“The challenge with those whom we love is that they are the only ones who can get close enough to us to cause us heartbreak.” – Iyanla Vanzant

The practice of holding space that I explore in The Civil Graces Project involves having the courage to meet someone and find the middle path together. This process is hard work with anyone, but is most challenging with those closest to us through family, romantic partners, or friendships. There is a personal investment in these relationships. You are looking to affirm that the person on the other side is willing to meet you on common ground because they care about you. We all want to be listened to and have our feelings acknowledged. When this doesn’t happen, it hurts deeply. So many times, I have heard the phrase, “you can’t take it personally,” but when you are someone who cares, this can be really tough. There are times when I cannot find common ground with those closest to me, and it can feel like a failure. We try and try, but there is a closed heart or a closed door, and no matter what you do, they aren’t interested in dialogue. They have an answer and expect you to see it their way and conform to the family or tradition. When the person shrouds their resistance in “positive thinking” or elements of superiority, the feelings of shame you may feel can be overwhelming.  

Let me share an example from my own life. I am part of a multi-generational family. Many of my older siblings still see me as a little kid, and especially because I am female, there is this undertone of “know your place.” While they aren’t even aware of it because it was so ingrained in everything we did from socialization mainly guided by religion, I see it. It gets under my every nerve, and often, I want to avoid communication with them altogether. Why even try when they don’t listen. Have you ever experienced something like this? It can happen with good friends or with a couple when someone continues to view you through a past lens. Despite trying to explore new ideas or offer your point-of-view, they keep you trapped in an old familiar image. Again, they do not see who you really are.

So how does one move forward in these situations using the civil graces? Sometimes you have to take a step back and give yourself the time and space to understand the issues. Is there a pattern of behavior that might be a larger issue to address? If that pattern is one of suppression or abuse, often the best thing you can do is love yourself enough to know it is time to move on. There are going to be relationships in your life that can’t be resolved because you cannot do the work alone. You cannot be the only one compromising. There is a word for that…doormat. Don’t confuse trying to find common ground by giving in on your essence. Respect is one of several civil graces that you must afford to yourself before giving to others. Sometimes relationships become too painful, and it is time to let go.

However, in the chance that the other person is willing to be vulnerable and open, you can find a more profound understanding with them. That is the gift of releasing our greatest fears and having the courage to speak our truth. But again, you cannot do it alone. That is why miracles happen “where two are more are gathered in love.” I have struggled with this so much in recent years, as politics has become more divisive. You may sense this as well as we are bombarded by one crisis after the next. That is by design because when you feel overwhelmed, it is likely you will disengage. We are frustrated when those we love seem to cling to ideologies rather than those things that bring us together. Again, assess the situation and see if there is space for dialogue. When we tenderly speak to one another rather than use stern commands, there can be an opening where we can shift the conversation. We can move to the heart of the matter–which often is fear, unconsciousness, or woundedness. Judging someone for having these feelings is just another way to encourage the heart to close.

I can humbly share that while I can do this work with individuals one on one, I have a real challenge with those closest to me. That requires me to do more heart-work and soul searching to understand what is holding me back and where my pain exists. It can take a lot of time to be able to reach another. It requires patience for yourself and them. The one thing you cannot do is to think this is all on you. We only get to control our thoughts and feelings, and how someone else responds is on them. It is okay to express your anger and frustration; just don’t stay there. Too often, we feel we have to keep it together, but the beauty of our feelings is that they are a spectrum to help us sort out what is inside us. It is a way to better understand our inner life, so we are more effective in the outer world.

Human relations can be complicated, but they also can be most rewarding when we reach that breakthrough to the common ground. It is how we continue generation after generation to weave our history. No one gets it perfect every time, but the goal is to keep trying. Listening to your intuition as a guide can be a marvelous tool. We are social beings, and we need each other. Surround yourself with people who have multiple perspectives and continue to find ways to grow together by expanding our awareness of each other. It creates a world of incredible possibilities, heals your spirit, and connects you to what is most important. Love.

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