I have just finished reading Growing yourself up: How to bring your best to all of life's relationships—a book about maturity in relationships—written by Jenny Brown, founder and director of the Family Systems Institute in Sydney, Australia. Organising naturally involves spending time dealing with our stuff, but to live well, we also need to concentrate on our relationships. If we free up time, space, and energy by minimising and prioritising, but then neglect to transfer our attention to what really matters, then we haven’t made the most of the opportunity being organised has given us.
Jenny uses the stages of life as a framework to discuss how we can develop emotional awareness and build our character in each one. Rather than focusing on others and their contribution to relationship issues, she encourages us to concentrate on ourselves.
In particular, we have each grown up learning patterns of behavior. When we interact with others, we tend to behave and respond in habitual ways. Think about how you learned to communicate as a child.
- How did you respond to conflict? Did you close down or open up?
- How did you handle strong emotions? Did you seek reassurance from others, or were you able to calm yourself?
Now think about how you are today. Do you deal with conflict the same way? Do you manage your emotions in a similar way? Many of us will be able to trace our emotional responses back over our lives. In particular, the way we relate to others often holds a largely instinctive component.
Becoming aware of this dance of action and reaction in a relationship can be enlightening. When the patterns are revealed, we can see how our relationship stories have been written the way they have. Without condoning unacceptable behavior, we can take away the surprise (and offence) that others, and we ourselves, have behaved as we have. This frees us to choose our own responses, rather than try to influence others. If we shift the focus to creating change in ourselves, we can then slowly transform and improve our relationships.
I learned a lot from Jenny’s descriptions of surface level versus solid inner maturity, particularly how we can develop our tolerance for intense feelings in ourselves and others. I also appreciated her realistic and hopeful approach: “growing ourselves up just a notch means that our world looks vastly different and more promising.”
Let’s make sure relationships are part of our extra organised journey!
Growing Yourself Up, $29.99, is available from Exisle Publishing or from all good book stores.