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Compromise or truth?

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Compromise or truth?


Sometimes (often?) we learn the hard way. I was in a longterm relationship and my then partner and I decided to buy a home. I owned a property that was a great investment. The rent paid the mortgage, it was appreciating well. I’d worked hard to buy it. It had been my home and I loved it. Even though my partner was a high income earner, and we could have afforded to buy our new home on our combined income, they insisted that I sell my property to contribute to the deposit. If I’d had the courage to be honest, to my partner but also to myself, every fibre in me knew it was a bad decision to sell ... but, it was important to my partner as a sign of commitment to the relationship that I sold. I consulted my father (a wise man with money), and he said what I knew: ‘Financially, it’s not a good decision to sell, but psychologically and emotionally, it’s the only decision you can make if you want to stay in this relationship’. So – against my better judgment, to keep my partner happy, to keep the peace – to keep the relationship - I sold. Years later, we separated, and I ended up worse off in the settlement that I would have been had I just kept my place and never entered the relationship. Had we kept my place, our joint assets would also have been much greater than they ended up being, and we would both have been better off financially. It was a hard and painful lesson. 


As with many mistakes, I learned from it. Given what I know now, I would not have sold, even if it meant the end of the relationship. Had I allowed myself to hear my inner knowing, and to not put the need to salve another’s financial and emotional insecurities above my own needs, and my own wisdom, I would probably also have left that relationship much earlier. I will never again consciously override my own needs in order to meet another’s need for security or for reassurance. And not just in regard to the big decisions. I’ve learned that putting another’s needs before my own is a form of self-harm, and that it supports a dynamic of unhealthy co-dependency. Indeed, putting another adult’s emotional needs before our own is the very definition of co-dependency.


I can forgive myself, and bring compassion to my process, because I didn’t know this before. I believed the conditioning that to be a good partner one needs to compromise one’s needs. I let myself believe that it was my duty, my obligation, to make the other person happy, to try to make them feel better, to try to stop them feeling their wounds by altering my behaviour. Largely through doing the Learning Love work, I’ve realised that denying my own needs (for space, time, following my own rhythms) is simply wrong, and in fact that it dooms a relationship to unhappiness (and, if you’re lucky, to failure, as to stay trapped in a co-dependent dynamic is hell on earth).


A scene in The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo starkly illustrates the insanity, and cost, of keeping the peace at our expense. One character intuits that he has discovered who the murder is, and at a crucial point is surprised by the murderer. Rather than excuse himself, or to run away he agrees to the murderer's invitation to come inside. Of course the murderer then imprisons him. And as he’s about to kill him he says that the reason he’s going to kill him is that even though the character knew he was in danger, he agreed to come in. Some deeply-conditioned wish not to hurt the murderer’s feelings, to not be impolite, proved even stronger than the will to survive.


This is a profound, teaching.


We put ourselves in harm’s way. We are giving ourselves the message “I am less important than the other” or “my needs don’t count”. At best this leads to a sad or helpless feeling that we are letting ourselves down – not looking after ourselves.  At worst, it can lead to severe depression. When we become the victim by denying our needs in order to look after another’s, a deep existential trauma occurs. We lose trust. We lose trust in existence. And, above all, we lose trust in ourselves. And when we lose trust in ourselves then we blame others. It’s their fault. They need to change. ‘They’ need to make us happy, ‘they’ should give us what we want and need. And in this way we disempower ourselves.


Every time we give up on what we know to be true, what we know we need to do to honour our needs in order not to upset another - to avoid conflict - we make ourselves the Victim. When we surrender our vitalty to please or pacify another, we shut down our lifeforce. When we go against what we know to be good for us in order not to upset or offend another, to keep the peace or even to avoid conflict we are hurting ourselves. This overriding what we know to be true for us can often be sub-consciously, or just below the surface, until we get better at listening to ourselves. Often it’s conscious but we don’t want to see it. It happens whenever we say yes when we mean no. Some examples can be:


Having sex when we don’t want to

Saying ‘it’s ok’ when it’s not 

Listening to blame and complaint 

Pretending we agree when we don’t

(the list goes on …)


Usually we do these things to avoid hurting someone’s feelings; to placate or pacify; to avoid conflict; to not upset the status quo; to keep the peace; to keep things harmonious;  to keep the other happy, to keep relationship … because we believe we should …


The sooner we learn that there are no shades of grey here, the sooner we learn that no one is going to come and save us, and that we need to identify and honour our needs and boundaries, the sooner we can get out of the sense of feeling victimised. Only we can choose to honour our needs. Expecting ‘the other’ to do so is naïve, and what’s more, it is doomed to failure. That is why we feel disappointment, resentment and ultimately, a sense of powerless rage when we expect the other person to ‘do the right thing’, to honour our boundaries. Either they do (which is wonderful, then there's no problem), or they don’t … in which case only we can hold those boundaries in place. 


