To have harmonious relationships and to keep them that way is as fulfilling as it is difficult. Even in the best situations our mental projections get in the way and create completely unnecessary conflicts that appear real and baffling to us. Luckily we now can resolve such problems fast and completely.
What follows is an edited transcript of a couple’s conflict resolution with The Work of Byron Katie, a wonderful way to meet wisdom and an extremely effective and fast conflict resolution skill…
Two people, let’s call them John and Mary, love each other. They work together in an office and one day two events happen at roughly the same time. John receives a phone call and Mary gives John some feedback on a project they are working on. Then John leaves and fixes lunch for both of them.
Almost an hour later they meet over lunch. John is deep in thought and Mary is very distressed.
Now something unusual happens. Mary says: “I have a problem. Can you please help me with it?”
Mary: “I have the thought that you are mad at me because of what I said to you.”
John is completely taken by surprise and has no idea what Mary is talking about. But he simply listens as Mary tells him how she felt ‘his energy shift’ when she was talking to him an hour ago. This had made her quite upset. Since then her mind had obsessed about what was wrong, what she should have done or said differently, that it must mean that John didn’t love her and that she was a failure and would never have a truly loving and comfortable relationship.
[What happened here? John received a difficult phone call and it was true, his energy had shifted to deal with the issues the phone call had raised. It had nothing at all to do with Mary. When Mary spoke to him she was a little unsure of how he would take her feedback. When John simply listened and didn’t say much, her mind fell into an old pattern of self-doubt, self-rejection and abandonment which she projected onto him.
Ordinarily this would lead to an unconscious chain reaction of conflict projections. If Mary didn’t have the awareness and skill to address the issue, she would remain quiet. John would notice her withdrawal over lunch and his mind would begin to speculate about what was going on. He would then project his thoughts and feelings and most likely shut down. Then both of them would live in their separate projections of pain - none of which would have any reality at all. It would however seem very real to them.
Such webs of unconscious projections of pain burden all relationships. They are the cause of untold suffering in marriages, between parents and children and business partners and colleagues. But let’s see what John and Mary did…]
Both John and Mary practice The Work. So John asks the first question: “Is it true that I am mad at you because of what you said to me.”
Mary: “It seems that way. Yes.”
John: “And can you absolutely be certain that I am mad at you because of what you said to me?”
“No, I can’t know what goes on in your mind,” Mary admits.
John: “How do you react, what happens when you believe I am mad at you because of what you said to me?”
Mary: “My mood collapses. I go into a panic. The love I felt for you just a moment ago is gone. I look for what it is that I did wrong. Anything I did and said now looks wrong to me. I feel terrible and see no way to fix it. Then I get mad at you. Why do you have to be so easily upset? It must be because you don’t love me. You don’t care. Then my mind turns on me. I attack myself: I am so stupid! I can never figure out how to say things the right way. I am so insensitive. I am not skilled at relationships. You must hate me. I’ll never have a good relationship. I’m not worthy of love.”
John listens with compassion but does not interrupt. Then he asks, “Who would you be without the thought that I am mad at you because of what you said to me?”
Mary: “I would not just have put myself through hell for an hour!” She takes a deep breath. “I would just be present with you here now. I would be open to you like I was before. Maybe I could ask you if my feedback on our project was helpful or not. I would not have a problem because I would not think you had a problem. Instead I would be peaceful and free.”
John: “Can you turn the thought around? Your thought was ‘John is mad at me because of what I said to him.’”
Mary: “’I am mad at me because of what I said to you.’ – Yes, I can see that. I was just berating myself for an hour about how stupid I was to say what I said. I was really mad at me. I tortured myself for an hour and had ne evidence that what I was thinking was even true.”
John waits for a moment to give Mary time to feel the truth she found in this turn around. Then he asks, “Can you find another turn around?”
Mary: “’I am mad at you because of what you said to me.’ Hmm. I was mad at you because of what you didn’t say. You didn’t say much about my feedback and I didn’t feel your full presence. So I got mad at you. I blamed you for my insecurity. I thought you were upset with me and that it had to be because you don’t love me…”
After a moment John asks her for the next turn around.
Mary: “John – you are not mad at me because of what I said to you.” Again she pauses to reflect. “Now that I am sitting here with you that seems entirely possible. I don’t know why your energy shifted. It could have been something else. And you seem open and not mad at all.”
When this inquiry was complete Mary felt completely free of her projection. She felt immensely relieved. She had regained the shared space of openness in which their love flowered. Then she asked John to tell her his side of the experience.
John: “I had received a difficult phone call and part of my attention was there. I really appreciated your feedback; I thought your perceptions were very valuable. I didn’t pick up that you were upset.”
Mary: “My God – to think I tortured myself for an hour for absolutely nothing! Why did it take me an hour until I remembered that I could clear this up? But well, at least I remembered.
“I am so grateful for The Work because I know what would have happened without it. We’d be sitting here now, both closed and in pain, each with our own unreal stories of what was wrong with the other and ourselves. No wonder my past relationships were never what I hoped them to be!”
* Ram Giri is an experienced certified facilitator of The Work of Byron Katie. He coaches couples in conflict and couples ready to jump into a deeper level of loving, themselves and each other. If you are interested please send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org