Last night I stayed up watching TED Talks on relationships. Taking notes, gasping, laughing nervously and reflecting. It continues to astonish me how we’re barely taught emotional laws that explain our inner world and that of interpersonal dynamics, hence our over-reliance on our parents’ coupling styles. Not so many of us have had it good.
I wrote lots of notes I’d like to share with you, much of them personalized because I jotted what resonated with me.
I’m sharing this because I know I’m not the only one who has struggled with being a healthy partner to my lovers much as the only stories we share are those of our heartbreaks. I was compelled to be intentional about this part of my life out of certain recurrent patterns that continued to inform how I chose to handle conflict. I am putting it in past tense because I am manifesting a new me. A more improved healthier Onyango.
I realized just how past hurts, both in my childhood and former relationships paralyzed me to the point I stopped fully showing up for the relationships in my present, for fear of being hurt, fear of losing control, fear fear fear. How tragic it’s been; I’ve had to pay dearly for situations I fucked up that I should have done better.
There were three particular fundamental habits for successful relationships that stood out for me. I’ll break them down with first-hand experiences. Simple as they are, they aren’t that common.
Invest the time to understand how you’re wired differently from your partner. You see if you underwent Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), chances are your receptor fields are wounded. A receptor field is a portion of sensory space that can elicit neuronal responses when stimulated.
If you were emotionally abandoned out of various reasons; either your parents fought a lot or they worked late for long without connecting with you or they spent lots of time migrating due to different causes and you didn’t have a stable community growing up and nobody explained anything to you, or you were often criticized for every little thing you did and you felt like there was too much expectation with no room for mistakes, it’s easy to project your abandonment trauma to your partners whenever you feel they do not communicate according to your needs, by constantly criticizing them.
This has been my major downfall for years. I’ve criticized more than I got curious to know what’s really happening to my partner.
I was constantly shunned, maligned and shamed. How did it reflect in my adult relationships? I pointed fingers at my partners before knowing what they were going through without giving them room for mistakes. Room to be human, yet I wanted them to understand me all the time. In many subtle ways.
CONNECT, BEFORE YOU CORRECT
People go where they are welcomed, but stay where they are valued. Our first instinct as a trauma response threaded to the first point is to flee or fight or freeze. Many times in relationships we correct before connecting.
This too has been me over the years.
Yes, I am many amazing things but the downside of lacking healthy conflict resolution mechanisms is you resort to what you’ve always known, and that is, for most of us, what we saw at home. It’s very subconscious. If you are not aware of this, you might wonder why your relationships never seem to work on this front yet you think of yourself as a really good person.
Connect before you correct. Your partner wants to be heard just like you before being accused. Love is not a battlefield. It ought to be a secure place for your relationship. The chaos you witnessed as a child should not have happened. Neither should it happen with your loved ones today.
Reprogram automatic responses to conflict. Social support is fundamental for this. We need people who gather and center us. Many of us were severely punished for little mistakes. I actually remember being deprived of food and sleeping hungry for not doing something right. Or told to shower with cold water. I still have trauma for that. I barely shower with cold water even in the hottest weather.
What you grow up believing is the first instinct to conflict is charging back at people, even when they meant no harm or you are not in danger. It’s a defense mechanism to unlearn.
We end up hurting loved ones thinking we are protecting ourselves. It’s a tough lesson I’ve had to learn. All this not to blame myself for using the only tools I had, but also to humanize my experience and forgive myself. I’ve hurt people with my words and it triggered them in ways I never anticipated. Coz you’d be lucky today to meet anyone who’s not been through some kind of trauma they’re living with or healing from.
The projection of our unhealed traumas on others triggers their unhealed traumas. And sometimes, you just really hurt people.
I’ve made my partners feel they were not enough using my words. I see now it was more a projection of what I felt about myself. That I wasn’t worthy of love or attention or safety, explaining why I had high walls that kept me out of reach of affection from my friends and partners.
Here are courses of action I’m taking up to better my relational health and conflict resolution skills:
To be cognizant of what informs my immediate reaction and delay responding hastily when I’m stimulated. To want to understand the other person first before reacting. Holding space.
RESPOND TO THE OTHER PERSON’S NEEDS
Yes, my emotions are important but I need to put more effort to respond to the other person’s needs first. What do they want me to understand? If I’m not sure could I ask for clarifications?
Questions I need to ask when I feel some typa way in response to (potential) conflict:
– What’s getting me triggered?
– What’s underneath of that?
– What do I need to heal in me to not respond hastily and hurtfully again?
It sounds like a lot of work to do in micro-seconds because our brains are pure electricity, but with much practice, it gets better.
I’m also realizing that living in an already socially sick society, there are barely models of healthy relationships to emulate. That eats all of us slowly. We never see it. I have to dig deep into my consciousness and build up that which sparks my fire.
I noticed that over the years, with more adulting responsibilities, exhausting relationships, and my traumas coming to surface, I stopped writing as much, or playing football, or singing, dancing and rapping, or showing deep acts of romance (yes, I’m a hopeless romantic).
I started expecting too much from people around me, and this slowly killed my emotional wavelength because I stopped feeding myself.
“Nobody tells you the truth. I once asked one of the ladies, “Did you ever have an affair?” And she stared at me like I was crazy. “Why would I tell you? She said. Another time, someone had just bought an apartment and I said, “How much?” And she said, “That is really none of your business.” And I thought, fine. Then we are not friends and I don’t want to spend any more time with you. I was friendly with one couple who I no longer see at all. They would always say, “We’re such good friends.” And then I found out that their daughter had a complete nervous breakdown. For a year, I was always told everything is wonderful. There’s only one woman I’m still friends with from that period of my life. She’s honest. She will sit there and say, “Life is crap.” All I want you to do, if we are sitting down and it’s after 6pm, is tell me the truth. Because we’ve all lied to each other all day long in business and we’ve all had these lunches and we’ve all ass-kissed to the point where I carry Chapstick. If I am going to sit down and eat with you, just tell me the truth and let me say to you, “Things are lousy and I’m sad.”
– Joan Rivers