It is not the other’s job to make us feel safe, or loved. If you’re wanting, and expecting, your partner (friend, boss, the guy on the tram) to respect your boundaries, and not take advantage of you … if you feel outraged and hard done by, or collapsed, when they don’t, then it’s a crystal clear sign that you are not respecting your boundaries. 


And once you do, once you start saying no when you mean you … once you start really meaning it and standing in your truth, then you reclaim your power in relationships. And you start feeling good about yourself. This is at the core of self-respect, self-worthiness and self-love. 


It is only from this place that you can have healthy, viable relationships.


It can be scary to start to practice self-love and self-assertion. It’s relatively easy to be self-loving and kind to yourself on your own (by having a hot bath, eating well, etc). The next step is to be clear about what you want and don’t want to yourself. The crucial, more challenging, step is to recognise and honour our needs and boundaries in relation to another. Examples could be:


“I don’t want to see your friend / parents / brother”

“I'm not going to have unsafe sex”

“I do / don’t want to go to that party”

"I need to rest right now"

"I want to see (such-and-such a person)"



In Ursula Le Guin’s novel, The Other Wind, the female protagonist of the magnificent Earthsea Cycle, Tehanu, says to her mother: “I’m not like Irian […] She was trying to comfort her mother, to reassure her, but there was longing in her voice, yearning, jealousy, profound desire”. This desire is to be herself, to fulfil her true nature, even at the cost of disappointing her mother … of leaving the nest.


Tehanu’s mother Tenar is able to intentionally, if painfully, let her child go because Tenar herself had faced the choice of turning her back on what she could no longer accept, could no longer pretend to believe. This story models a healthy lineage, a mature way to support growth rather than stagnation – love rather than fear:  


“She put her head down in her arms and cried, and her cheeks were salt and wet. She cried for the waste of her years in bondage to a useless evil. She wept in pain, because she was free.” 


But choosing to risk the unknown, to follow the uncertain promise of the mere thread of one’s yearning, is not an easy choice:


“What she had begun to learn was the weight of liberty. Freedom is a heavy load, a great and strange burden for the spirit to undertake. It is not easy. It is not a gift given, but a choice made, and the choice may be a hard one. The road goes upward towards the light, but the laden traveller may never reach the end of it.”


Staying in the realms of the knowm of the acceptable can feel like the safer choice. There are no guarantees that 'taking the road less travelled' will lead to bliss, or even safeety. But it is certain that the heavy baggage we carry is the worn out, no-longer-relevant parts of our conditioning. To lessen the load, to stop ourselves being weighted down, we need to recognise to choose to let go of what holds us back. Often it’s the need for connection at any cost, the need to belong, to avoid the risk, or reality, of rejection. But the potential is to live a life un-laden, lighter - to taste freedom rather tham live in caution. And indeed to find greater, truer connection, with ourselves and with others.


We all face the choice, again and again, of whether to become adult, or to remain a child by staying within the safety and bounty of the family. Or, in the darker aspect, the familiarity of the family, even if it is dysfunctional, painful, even if it is abusive. 


We face the dilemma of wanting to belong, to be true to the values and norms of the family, of the tribe  - and also to discover our own truth. The cost of the safe option is our own integrity (despite the rationalising and bargaining we may engage in to justify not following our own path). The cost is self-awareness. The fear is that if we do not follow the status -quo – worse, if following or even exploring our own path upsets the status quo, then we will be rejected. We fear that if we don’t please others, we will be alone. This is a core fear, however, in order to really find acceptance, we need to be able to be who we are.


It is the hero’s (or heroine’s) journey, to move out from the known and familiar in order to broaden our lives. To risk, or even to leave a relationship or situation that, deep down (or even not so deep down), we know is unhealthy for us. (If we don't do so honestly, and willingly, usually we are catapulted out of an ill-fitting life anyway.)


The Journey, a poem by Mary Oliver, states this strongly, and truly:


One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice –
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do –
determined to save
the only life you could save.


For many of us these are truths we do not want to hear, or we mistakenly believe we are not ready to hear them. Or tell ourselves that maybe one day we may need to heed this, if things get bad enough … we convonce ourselves that if we endure and endure until the crisis happens. Then we get sick, or the break-up we’ve been dreading is forced upon us, we get fired from our job, or fall out with a ket colleague (St Augustine said “God make me good, but not yet”).


