Intimacy Killer: Conflict Avoidance
Do you avoid conflicts because you want to keep the peace in your relationship? That may work for a while, but eventually you will distance from each other, widening the gap in your intimacy – the very thing you did not want. You will find yourself in a catch-22. If you do not deal with the conflict, distance eventually increases. If you deal with the conflict, fear of rejection or anger may increase. What’s the wisest thing to do?
“… when you finally find there is no way out but self-awareness and the incredible pain and loneliness and responsibility it brings, then and only then will you begin to be alive, and begin to know the joy of freedom.” ~ Das Energi by Paul Williams
How about building that idea into the blue print of your loving relationships? It doesn’t sound like a lot of fun, does it? Well, maybe not, but if you don’t, your loving relationships will decay over time. That opens the door to affairs and other exit strategies.
To increase intimacy with your partner, you must first increase intimacy with your self and stop avoiding conflicts. Can you stay fully present with your self in the midst of your inner conflict – your fear, your loneliness, your anger, your hurt, and your pain? Or do you tell yourself you should not feel these things? Do you tell yourself to buck up, be strong, and get over it?
To birth mature intimacy, you must take full responsibility for your own feelings, thoughts and reactions. You have to stop avoiding unwanted parts of yourself. You must learn how to be totally honest with your self and with your partner, including your full range of emotions. Do not hold emotions inside like a child hiding in a cave. This only leads to depressed mood, and in the extreme, it can lead to violence against self. Do not act out and explode. This leads to defensiveness, criticism, contempt, and in the extreme, abuse and violence.
Caveat: Promise to stay emotionally intimate with your partner while you work through conflicts unless there is abuse in any form: physical, emotional, mental, financial, spiritual. When there is abuse, you must set boundaries to take good care of yourself. Respect yourself. Do not let yourself be abused. If mental illness makes it impossible for you and/or your partner to apply these tools, get help from a skilled psychotherapist.
Unless you have some good psychotherapy experience under your belt, or you are naturally introspective, you probably do not relish the thought of looking deep within yourself and feeling uncomfortable emotions like sadness, fear, insecurity or anger. I didn’t for the longest time.
Benita’s Story: How I Learned to Use Conflict to Accelerate My Transformational Journey
When I was in my 20’s, I avoided conflict until it built up to the boiling point, and then it would spill over, hurting my partner and myself. I didn’t know any better.
My first mentor, Frederic, taught me: Conflict is a necessary part of intimacy. I hated hearing that. I just wanted harmony and love.
I remember the first weekend retreat with Frederic. He empathized with me saying, “You’re feeling really fragile right now, aren’t you?” At first, I didn’t know what he meant. I didn’t think my emotional pain was so obvious. My boyfriend, Joe, had been distancing from me. I wanted to talk about our conflicts and get them worked out, but he gave me the silent treatment. I felt rejected and lonely. That is one of the worst feelings in the world. I felt helpless to get him to open up. He pushed me away, and my self-esteem plummeted. My happiness depended on his loving me. I didn’t know at the time that I was codependent.
Frederic, saw the pain stimulated in the presence of Joe, but Frederic also saw a deeper pain that I did not realize was there. Frederic looked through the windows of my soul, down through the layers of my psyche, and found the core pain I had been avoiding for years. I was grieving over not having the love I wanted from my father. I did not know how to get my dad to emotionally open up either. As a child, I thought there must be something I could do to win his love. Now in my 20’s, I had unconsciously gravitated to a man like my dad.
Dr. Harville Hendrix in his book “Getting The Love You Want,” tells us that this is a common phenomenon. If we can mate with a partner who reminds us enough of our parent with whom we have emotional wounds, and if our mate will finally love us the way we always wanted to be loved, the whole pattern of wounding will be healed. The challenge is this: Will we choose to become aware of our underlying wounds, and take responsibility for our own healing? Will our partner assume his or her responsibility for their own healing, and join us in the transformational journey?
In the first weekend retreat, Frederic helped me understand that I had been avoiding conflicts within myself. Held within his loving arms and that of the group, I began to drop into feeling 24 years of grief. It was the first time that I let myself feel the depth of my emotions. It was the first time that I understood that it was important to do so and that it was necessary for healing. It was the beginning of learning how to develop emotional intimacy within my self so I could become my own best friend. It was the beginning of learning how to stop rejecting myself, and to stop blaming a man for my anguish. I was on my way to being able to stop feeling like a victim.
I learned that it was necessary to embrace my pain, and stop abandoning myself. It was also important to develop the courage to stop avoiding conflicts with others, and thereby avoiding my own uncomfortable emotions. It was important to show up fully, and to be my Authentic Self in a respectful manner.
