What You Resist Persists.
I was talking to a friend today about a strained relationship with her sister. She asked for prayer because they were going to spend time together and this sister has a tendency to say bitter, cutting things. My friend has struggled for years because those cutting words absorb and create real pain within her.
I wanted to offer something so that she could do a little work to protect herself from the hurtful words that would inevitably come.
The brain has a filter called the reticular activating system and it’s designed to help us process through all the information that comes to us each day. Because the brain is not able to process every single detail we observe (otherwise they’d explode!), the reticular activating system goes a step further and it only lets in what we’ve already determined that we agree with.
Read that again. The reticular activating system only lets in what we’ve determined we already agree with.
This is fascinating for many reasons, but where I wanted my girlfriend to connect was in how she was responding to her sister’s words. Since the reticular activating system is shaped by you and by every single person you grew up with and all the things you’ve experienced, you can see it at work when conflict arises. How someone responds when their pain or wound is touched tells you whether this person has experienced some deep pain.
Now, I don’t know all the things this sister has gone through, but her bitter and cutting words are likely coming from a place of pain. And I wanted my friend to understand this so that she could disentangle herself, step back from the words and not give them life in her heart. Rather, the ability to see her sister from her place of pain. This is powerful because you step out of a place of making it all about you, and instead, you see the situation for what it is. And once you see that, you recognize that you cannot and shouldn’t take all the responsibility for those interactions. You start to see whether the two of you can work through it or whether you cannot. But you will hopefully notice, too, that you’re no longer absorbing the words personally. And what you do from here is very important.
When a person says harsh words to us—without a desire to work through it—what can you really do? If you think about it, do you really have any options? How do you respond in that scenario? When pain speaks, how do you come away unscathed?
I encouraged my friend to try a couple simple techniques to see how it helped her when interacting with her sister. First, it’s important to understand that we all come by our filters honestly, through our life experiences. Good and bad, joy and pain. Our filters have been sculpted throughout the years of our lives to keep us safe. Even when they’re not truly serving us. That’s not to say we can’t do anything about them, but the point of this post is for when people are stuck in those limiting cycles and they’re reacting in angry, bitter ways. And specifically, when they are attacking you. I encouraged her to recognize that her sister was responding from a place of pain. That’s step one.
And second—here’s the thing—even if she was the one ‘triggering’ the bitter response in her sister, she was not responsible for it. In fact, that’s where a lot of pain comes from; from another person wrongly interpreting you, your behavior, your words, your life, and applying it to you as truth. You wrestle against that because you want to be understood. But sometimes when a person’s pain is so deep, they cannot hear you. And this is where people usually get stuck in a cycle of toxicity with another. When a hurt person is saying painful things to you, if you resist and push back, you generally will not get anywhere. The pain grows, the fire intensifies. People stay locked in this place for years and some people never get out.
Resistance + Resistance = Conflict.
Resistance + Acceptance = Peace.
Now, I’m not saying that you have to accept what the person is saying as truth. I’m saying accept the situation for what it is. It’s the resistance that is causing the pain. What you refuse to accept turns into your own resistance. Resistance + Resistance = Conflict.
Acceptance is one of the ultimate freedoms. It isn’t about agreeing, it’s about letting go, not holding onto: release. To let go, to truly let go, liberates the soul. This is how conflict dies. At least within you. Resistance + Acceptance = Peace.
I encouraged my friend to pay attention to these things while interacting with her sister. It allows you to step out of the toxic dance with another, and to have some conscious thought about how you’re going to respond, whether you’re going to absorb, or whether you’re going to accept and let go. That’s where your brain is actually forging new pathways and creating new habits. It’s powerful!
This step takes a bit of practice, but I encourage you to try. You get really good at switching that flip and dropping into that place of observer and acceptance quite fast. It becomes instinct to be the observer instead of the judger. You can recognize what’s going on in front of you and choose not to stoke the fire. Acceptance. Release. Freedom.
You either want to dance the toxic dance, fight, say hurtful things. Or you want to communicate and grow. Once you recognize whether communication is possible, you have a choice. Go high or go low.
Instead of absorbing, observe. Accept. Release. Be free.
Finally, when you are aware that you need to create a boundary within a toxic relationship, I encourage others to create a simple statement for themselves. Depending on your situation, something as simple as “I’m not asking you to agree or to even understand; I’m asking you to respect me and not do that anymore.” Say it always with respect and love, and say it as many times as you need to until the person understands that you’re serious. Eventually, they will accept that you’re no longer participating in that dance.
But the best part? You’re no longer emotionally embroiled in the dance. You are free.
Lots of love and light. ❤