Healing Through Awareness, Connection and LoveJan 31, 2023 08:00PM ● By Leah Martinson
It is in our earliest experiences with love that we form our beliefs and narratives around worthiness and deserving love. The most formative relationships are between children and their parents or primary caregivers. It is within these relationships that we form our first impressions and understanding of what love is.
Many of the popular mainstream religions teach about the value, importance and power of unconditional love. Though there seems to be a common understanding that unconditional love, especially for our children, is the way to go, putting it into practice is easier said than done. Many may even believe they offer unconditional love because they feel unconditionally loving, but often our behavior and reactions do not match the true nature of unconditional love. Too often when a loved one behaves in a way that is undesirable or upsetting, the reaction is to temporarily sever the connection, isolate them or cast judgement. For example, when a child exhibits a behavior that is perceived by the parent as challenging or “naughty”, a common disciplinary measure is to put the defiant child in a time-out. While this may curtail the behavior, it also sends the message that when you make a mistake, you need to be by yourself, or that others only want to be with you when you are behaving in a way that is pleasing to them.
These messages are not consistent with unconditional love. In fact, it puts conditions on how one must behave to gain love and acceptance. Because this is such a popular method for controlling our children’s behavior, most of us have experienced isolation brought on by a behavior that others perceived as problematic. We take these experiences into adulthood and use similar measures to resolve conflict.
In truth, when a child or adult is “acting out”, there are underlying emotions and unmet needs causing the behavior or actions. Often, in the case of children acting out, they are actually in need of connection and are unable to communicate that verbally. When we react by severing the connection rather than seeking to understand the behavior, this causes a stress response in the child, leading to an intensified reaction.
This stress response leaves a mark on the nervous system and can go on to develop into a stress trigger for adults. Often in times of conflict, even adults struggle with feeling triggered, activating the stress response and impairing their ability to respond from a calm and clear mind and body. When we shut down the conflict through judgement and severed connection, it represses the emotions and drives unmet needs even deeper within. The conflict is never actually resolved; the behavior has just stopped in that moment.
Imagine how the world would change if, in times of conflict, we were able to pause, reflect, seek to understand and connect, to truly practice unconditional love. We could soften to each other, lean in and seek to understand rather than shut down or overpower to avoid the discomfort. In opening our hearts to see the pain or unmet need behind the person’s behavior, something that we perceive as conflict or bad behavior could actually bring us closer together.
Cultivating the ability to soften in the face of conflict or challenging behavior takes a great deal of self-awareness and self-compassion. When we are able to give space and time for understanding our reactions and triggers, we can meet them with compassion and extend this compassion and understanding to others. This, of course, does not mean allowing others to treat us poorly or not having any boundaries. It is simply a practice in noticing what comes up in you when someone else exhibits an undesirable behavior, and tending to your own wounding with love and compassion so that you can extend that love and compassion to another.
An open and heart-centered approach to living and relationships could be the key to less conflict, more connection and a collectively higher level of social-emotional well-being.
Leah Martinson is a board-certified health and wellness coach, licensed massage therapist, reiki practitioner and owner of Visionairium, in Minneapolis. One of her greatest joys in her practice is guiding people through the process of falling in love with themselves and watching their dreams unfold from a place of compassionate allowing. For more information, visit Visionairium.com.
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