I’ve recently spent a week with a single mother and her two children (5 and 8 years old). I am left with an appreciation of the great demands and expectations our society puts on single mothers – and how little support they are given. I learnt lots of stuff about children and how they live in the world. Perhaps this will be the subject of another post or two.
This post is about something else that I found quite striking. The kids when they wanted something would ask for it. When their mother said no, they would ask again – more loudly. And then more and more loudly. The principle seemed to be: If screaming doesn’t work – scream louder! Usually this didn’t work (though occasionally it did). If it didn’t usually work, why did they do it?
Then it started seeming not so strange. I think adults do it too – in all sorts of ways from the humble to the more serious. At the serious end are things like people leaving one partner only to get together with a new partner who they have the same problems with.
So I started wondering about why we adults do this. I think it is because we have fixed ideas that we don’t challenge. When our way of relating doesn’t work or a relationship is going badly we go back to our ideas of who we are: who we feel ourselves truly to be.
The problem as I see it is this. Who we believe ourselves to be was how we thought of ourselves when we got into the bad way of relating (or bad relationship) in the first place. Going back to what we feel is our basic self, or the core of who we are, is not enough. It can be just starting again in the same old way. It can be a way of avoiding looking at our contribution to the problem. This is who I am: so I have to do this. The unspoken (or unthought) thought is: so I won’t worry about the consequences.
When I got divorced the scary part was that it was outside the story of my life as I had envisaged it. Getting divorced simply didn’t fit. It was like stepping into empty space – and I felt quite anxious – and started filling the empty space with ideas of what might happen (both good and bad).
I was lucky. I had friends and family who were supportive. I wouldn’t be entirely abandoned, so it was easier for me than for many. And it took me time to get develop a new way of living. Being with a new partner, developing our way of getting on, how we would live together, do the household routines and so on. It took me more than a year to realise I would not be automatically criticised during conversations about how we were to relate to each other. I would find myself for many months slipping back to my old way of responding and feeling.
To develop a new way of relating or to change a relationship can be difficult. Part of the challenge and difficulty I think is being willing to challenge our ideas about who we are.
Here are a couple of ideas to help you think about this.
- Imagine someone as opposite to you as you can. (This could be a real person or just someone you imagine.) Then ask if you don’t have some things in common. It is almost certain that there will be something in common.
- What is a quality or way of relating that you think of as being a part of you? What would you be like without this? Perhaps there would be positives as well as negatives.
Questioning who we are may lead us to new perceptions about ourselves. It may lead to us developing new ways of relating and new relationships. It may be liberating.
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