Yoga Articles by Joel Kramer and Diana Alstad

Exploring Relationships - Interpersonal Yoga (Page 5)


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People often use values to justify their desires or feelings and this keeps them from listening. Values used in this fashion can actually make you more insensitive. For example, if you are feeling caged in and want more freedom, you espouse a value system with freedom and self-sufficiency as the ideals. Then rather than responding to the hurt in your mate's jealousy, you discount their feelings as either overly dependent or self-centered, and try to convince them they shouldn't feel that way or you make them feel guilty for tying you down and being possessive. ("Self-centered," "dependent" and "possessive" are value-laden words.)

Each person may have different needs for growth or fulfillment at any stage in the relationship. One of the most common problems in a couple occurs when one person wants more time and freedom to explore outside interests, while the other wants more intimacy and time together. Each position could easily find values to support and reinforce itself as the way to be, such as, "Openness should not be limited,'' versus "Scattering yourself in too many places is superficial and prevents depth." Feeling that your way is superior keeps you from seeing how each stance (in this case the "external-exploratory" versus the "relationship focused") can be valuable for the relationship. These two seemingly opposed positions could actually complement and balance each other: the one brings newness in from the outside, keeping interest alive; the other focuses and centers the relationship, giving it continuity and depth. To achieve this balance, each side must accept and appreciate the other's feelings and point of view, letting go of the pleasures of feeling superior and righteous.

Clarifying the problem doesn't automatically reveal a solution, though it may. A knot may either disappear, remain in an altered form, or reveal itself to be a real "impasse." You can only distinguish a knot from an impasse if you go into it and unravel it to its core. Unraveling a knot often leaves nothing there, whereas in an impasse there are fundamental differences at the core, perhaps a basic conflict as to what direction or form the relationship should take, that at the time seems to be unresolvable. If it's an impasse, it becomes important to live with it, carefully observing it and getting acquainted with all its nooks and crannies, instead of trying to get rid of it or wishing it away. Resisting an impasse tends to perpetuate it. Once the rigidities of the supporting value systems are removed, impasses can change. Exploring not only your own emotional states, but also being sensitive to the other's, can be a form of yoga which may open things up unexpectedly and in surprising ways, as yoga often does. This can allow real contact, even in the midst of discord.

Anger and "Clean Communication"
Anger, which may be coating hurt, usually contains an element of "getting even," a barb of pain. When you've been hurt, there's an automatic tendency to want to retaliate. Pain breeds pain. You may hurt the other under the guise of honesty and openness, without realizing consciously what your intent is. (One is, for the most part, not aware of this vindictive aspect in oneself.) Self-righteousness, stemming from feeling you've been "wronged," accompanies and fuels anger, which makes getting back at the other seem warranted. Anger is like a loop that feeds and justifies itself through blame. There is also great energy and sometimes even pleasure in it, which makes it harder to let go of.

If, when angry, you recognize your impulse to get even and at the same time realize this will close communication by feeding the endless cycle of hurt and anger, that very perception alters the situation. Simple rules, such as "emotions must be fully expressed," do not apply. It's true that if you habitually bottle up your anger and internalize it, it will be physically harmful to you and create a potential explosive backlog of unfinished business. Since you cant hide anger for long, it will come out in more indirect and insidious ways anyway. But on the other hand, if you unleash it unawarely and vindictively, you close the other to hearing you. To keep communication open, there is an edge that must be played between expressing and releasing anger, and holding it back. If your real motive is to punish, blame or make the other person feel guilty, he or she will sense this and close down to you. If, however, you are more interested in communicating how you feel and what you think is going on (including your contribution to it), this may open the other up to hearing you. Once again, it's not simple, for just as truth can be used as a weapon, anger and hurt can be used subtly to manipulate and control. Seeing your true motivation - whether you're more interested in being heard (and hearing), or in getting your way or retaliating - is crucial.

One might be surprised how many daily interactions, rather than stemming from openness, are geared toward winning, impressing, or being right. It's essential to be aware of these tendencies in yourself because ultimately your real intentions, conscious or unconscious, are what matter most of all. In all forms of yoga, the process is greatly affected by your motives and also by awareness, which includes awareness of your motives. Where you're coming from is the source of what you do. In physical yoga, the most important element is the quality of attention you bring to the postures while using them as tools or structures to explore your body. This is also true in interpersonal yoga. There are guidelines that may help open up communication that can be looked on as relational tools. Although some of these techniques are not new, approaching them from a yogic point of view can give them new meaning.

Many communication guidelines involve giving and receiving unpleasant feedback in a way that minimizes defensiveness. This is what I call "clean communication" and it is essential for working out with each other. The time when it's most important, of course, is just when it's most difficult: when you feel angry, hurt, jealous or threatened. The more cleanly you express these feelings, the easier it is to be heard, since good feedback tries to cut through resistances, conditioning, and reactions that hinder listening. Defensiveness automatically implies closing down, fortifying boundaries and building a case for self-justification. Reducing defensiveness requires care: paying attention to the words you choose (particularly avoiding subtle ways of criticizing), developing a sense of timing and ways of approaching difficult topics, and becoming attuned to the non-verbal nuances of reaction. Sincerely examining your own role in the problem is, of course, essential.

Staying in touch with your feelings can also help: instead of telling the other person what's wrong with them, you can say how what they do makes you feel. Here you're not demanding that the other change, but rather giving information on how they affect you. This in turn leaves you open to their telling you how what you do affects them, but that's part of opening up, too. In this way you can both learn something new about each other. If you say, "When you don't pick up after yourself it's hard for me to work in such an environment," this doesn't imply the other is wrong for not being neater or that you are superior. In fact, you could build a value system to defend either "neat" or "messy" behavior: if one says, "What you call 'messy' is really just being loose and natural, while your 'neatness' is tight and compulsive," the other could retort, "A centered person is more orderly, for how you are inside is reflected outside." Knots form around differences when each person, using values, tries to prove the other wrong. It's easier to live with and iron out differences if values don't get in the way.

How you feel is a fact, in itself neither right nor wrong. By expressing your feelings, you lessen the chances of getting bogged down in theoretical discussions on values, intent or motives. You can always disagree with interpretations and value judgments, but not with how another person is feeling. Negative feedback, given cleanly, is an opening that leaves the giver potentially vulnerable and thus implies he or she is willing to put time and energy into the relationship. Giving difficult or unpleasant feedback can be looked upon a a gift that could open your relationship up in new areas and smooth undercurrents of tension. Seeing this feedback as a gift, instead of an attack, makes it easier to receive as well as to give.

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