I became my mentor’s star student. I thought, “OK, I will feel my emotions. Then I will be cured, and I will feel happy.” That is the goal of life … to be happy, right? Well, that’s what I thought, but it didn’t really work that way. Only by embracing all of our emotional experiences can we feel calm in the middle of the hurricane.
Frederic and I did lots of wonderful deep healing work together over a year. I am forever grateful for his guidance; it has had a lasting influence on my life. I highly recommend you find a mentor, a counselor, or a teacher to usher you through the perilous parts of your transformational journey. It will be one of the most fulfilling experiences of your life.
As long as Frederic was available to support me and guide me, life got a lot better. But when he ended our relationship, I experienced intense grief once again. I felt a huge empty hole. I felt even more anguish than before because now I had experienced what it was like to be fully loved by a man. But now he was gone.
Frederic had taught me well. I stayed present with myself at a whole new level while I grieved losing him.
A few more years passed as well as a few more relationships. Without a mentor by my side to help me develop more mastery, I reverted. Even though I had learned a lot, my courage waivered to stay fully connected. I was still pushing away parts of myself … the parts I did not like … the emotional insecurity, the grief, the sadness, the emptiness, and the anger. I learned there are levels of mastery. Just like in karate, there are several belts that demonstrate different levels of mastery.
I have an on-going desire to look inside myself and grow. I realized that I was still making my sense of wholeness dependent on a man’s love. I still believed in the fairy tale of “happily ever after.” I also realized that unless I was feeling happy and successful, I still felt empty inside. Codependence still took up a lot of space in my psyche. If you knew me then, you would have seen a competent, successful woman. But, if you could have looked deeper, you would have seen a woman suffering from low self-esteem. Why?
I finally realized one of most important things: I was running from my own emotional insecurity. I hated admitting that I felt needy. Romance had been my primary avoidance tactic. As long as I was pursuing a romance, I could avoid my internal turmoil. If we have to push away parts of ourselves to feel whole, we will continue to abandon ourselves. In turn, we will attract others who will abandon us, neglect us or abuse us. That hurts.
I pulled myself up short and made myself stop. I needed to face my insecurity, and develop the ability to unconditionally love myself, even with my insecurity. I needed to stop trying to make a man responsible for loving me just the right way so I would feel whole. How in the world could he do that for me if I did not know how to do that for myself? I needed to let God love me, to receive God’s love, imperfections and all.
I stopped dating men, and I started dating the Holy Spirit.
I realized that I wanted a man to give me what I had not yet given to myself—love, nurturance, and playfulness. This disowning of self is what psychologists call projection. We see in others what we do not see in ourselves, or we have not developed in ourselves.
I wrote a series of dialogues between my Sacred Inner Beloved (aka the Holy Spirit) and my insecure personality self. At first, the Sacred Inner Beloved was a term I created that represented my ideal inner man who would love me unconditionally. Now, I also understand the Sacred Inner Beloved is the Holy Spirit.
I poured out my anguish to my Sacred Inner Beloved without censoring myself or feeling guilty. I vowed to stop judging my emotional insecurity. Then I waited for the response from my Sacred Inner Beloved. I listened, not knowing what would come, and I wrote word by word as the thoughts came to my mind.
Here is one of my first dialogues with my Sacred Inner Beloved.
Letter from Sacred Inner Beloved To Benita
Sacred Inner Beloved: This is what I would like you to know. My love for you endures through the centuries, and this love cannot be put out like a candle flame. Every time you feel stomped on by the ignorant judgment of people, I am still here for you, loving you, even when you forget I am here for you.
Your loneliness is a great suffering. Yet there is nothing I can do until you turn your attention to me, and call my name rather than the name of your other gods. When will you choose me as your lover? When will you tire of all those things that you have to do: plant the gardens, water the grass, balance the books, work on your computer and take care of your clients?
All the time I wait. I wait. I ache for you.
I am your heart, your spirit, your life force. The world is an intriguing place with much to experience and explore. But be wary of its alluring glitz and glitter: the fantasies of Mr. Right and having to be successful. They cannot replace a true loving relationship with me … just you and me.
I long for you to come to me to share a dance between the two of us. I am your Spirit. I am the Holy Spirit.
I have desires, too. I long to intertwine my energy with you in that very magnificent human body to experience the most exquisite love and ecstasy … sweetness beyond your everyday boring routine. The sweetness of a new lover going deeper and deeper than you have ever known. Remember when you first fell in love? Well, I long for that with you! I need you and you need me. No one taught you how to fall in love. You learned from being in the experience.”
Benita: “How do I learn this?” I asked. Whatever “this” is. I don’t even know. I am so new at this.