The Indian mystic Osho spoke about the importance of leaving home. 'Leaving home' brings up fear for people because they think it means they need to leave their family, their partner, their job … their life as they know it. But Osho says that leaving home is really stepping away from our conditioning. The ‘home’ of old ways and old values that are not even ours, or that have become ours merely through unconsciously accepting old established ways of being that don’t fit anymore, or maybe actually never fitted …


What does it take for us to make this choice? To leave the nest of the comfortable, that is really very uncomfortable, if we are honest. To let the faulty, badly-made, broken structure of our hopeless compromise come crashing down, rather than keep on repairing it, hoping against hope and against reason that somehow it’s strong enough to endure. It may, but at what cost? Anyone that has let themselves be mired in a dead-end job / relationship / conversation understands this place of giving up one oneself. 


But the rewards of 'leaving home' are great. Indeed, it's necessary if we are to individuate and become adults. As Joseph Campbell said: “The cave we fear to enter holds the treasures we seek”. As we grow, and take risks, we discover. As we leave the confines (and safety) of our familiar conditioning, our familial and cultural norms, we find out who we truly are. We grow up. To do this takes courage, and the fundamental step, the core, the heart or coeur at the centre of this courage is to trust ourselves rather than please another. It is the courage to risk another’s disapproval, to risk, or even to actually dissapoint, another. To risk disconnection, and even rejection. But, in the end, this is our choice. Perhaps it’s the most important choice we can make in our journey on this earth, to listen to and honour our own true inner guidance and wisdom, rather than putting another’s needs and insecurities first, and remaining in the hopeless, powerless identity of the victim.


In his book The Pearl Beyond Price, AH Almaas considers the dilemma we face of wanting connection with another (what Krish and Amana Trobe call ‘symbiosis hunger’) and also the need for autonomy. 


"Pursuing pleasure or safety will entail covering up any unpleasant or frightening truths. This automatically closes Joy. For Joy is the radiance of the heart when Truth is appreciated.


One of the main emotional issues that blocks Joy is the rapprochement conflict. One can be happy for a short time exercising one's autonomous functions in the experience of the Personal Essence. But then sadness returns, for one misses the Merging love. One has one or the other but not both. And when one is in the merged state, one can be happy only for a short time, for one will shortly be sad for not being present as who one is. When the rapprochement conflict is resolved, and both the Personal Essence and the Merging Essence are present, then the radiant sun of Joy will fill the heart with its lightness and merriment.


The state of Joy is that of lightness, delight, enjoyment, happiness and sweetness. One becomes a radiance, a playfulness, a carefree presence. One delights in reality. One sees life as a light and playful adventure. Every moment is a source of singular Joy, for it is the very presence of the Truth. One realizes that Joy is the radiance of Love, which is the breath of Truth."


Osho says that there are two wings, love and freedom. Without both, we can't fly.  


If we lie to ourselves, or to another, to be in relationship we simply cannot be happy in that relationship. Joyful, gracious, true compromise comes when we do something because we want to do it. To demand from ourselves or from another that we compromise in order to show love is a sure sign that we are not in love. And if a relationship cannot survive the honesty of us being in our truth, then the cost of being in that relationship / connection / situation is to live a lie. Only we can choose whether to live a lie, or to find a way to live truthfully, even if the cost is disconnection. Leonard Jacobsen speaks of the irony that by going out of our way to avoid separation, we are perpetual;ly in separation - from the other, because we are in separation from ourselves. When we believe the other isn't giving us (love, support, attentiuon ...) this always means that we are abandoning ourselves. He calls this the cosmic joke.


How can we be true to ourselves? How can we be fully alive? 


"Deep down, we know there is a source of life within us, a source that spirals back to our truest selves. Brave, bold and confident, the resurgence of this fearless energy is always ready to spring into action .... Evolving the instinctual intelligence of humanity ... is a human enterprise - one that calls out to awaken the most exquisite human qualities of bravery and daring. Without these qualities, the commitment to enhancing and evolving our instinctual intelligence will be easily overwhelmed. The clandestine forces of ignorance and apathy will make easy prey of anyone afraid to activate the innate boldness encoded in each cell of out bodies,How do we awake this courage? ... The simple truth is that our courage is often choked by some kind of knot of anger, or drained by the silent shroud of fear” (Theodor Usatynski, Instinctual Intelligence)


Much of the work of therapy is to help us find and stand in that courage. It can take time and careful, deep exploration to know what is truth for us (what Almaas calls ‘being present as who one is’). It is this living in truth that makes life bearable, worthwhile, joyful.  


Then - to be able to love another we need first to love ourselves. To love ourselves we need to accept ourselves. And to accept ourselves we need to stop denying who we are in order to be acceptable to others.


And the irony is, the greatest benefit of the hero’s journey is what we bring back, to our communities and families, what we learn and what then expands the boundaries of conditioning. Like Tehanu, in choosing tro grow up, to leave the nest, we also grow the family, the tribe and bring in healthy new life.