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Life Strategy Lesson #1 – Relationships

Thanksgiving Day heralds the onset of the Holiday Season for many Americans. A wide variety of emotions, such as loneliness, sadness, hopelessness, loss, grief, bereavement, dysthymia (chronic baseline of mild depression) to full-blown major depression episode, happiness, joy, contentment, elation, belongingness, love, jealousy, envy, resentment, anger, hatred, disgust, guilt, shame, disappointment, fear, desperation, frustration, and hopefulness, may be magnified during this time of year. Some people may feel distressed and even overwhelmed by their feelings, but do not quite know how to cope with their emotions. They may feel compelled to act on their emotions with “negative” behavior, such as a variety of harmful addictions or acting out by harming others.

Advices are usually given out freely and numerous articles are written, but unfortunately, they are simply too superficial to be helpful to readers who come from a variety of background and experiences, and have different sets of problems. No favorite quotations, phrases, clichés, proverbs, anecdotes, words of wisdom, or wise sayings, regardless of their popularity or how it may provide a person with a temporary sense of solace and “good-feeling”, can adequately address people’s feelings partially because of the vast, complex, and often misunderstood or under-appreciated elements that compose any given individual’s personal situation, psyche and state of mind. In fact, current emotions may be haunting and lingering symptoms of deeper, longstanding, rather serious, and unconscious/subconscious problems from the distant past.

Lesson #1: If we cut to the chase, life is ultimately about relationships! Therefore, when a disconnection from our inner self is present, we tend to fail in various relationships at many levels and thus experience the feeling of numerous negative emotions.

Key Points

1) Life is basically about relationships, but people vary in their communication styles and relationship skills and thus have different levels of success in relationships. Some people never learned about moderation and balance, often because they lacked competent and skilled parents or substitute caretakers/role-models who took the time and taught appropriate life and stress coping skills.

Thus, children grow up with dysfunctional communication styles and coping skills, typically at one or both extreme ends: (1) similar style as the parent(s)/caretaker(s), or (2) adoption of polar style of the caretaker(s) through the process of rebellion. A key point is neither extreme communication style and coping skills are fruitful to the individual and thus to surrounding people and environment in the long run and miss the moderate, balanced, centered, or “middle way”, so often recommended by spiritual authors.

2) A variety of relationships exist in life, and we can place them into 4 major categories:

    a) Relationship with our inner self

    b) Relationship with a “higher power”

    c) Relationship with our environment

    d) Relationship with other people:

  • intimate partner(s)
  • our parents
  • our children
  • other family members, such as siblings or extended family
  • friends
  • boss/authoritative figures
  • co-workers
  • subordinates
  • acquaintances
  • strangers

3) Few people in this world have attained a high level of spirituality. However, people use the term “spiritual” in a variety of ways and often assume others have the same definition. For instance, some people use the term spiritual and religious interchangeably, whereas others consider them to be two very separate things. This author defines a spiritual person as someone having found inner peace and tranquility, i.e. finding authenticity within, regardless of whether it was through religion or another path. Thus, a highly spiritual person is secure deep down about oneself, has a pure heart and soul, and possesses the moral virtues of loving-kindness, compassion, fairness, and temperance (not just tolerance of other people and their beliefs).

A spiritual person, after discovering inner peace, is then capable of developing a clear mind, in comparison to many other people who experience constant mental chatter or noise that clouds their perception, interpretation, and understanding of life events, environment, a higher power, and other people. Thus, most people live in various forms and degree of self-deception, whereas a highly spiritual person has overcome the fallacy of self-deception (or perhaps experiences a lesser degree of self-deception), which in turn allows her to deal with others and the environment in a more authentic, honest, and fair way.

4) In contrast to spiritual people, who start by focusing on relationship with oneself and developing a good self-concept before they focus on developing relationships with others, many people with emotional problems go about it backwards: they seek external relationships first, in particular a romantic/intimate partner. The problem with seeking security through external relationships, without developing inner sense of security first, is that one cannot really give what one does not already possesses and has experienced.

For example, one cannot provide authentic security and give true love to another person if one does not possess true love and a good self-concept through a sense of solid security within. One simply cannot give what one does not have. And unfortunately, an unloved and abused child often grows up to become an adult who has difficulty not just in giving love, but also in receiving love.

5) A good test of a person’s spiritual level is how he relates and deals with strangers. Although some of us abuse our own family members, many people love and treat loved ones, primarily own family, with respect, but the matter of fact is that it is relatively easy to respect, love, and care for a spouse or child because they represent extensions of ourselves. However, only a very secure person with inner peace and tranquility possesses a mindset and belief system that allow her to truly treat, respect and love a mere stranger to the same or similar degree as her own family on a consistent basis.

Happy Holidays and see you next time for lesson #2,

Tobey Leung, MD

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