Sacred Inner Beloved: “It is bliss. Spiritual oneness. A deep and abiding inner relationship … a feeling, a knowing. It’s like being in love with your best friend … fully alive … just like you feel by the Lake and by the ocean. Trust me. Spend time with me. Just be open and listen to me and write. Write in your journal and walk with me every day.”
* * *
In the beginning, I did not know where these dialogues would take me. I just knew I had to write and commune with the Holy Spirit. The sense of wholeness did not happen all at once. It developed over time. Just like with any relationship, spiritual and emotional intimacy takes time to develop.
As a delightful bonus, night dreams paralleled my Sacred Inner Beloved dialogues. Once a week for a year, a different man would appear in a dream. In the beginning, the man was distant, young and immature. He did not connect with me well. As the dreams continued, the men grew more emotionally available. At the end of the year, a man appeared in my dreams who truly loved me, connected deeply, and he was totally available. He gave me a diamond ring and asked me to marry him. Feeling close and happy, the final dream was that of our wedding day. He was handsome and bright, and I adored him. He cherished me, just the way I always wanted to feel.
A year’s worth of inner work concluded with that wedding dream. I had internalized a higher level of self-esteem. I could be present with all my emotions … the insecurity, the grief, the anger. I stopped avoiding my inner conflicts. The Holy Spirit – my Sacred Inner Beloved – had showered me with love and convinced me that I did not need to be perfect to be loved. My sense of wholeness no longer depended on being happy all the time, or being in a romantic relationship. I had my own romance with the Holy Spirit. My sense of wholeness depended only on my desire to feel the love of God, and to connect with myself every moment, with gentleness and compassion.
I did not attend church much that year of the Sacred Inner Beloved dialogues. I was cocooning, deepening, maturing. One warm spring day, I felt like going to church. A female acquaintance approached me and exclaimed, “You like you are in love!” I replied, “I am in love … with my Sacred Inner Beloved.”
Whether you are in a romantic relationship, or you want to create one, I strongly encourage you to develop your relationship with your Sacred Inner Beloved, the Holy Spirit. It is a good idea to enlist a highly qualified psychotherapist to help you with this process.
Remember, it is not your mate’s responsibility to make you happy. As you heal your inner wounds, you will accept your imperfections, and rest in the unconditional love of the Holy Spirit. You will still have emotional issues from time to time, but they will not define you. You will be able to observe your coping strategies and remain objective. You will know how to observe your thoughts, interpretations, emotions, behavior, and body. You’ll be less reactive. You will be more patient with yourself and others. You will learn from your experiences and grow in maturity. You will know your core essence, your Authentic Self, the way God made you. You will know how to access wisdom and love from the Holy Spirit, your one true source.
As you develop the skills to stop avoiding your inner conflict and share your awareness with your partner, you will evolve your relationship. As you communicate from the depth of your being in a responsible mature way, your partner will be more likely to reciprocate. You will finally be able to reap the rewards of a truly flourishing relationship, the kind that is made in Heaven.
Sound like a lot of work? Well, it is. But, consider this analogy. Attending college and getting a degree is hard work, too, but that is culturally accepted. It is time for us to attend “college” and get a degree in self-awareness and healthy romance. If your heart yearns for a healthy, happy relationship, don’t waste another minute.
Now It’s Your Turn
Suggestions to develop emotional and spiritual intimacy
• Write dialogues with your Sacred Inner Beloved at least three times a week, following my example above. Start with sharing your own pain, insecurity, fear or anger. Then listen to what the Holy Spirit wants to tell you. Write that.
• Listen to my CD: “The Journey into Wholeness”.
While you relax with deep breathing and a beautiful nature scene in your mind, enjoy inner peace and access wisdom from the Holy Spirit. Affirmations help you develop intimacy with God and with your Authentic Self so you can express mature love to others.
• To rapidly accelerate your growth, attend my intensive retreats.
• Contact me to schedule a private counseling session: 770.998.6642. Individuals and couples are welcome.
Valentine’s Couples Retreat 2014
February 15-16, 2014. Enrollment is limited to 4 couples. Call today to save your seat.
Your Authentic Life Deep Emotional Healing Women’s Retreat 2014
Explore, Excavate, Express your Authentic Self. April 11 -13, 2014. Receive a $75.00 Discount when you enroll by March 1.
Contact Information. Facilitator: Benita A. Esposito. Bio. For more information about how you can receive help, request a 10-minute complementary phone interview. Enter your contact information in the “comment box” or use the contact page on this website: www.Flourishing-Lives.com. Offices in Atlanta and Blairsville, Georgia. Distance counseling is available via telephone and video-conferencing.
Copyright 2014. The Esposito Institute, Inc. www.EspositoInstitute.com