We feel anxious when we perceive a threat or danger. The other day I was running an anxiety workshop and an amazing topic popped up! I have been reflecting on it and today I would love to share my thoughts. Many of you who were there identified yourselves with a perceived threat that you all shared: Having important differences with loved ones. (A couple, a mother, a brother…). You talked about value, tastes and beliefs differences. The threat you see in these differences is the possibility of disconnection and therefore, it is easy to have anxiety because of them.
Differences to an extent are a natural part of each human relationship. Differences don’t make us anxious. We get anxiety because of our perception of the differences and our inability to accept them. Who hasn’t ever felt this? ‘The problem is that he/she doesn’t change!’. When we have a disagreement with someone we love, our natural tendency is to desire a change in the other. Unconsciously we might attack, manipulate and do all that we can in order to change the other. We see this possible change as the only possibility for total connection and we become oblivious to an essential evidence:
NO ONE CAN CHANGE ANYONE, ONLY A PERSON WHO REALLY WANTS TO CHANGE WILL DO SO.
The question is: What can we do then when we want to keep sharing life with a person with whom we have some differences if we feel anxious about it? The first step is to consider the importance of the differences in comparison with what we share in common. Which one is stronger? Some differences don’t necessarily need to have an effect on a relationship dynamic if they are accepted. However, when it comes to differences in important values it is easier they lead to big conflicts and disconnection. For instance, for a couple, an important difference could be one wanting babies and the other one not wanting a family at all. Once that you have evaluated the differences, if you still feel you want to maintain the relationship, the question is:
Are you willing to accept this person as he/she is today, not tomorrow or in a year’s time?
What if I encounter big differences with my mother? That is not an easy bond to break and it is understandable that you may not want to break it regardless of all the differences you have. One more time, it is a matter of evaluating the seriousness of the differences. If you cannot accept them, you can always take precautions in consequence. Maybe you don’t need to break the relationship completely but there are steps in between that you can take, such as avoiding certain topics or even decreasing time together. The most important thing is to be aware that every day we make the decision to keep sharing life with each person of our lives, and we can change this at any time.
In case you are willing to accept the person you love as he/she is, and not as you would like him/her to be, there are some tools that can help you in the process of decreasing anxiety and make the process easier.
Non Violent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg:
Make objective observations instead of judging. Asking in an ‘I would like to’ form rather than ‘You should’ form, talking about your needs and show your vulnerability, empathy and gratitude. This technique is part of the Satisfaction process and I am so amazed by its efficiency.
Change your Perception:
What makes you perceive your difference as a threat? Are you able to put yourself in the other person’s shoes? Does this person have any unfulfilled needs that lead to this viewpoint? Is this difference as negative as you see it? Sometimes a simple change of perception can change your feelings overnight. We perceive the world through our unique eyes. A unique perception. That often makes us believe that our perception is the correct and valid one and that the other person’s perception is the one that needs to change. Changing your perception is daring to expand your horizons, tolerance and respect.
Change your Focus:
In this case, the question is: Where are you putting your focus on the person you love? On her/his weakness or her/his strengths? When we want to change someone is because we are not accepting them completely, and often our focus is on the weaknesses the person has. When people perceive they are not valued or they are even attacked, they won’t give you their best. It is simple, that is why magic happens when we change our focus. When we start appreciating someone’s strengths rather than criticising constantly what we dislike about them, we often get the transformation we were looking for. People show their best version easily when we accept them fully.
Our possibilities to love someone unconditionally increase when this person removes their conditions when loving us as well. The same happens the other way around, and that can be applied to all relationships in our lives. Only this way – when two people are able to accept each other as they are, they can transform themselves and grow parallel.
Giving unconditional love and freedom to be is the best gift you can offer to someone, and it is from that place from which the most unimaginable changes occur.
One day I made the mistake to want to change my partner. It didn’t end well. When I stop trying, when I let go…When I started to practice acceptance and unconditional love… Magic happened! It was then when everything changed for the better, and my partner started to show something wonderful I didn’t know of him or I hadn’t seen yet when I was so focused on ‘changing him’.
Loving without conditions sometimes means accepting that your path and the one of the person you love are going to flow better if you get apart, other times it means just accepting the other in order to keep sharing life hand in hand. Whatever the case is, accepting is the best antidote for this kind of social anxiety. There are no magical pills. Do you dare to love without but’s?
NOTE: This article cannot be applied to cases in which aggression of any kind is involved. If the person you want to change acts violently either physically or psychologically, then distance is the best choice, no matter how hard it is. There are many people in the world as to stay in toxic relationships (This topic is so extent, I could write another whole article just about it, but I just wanted to clarify this point)
Love and Satisfaction,