“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” – Carl Jung
Let’s face it – life is all about relationships. From the moment that we step out of our door, we’re immersed in them. Relationships are the connective tissue of life that links you with myriads of fellow beings around you – be it your parents, siblings, significant other, children, coworkers or neighbors.
Each of these relationships has varying dimensions, timeframes and intensities. As the saying goes, “People come into your life for a reason, season or a lifetime.” Yet every relationship serves a different purpose in our life and we’re dependent on each other, not only for our physical needs but for our emotional and spiritual needs as well.
In the early times, living together was not optional but a necessity to ensure survival. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors required each member of their clan to play a specific role that benefited their group as a whole. There were the warriors and hunters who would protect and search for food. The nurturers stayed home to take care of domestic duties such as child-rearing, cooking and tending to the sick.
Nowadays, most independent professionals can get their basic needs of food, shelter and safety met. But this possibility has led to an emerging trend of isolation and loneliness in our society. John Cacioppo, author of Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection, states that scholars estimated 20% of people in the US during the 1980s felt lonely at any given time; now, it’s thought to be over 40%.
According to Psychology Today, the number of people suffering from loneliness, on a global level, has reached epidemic levels. The reason why we’re seeing the rise of this disturbing trend is because of people’s lack of initiative in cultivating deep connections due to busyness and an increased dependence on superficial online connections. Some don’t like the idea of being vulnerable or dependent on anyone.
The truth is that we’re only doing ourselves a disservice when we chose to live like an island, separate from everyone else. Our psychological wellbeing suffers greatly when we lack meaningful relationships in our lives. Not only are genuine relationships a source of comfort, support, fun and companionship, but they offer major opportunities for personal and professional growth.
There are some lessons that cannot be learned outside the context of a relationship. Every interaction will bring out different sides of you and give you a chance to observe your reactions from a variety of perspectives. I’ll bet that if you took the time to analyze and reflect on the relationships that have had the biggest impact on you, you’ll find a treasure trove of wisdom and knowledge about yourself.
After looking back on my life and connecting the dots, I can see that one of my major lessons was learning to love and accept myself just the way I am. Throughout my teens and 20s, I met partners and friends under the right circumstances for me to learn this lesson. Sometimes it was rough and painful, but their actions, ultimately, unveiled the truth and inspired me to take steps towards healing myself.
Intimate connections that trigger you and push your buttons are especially critical in addressing any unhealed inner-child issues and discovering your shadow. They are like mirrors placed right in front of us, to witness all those warts and ugly parts of ourselves that we’ve been avoiding. We’ve disowned or hidden them from our awareness, but relationships bring them right out for us to face and deal with.
If we could assimilate the truth that we are essentially what we see in the world, we’d find it much easier to identify our relationships as great sources of teachings. When we integrate those lessons into our personal philosophy, we’ll be able to grow, evolve and progress to higher levels of existence.
According to esoteric and metaphysical principles, every person that we meet is serving a higher purpose of furthering our soul’s knowledge in this Earth school, and we attract only those who are relevant to each chapter in our journey. The most significant individuals are commonly referred to as our soul mates, twin flames, or just someone you have a deep, karmic connection with from past lives.
However, we can only extract wisdom from our relationships if we’re willing to be accountable and take responsibility for our actions and what we bring to the table. An individual who’s defensive and takes things personally does not have the emotional bandwidth for gaining wisdom from their connections with others. A delicate ego and damaged self-esteem will cause a person to be closed off from learning.
If this is the case for you, you need to take steps towards opening your mind and heart so that you can receive the lessons. Start by analyzing your most significant relationships and answer these questions:
- Why are/were you drawn to this relationship?
- What did you learn about yourself from this experience?
- What do you think you can change or do better?
- How do you feel about the person/relationship now? Would you like to change how you feel?
Based on an analysis of my past connections, I’ve learned some truths that convince me that our relationships are indeed our greatest teachers, if we’re open to the lessons. Here are a few that I’d like to share with you:
- Relationships teach you how to live your potential: If you surround yourselves with the right people who can guide or mentor you, your progress will escalate to unprecedented levels. We all need those sages who can inspire us to unearth the potential that lies deep within us. This group may include teachers, professors, family members, a coach or a boss. I write more about how to create a network of individuals that can empower you and become a source of motivation in your life in this previous post.
- Relationships teach you about healthy boundaries and self-care: Unfortunately, we don’t always encounter individuals who can be supportive on our journey, and we’ll occasionally meet a “bad egg”. These relationships can range from being annoying to toxic. Whatever the case may be, these types of relationships teach us the importance of taking care of ourselves and building healthy boundaries. We become discerning about what we share and the time we invest in each relationship because we learn that we deserve to only be in relationships where we’re treated with a basic level of respect and dignity.
- Relationships teach you how to identify your true friends and partners: It’s only after we’ve been through some unsatisfying and challenging relationships that we’re able to figure out the kind of friends or partner that we’d like to be with. Your experiences will give you clarity on the qualities that appeal to you the most and which will lead to a compatible match. Not everyone is going to be our BFF or kindred spirit and that’s okay. The good news is that they’re out there and the more that you get out and bond with others, the more likely it is you’ll meet the ones who are on your wavelength.
- Relationships teach you about loving unconditionally, compassion, kindness and forgiveness: Relationships can be heart-opening experiences that evoke feelings from the deep recesses of our hearts. Just ask any starry-eyed lover or a mother who’s just had her first child or a happy elderly couple celebrating their 50th anniversary. When you love someone deeply, you feel a sense of tenderness that opens an inner portal for all kinds of positive emotions to flow out of you such as compassion, unconditional love and kindness. When we’re hurt, relationships teach us to forgive others and to forgive ourselves. Cultural anthropologist, Angeles Arrien, refer to us as member of the “Scar Clan”. We’ve been hurt and we’ve hurt others as well, but in the process, we become better human beings.
- Relationships teach us to trust and keep the faith: Trust can be one of the hardest things for us to learn, especially if we’ve been let down or betrayed in the past. But we can’t hide behind our walls forever – at some point, the masks must fall off and we have to try again because true intimacy can only develop when we’re willing to be vulnerable and share our heart and soul with another. We have to keep the faith and believe that there are good people out there with whom we can develop genuine connections and share the most intimate parts of ourselves with. We must also believe in our ability to be a good judge of character and our capacity to offer love and support to those whom we care about.
There’s a Chinese proverb that says, “Fate brings people together, no matter how far apart they may be.” Just think about it – out of the 7 billion people on this planet, you have the privilege of getting to know only a handful of those in your lifetime. So value everyone that you meet on your life path because fate has brought them into your life for a reason – a reason that only you can discover.
All my best on your journey,
Question for you: Do you believe that our relationships are our greatest teachers? What are the biggest lessons that you’ve learned from your relationships and how has it impacted you?