Jenny, was her nemesis…she called, ‘the bitch.’ Jenny, annoyed her to no end. According to Bonnie, Jenny was ugly, stupid and promiscuous…an embarrassment to the entire family, and, had probably contributed to their mother’s early death.
When we got to her goals for the work we would be doing, food and her weight, which she had raised initially, never came up. Instead, it was her marriage, or more precisely, her lack of interest in intimacy, which Clay kept bringing up. This led us to her feelings of being ugly, being repulsed by her size and then, to her low self esteem.
When I asked her to set some priorities, she settled on just three, her low self worth, her marriage and her annoying sister. Then, she made a profound comment which said a lot about her level of self awareness.
“When I look at my three priorities…they are all about relationships aren’t they…starting with myself, my husband and my sister?”
“Because I love you, I would rather have you despise me for telling you the truth
than infatuate me for telling you lies.” – King Ayles, author
“Other people are just ‘learning’ mirrors for us.”
“That’s very insightful Bonnie! I remember one of my early mentors saying every human problem, at every level of society, is invariably, a relationship problem…a communication problem!”
“Ken, you said we would start with me, and not my spouse or sister…isn’t that backwards? Shouldn’t we begin with them, so I can feel better about me?”
“Bonnie, other people are just ‘learning’ mirrors for us. Your perceptions of others, in this case Clay and Jenny, are opportunities to grow yourself. The real purpose of each, and every, relationship is to make you smarter…make you better able to survive and become the person you need to be!”
“But what about me being happy…I thought each relationship was supposed to contribute to our happiness…isn’t that right?”
“The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.” – Thomas Merton, writer
“You are engaged in unconscious, self sabotage…”
“Bonnie, if happiness means to you…all pleasure and no pain, or even, more pleasure than pain, then you are striving for the impossible…you are engaged in unconscious, self sabotage because you are ignoring how humans and our natural world operate.”
“Do you mean my frustrations with Clay and Jenny are supposed to help me learn to be a stronger me…and that’s what every relationship I have is for…?” she asked with a confused look.
“Now you got it! And as you figure all this out in detail, you increase your appreciation of yourself and lessen your frustration with them, because you see both sides of it and appreciate them more because you have proven to yourself their value.”
“So how does that work in a marriage? Isn’t Clay’s job to make me happy and mine to make him happy?” she asked, starting to generalize the idea further.
“Bonnie, trying to make someone happy is like trying to push water up a hill…it is another example of unconscious self-sabotage. You will never create more pleasure than pain for yourself, or anyone else, because it is not possible within nature’s laws…there must always be a balance of pleasure and pain at every second of your life, …my life, and the life of everyone else!”
“Spiritual relationship is far more precious than physical. Physical relationship divorced from spiritual is body without soul.” – Mahatma Gandhi, lawyer
“Your job is to love him, not make him happy!”
“So, I can stop trying to make Clay happy…is that what you saying to me right now?” she said with a frustrated tone.
“Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying…your job is to love him, not make him happy!” I replied with a smile.
“So, Ken, what’s love then…because I’m missing something here?” she said, her frustration simmering.
“Love is what your parents provided to you which enabled you to be alive and well today. Love is a perfect balance of support and challenge. This 50/50 combination optimizes the human learning system for learning and survival. So loving Clay means supporting him half the time and challenging him the other half, so he can grow…not to get happy, but instead, get smarter and so, more appreciative of himself.”
“So, if what I have been doing, is not love…what is it?”she asked, clearly curious now.
“Falling in love and having a relationship are two different things.” – Keanu Reeves, actor
“Successful relationships help the person grow self worth, not happiness.”
“Bonnie, many people confuses love with infatuation…infatuation is support alone without the challenge…infatuation is the ‘honeymoon’ of a relationship…very, very temporary.”
“Successful relationships require love, not infatuation; successful relationships require equal amounts of support and challenge; and successful relationships help the person grow self worth, not happiness.”
“Wow, that requires quite a shift in my thinking about love and relationships…yet, it really makes sense when I think about my parent’s relationship, which I have watched my whole life.”
“Bonnie, one of my clients said it best, ‘It is like my heart knows this already but my head is try to breakthrough my fantasies …to catch up!’”
“Yes, that’s it exactly!” she paused and then added, “So, if I find Clay both challenging and supportive…you would say I love him instead of infatuate him?”
“Yes I would, in the same way you love your parents, who have always, supported and challenged you equally your entire life…is that not true, Bonnie?”
“Well, a girlfriend once told me never to fight with anybody you don’t love.” – Jack Nicholson, actor
“Looking for a fantasy…like looking for a unicorn or a mermaid?”
“Yes. it is very true, Ken…when I recall being a teen for example…” she said nodding her head, looking away and smiling at what ever memory she was seeing, “…it is very true!”
Then she added, “So, looking around for someone to only support us…seeking ’Mr or Miss Right’ is, in reality, looking for a fantasy…like looking for a unicorn or a mermaid?”
“You got it now, Bonnie!”
“So, it sounds like you don’t really fall in love,…you grow into love!” she added.
“If both you and Clay are committed to it, regardless of the past, you can build a successful relationship!” I added replied.
And that was how she started her journey toward uncovering her self worth. Bonnie began by expanding her perception of herself…learning to appreciate each and every behaviour. This shifted her perception to others, notably her spouse Clay and her sister Jenny.
It took her time, honesty and hard work…but she did it. This process generated changes in her life style which transformed her weight…but only in parallel with transforming her perceptions of herself.
“I, with a deeper instinct, choose a man who compels my strength, who makes enormous demands on me, who does not doubt my courage or my toughness, who does not believe me naive or innocent, who has the courage to treat me like a woman.” – Anais Nin, author
Until Next time…
September’s theme is “RESOLVING RELATIONSHIPS.”And, we have again expanded our roster of experts from around the globe. Watch for their special perspectives in the weeks ahead.
Please remember to send us your feedback and monthly theme suggestions…we love to hear from you! If you have a specific question about RESOLVING RELATIONSHIPS or are looking for strategies for dealing with yours, contact me.
POINTS TO PONDER AND REMEMBER are:
- All your problems are relationships problems.
- All your problems come from problems with yourself.
- All your relationships are ‘learning’ mirrors.
- Those who love you, will challenge and support, equally.
- You cannot make anyone happy.
- You can only love others, challenge and support them, equally.
- You won’t achieve happiness, rather appreciation of yourself and others.
- You won’t discover happiness, rather self worth.
- You never fall in love, you only grow into love.
- There are no unicorns or mermaids, only people who love you.
Further information: www.kenpiercepsychologist.com