Why is it that sometimes the most 'spiritual' people seem to be involved in the most intense conflicts?
I asked myself that question when no matter how many retreats I followed and how much I meditated, I still seemed to be getting into massive conflicts with the people that I loved.
I also noticed that this phenomenon was not unique to me. People around me who were also dedicated to their spiritual practice seemed to be having similar experiences.
I was perplexed since I believed that attending retreats and having a daily practice would make me more peaceful and yet somehow I seemed to be opening something up in me and getting into even more conflicts than I did before.
I was also hearing stories of the tension and fighting that others were experiencing at the ashrams and monasteries where they lived.
What I have since come to realise is that the practice of meditation, contemplation and prayer are simply different to the art of skillfully navigating relationships. I had become quite skilled in meditation and yet I lacked the ability to express what was truly going on for me as well as the skills needed to listen deeply to what was truly going on for the other.
In some ways, my meditation practice had become a way to avoid dealing with the outside world. It had become a spiritual bypass. I felt great after 10 days in silence, and a week later I was exploding in fits of rage, blaming everyone else for disturbing my peace.
Does any of the above sound familiar?
I have put together a list of 7 reasons why it is that you may be getting into conflicts despite your best attempts to practice peace in your life.
1. Holding others responsible for your wellbeing and happiness.
When you make others responsible for your inner peace and happiness then you are more likely to be playing the blame game. Blaming others makes them responsible and it also takes away your agency to do anything to change the situation. I am not suggesting that you should take responsibility for the conflict, but rather that things will really begin to shift when you take responsibility for your own feelings and needs. To get you started in identifying your own feelings and needs you can download our lists for free here.
2. Not having the skills to get past judgement & blame.
Judgements have a deeper message for us. Knowing how to translate your judgements and how to communicate these deeper messages is a key skill that is different from just watching your angry thoughts. Underneath all of our judgements, blame and criticism are feelings and needs. When we express ourselves in feelings and needs and have the skill to listen past the judgements of others to their feelings and needs then we are much more likely to experience connection.
3. Trying to correct, advise and educate others before connecting.
Telling your partner that they should just let go, or that they should just accept the situation, is the kind of spiritual advice that is not always welcome when they are in pain and actually needs your empathy rather than your education. Listening with empathy is about being a clean slate, or empty vessel into which the other can land. This is not the same as sympathy where you take on the emotions of the other as a burden to carry or where you hear their story and get lost in your own emotions. Empathy requires just being present, open, and receiving the other person's words with warmth whilst reflecting back any feelings and needs that you are hearing.
4. Getting fixated on your strategies rather than the underlying needs.
When you focus on the how (strategies) rather than taking the time to connect to the why (needs) then you can easily get tunnel vision and miss the infinite number of creative solutions that consider the needs of all involved.
Do you need help distinguishing your needs from your strategies? Click here to download your free Find your Zen again Workbook
5. The fear of not getting what you want and unhealthy power dynamics.
Making demands for what you want out of fear that you will not get it is likely to elicit two possible responses: submission or rebellion. Do you really want your friends and family to do things because they are submitting to your dominance or not do things because they are rebelling against your dominance? Wouldn't you much rather experience equality in your relationships? 6. Fearing conflict or fearing hurting the other's feelings if you express yourself honestly.
Keeping those small irritations to yourself inevitably leads to explosions later on. Remember that moment when you or someone you know exploded over something so small? It wasn't that small thing, but all the days/weeks/years of built-up pressure. For healthy relationships, it is essential to learn to express what it is that is going on inside of you. When you feel unhappy, uncomfortable, irritated, or stressed, this is a signal that you have some unmet needs. Being able to acknowledge and express your feelings and needs regularly is like emotional hygiene. You don't only brush your teeth when they are dirty and you have cavities. You brush them daily to ensure that they stay healthy. In the same way, regularly expressing your feelings and needs will ensure that it is less likely that there will be explosions of built-up, unacknowledged emotion.
7. Judging yourself for being judgmental.
No amount of self-criticism will get your judgements to stop. If you want to stop judging then you need to learn to listen to what's behind the judgment and how to meet yourself and others with empathy. It is important to see that even the criticism that you have of yourself is actually because you have needs that are not met. If you can get clear what those needs are, then the judgements that you have of yourself will begin to lose their power. You cannot expect to meet others with empathy if you do not have any empathy for yourself.
The good news is that there is a way to have peaceful and healthy relationships and you don't need to increase your meditation hours, sign up for another retreat or move to a cave in the Himalayas!
Our Nonviolent Communication (NVC) Courses will help you to begin transforming those judgements into feelings and needs so that you can express yourself authentically without hurting others. It will also give you everything you need to identify what it is that is getting in the way of your capacity to listen with empathy.
PS: If you are looking for all our upcoming NVC courses and course dates, click here.