Change your functioning to change your feelings
Living Systems hosted a webinar with Ron Richardson entitled “Growing up emotionally one man’s story”. I believe Ron shared an essential perspective on emotional functioning in relationships. It is changing my behaviour leads to a change in my feelings versus waiting for my feelings to change, so I will act differently. The process involves changing the pattern to change the feelings – and NOT the other way around. Think of how this occurs in sports or music. If I don’t like how it’s going (a feeling), then I change my behaviour. Once the new behaviour is in place, I will feel differently about how it’s going. You wouldn’t want your favourite team to wait until they “felt like” scoring for them to change how they are playing. Change the pattern to change the feeling. It applies to the sport of relationships!
The origin is the family
I learned my patterns of relationship behaviour in my family of origin. This started in infancy and continued into my late teens. The behaviours that I adopted would have come from whatever worked to help me feel less discomfort or anxiety (use whatever term works for you) in relationships. I got very good at over-functioning and pleasing others. I also got good at being distant. The more intense the relationship, the more I would try to please. I distanced when that didn’t work. The behaviours became non-conscious and automatic because they created more comfort for me in relationships.
Dads and Distance
One could objectively track these relationship patterns with facts about how I functioned. It is a fact that my father and I had minimal contact for seventeen years. He wasn’t a bad person, I just didn’t have a comfortable relationship with him. The distance allowed me to manage the discomfort. My “programming” of how to be in our relationship was the source of my discomfort. To soothe that feeling, I would distance myself.
Being for self without being selfish
Over-functioning to get attention, approval, or to reduce tension and conflict is a common relationship pattern. When I was growing up, we had a joke in my family. If mom and dad said “we should do x”, that meant Dave would do x. I wasn’t doing things because of how I wanted to be in the world. I was doing them for attention and approval. And to keep the peace. I’ve learned that it’s a poor way to invest “self”. I was investing in what others wanted of me versus getting clear about what I wanted for myself. Dr. Kerr summed this up as “being for self without being selfish and being for other without being selfless”.
Focus on functioning and less on feelings
Relationship patterns come out of our family of origin. Feelings of comfort or discomfort (or more or less approval, tension, conflict, etc.) impact our relationship patterns. Because consistent patterns develop, the feelings won’t change. But if one changes their “pattern”, then the feelings will change. I wanted to change how I behaved in the relationship to reduce the discomfort of the relationship. My goal was to have more contact with my dad and to hold on to my thinking and opinions when relating to him. I had to define myself better in my relationship with him. My effort was to focus on how I was functioning and less on my feelings. Notice that the work is mine and not my father’s. It’s my effort to change my feelings by changing my functioning. Yes, I have to do my work, nobody can do it for me.
It’s your turn
I was going to write “If you are human, so you have relationship challenges”. But every living thing has relationship challenges! We are not alone in this. The work is simple, but it requires effort. Up the level of contact and curiosity about the other person. Observe how you react and work to manage this reactivity. How subjective are your opinions about the relationship? What is your pattern in this relationship? How could you change this pattern in order to have different feelings about the relationship? Focus on you are functioning in the relationship, and less on how you feel about the other person. Define yourself a bit more in the relationship. This is a lifelong effort where patience and persistence are important, and minor improvements have a significant impact!
How did Ron Richardson do it? You can purchase the recording of Ron’s recent session here: https://livingsystems.ca/education/growing-up-emotionally/.
Or you can buy his latest (or any) of his books.
Written by Dave Galloway,
Additional resources at Family Matters
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