WISE RELATIONSHIP, PART III
RESOLVING ENTANGLEMENTS WITH INQUIRY
“Emotional pain is truth knocking on a door that has been closed too long”…..(anonymous)
As described in the last issue, entanglements are repetitive issues or conflicts that arise in close relationships, causing emotional upset – “relational turbulence”. Though the focus in the previous discussion was on dynamics between intimate partners, entanglements also occur in relationships between family members, friends, and co-workers — in many (if not all ) of our connections with others. They are the source of a good deal of the psychological distress in life.
Entanglements arise as a function of the emotional baggage we carry. We experience relationship in a context which includes our memories of similar situations in the past where we were hurt, disappointed, invalidated, rejected, or even abused. Because of these reactions, as the writer William Faulkner put it, “the past is never dead. It’s not even past.” This basic fact of psychological life readily gives rise to blurring in our minds (and in our experience) about relational turbulence. In that state of mind, emotional chaos may make it hard to be clear about what happened then vs. what is happening now, and about who is doing what to whom.
Entanglements are made worse when the personal boundaries of the participants are undifferentiated, permeable, or unclear. Each person may then become liable to psychological enmeshment with the other, unproductively involved with the other’s emotional reactions. Each one is triggered by the other. In this state of mutual reactivity, both people will tend to feel on the receiving end of something unpleasant, trapped in a familiar relational box. This reciprocal entanglement in repetitive painful patterns of interaction forecloses the possibility that something new will occur.
Unfortunately, there is no simple formula for resolving these kinds of situations. The process of resolving entanglements is just that: a process. Relationship is a path we are travelling with another, and difficulties on the path are best approached with the mindset of being aware and looking for what may be constructive in going forward. I liken this process to the way we might travel through fog: by slowing down and feeling our way forward step by step. When I am in this situation, I try to wrap my mind around surrendering to the situation with the intention to find an opening. But everyone needs to find their own way.
The emphasis here is to stop and feel. What is this experience like for you? What might it be like for the Other? Inquire deeply. This is a moment when there is something for you to discover, something that needs to be known. The relational field is an important mirror in which we have the opportunity to deeply encounter ourselves and others. Each such moment is unique. It holds the promise of all that is not yet known.
Indeed, simply recognizing when we are caught in an entanglement is itself a good conscious step. The effort to stay Present and Aware in the midst of an entanglement is analogous to what in Zen is called a ‘backward step’. It is an important opportunity for insight and breakthrough. I like to think of this ‘strategy’ as inviting the unfolding of wisdom and compassion.
Inquiring deeply about entanglements is the essence of what I call Inquiring Deeply: relational mindfulness practice. Entanglements are invaluable opportunities for deepening our relationships with both Self and Other; for both psychological and spiritual growth.