Recently, while doing some research for a previous piece that appeared in this publication, I happened upon a passage that clearly resonated with me the first time that I read it some 10 years ago – for not only had I highlighted the paragraph, I had also scribed multiple stars along the right-hand margin.

Taken from “A Path with Heart,” written by world-renowned spiritualist Jack Kornfield, it reads: “Many of us are so out of touch with ourselves that we can easily lose sense of what is a skillful action in a situation. We can be so intent on caring for others or on pleasing them or pacifying them or avoiding conflict with them that we don’t clearly face our own needs, our own situation.” 

Personally, it takes me back to a time in my life when this particular pattern had developed into the norm, rather than the exception; so much so that I barely recognized the person I’d become. Not only had it permeated the social circles I’d been traversing, but most importantly, it manifested into an unhealthy standard within my own marriage. As the relationship would completely tilt to one side, I’d lost all sense of self-respect, and it subsequently dissolved. 

It didn’t take long before family, friends, and coworkers all became casualties of this heavily skewed paradigm. Any time there was an occasion to celebrate and connect in-person; these folks more often than not took a back seat when it wasn’t in the best interest or convenient with my spouse. It took years to resurrect the trust I’d established with those who were my closest allies and supporters. First and foremost, though, it required an ample amount of courage, and it needed to begin with me.

One key take-away that we can learn from each relationship (and which resonated with many readers in last month’s column), might be to ask the following question: Am I lowering myself to this person’s “level,” or are we on equal footing? Similar interests and a physical attraction frequently take center stage at the onset of a new friendship or prospective partner; often pushing to the side this crucial element of balance. We’re so caught up in the “newness” and novelty of it all, but not necessarily in tune with its more critical aspects if the relationship is to become long-term.

There is great temptation to please a new partner by becoming more of what they want us to be. The phrase “What’s your type?” has been around for eons, and denotes the search for a particular archetype. We run through a “mental check-list” of what he or she has and has not. We might see glimpses of what this other person is, and the potential they possess as a future partner, yet spend little or no time going deeper to uncover their “true self.” In essence, we get caught up in the window dressing without ever opening the window far enough. 

As the relationship progresses, it’s not uncommon for resentment to grow if one has given up many of his or her special qualities in order to acquiesce to the other’s wants and expectations. Sacrificing our uniqueness at the expense of conformity eventually leads to discontent and friction. In my case, I can recall numerous occasions whereby if a dialogue had initially been established when these episodes were typically occurring (rather than tabling them in order to avoid conflict); there’d have been a greater likelihood for some form of resolution. Interestingly so, self-respect isn’t something that we often give much thought to until we’ve truly lost it.

Of course actions will ultimately speak louder than words if our partner is to appreciate and accept our individuality, while simultaneously creating a cohesive relationship. When we are cognizant of each other’s independence, with individual boundaries having been established and agreed upon, the relationship then has a proper foundation based upon mutual respect. The absence of this “follow through” approach is an invitation for miscommunication or, worse yet, avoidance altogether.

Just as losing our self-respect occurs over time, so does reclaiming it. Redirecting and focusing the attention on oneself is usually a good place to start. Learning to forgive ourselves for the choices we’ve made before moving on to re-establishing self-trust is also an integral component when regaining the confidence that is often lost. 

I’m reminded of some rather simple, yet profound words spoken by the Jamaican spiritual teacher, Mooji; who during a self-discovery session (known as Satsang), offered an individual who’d confessed to becoming overburdened with upholding a particular image with: “It takes a lot of energy to be a person. It takes very little to be yourself.” 

Dave Davis
Dave Davis teaches preschool for the Head Start program based at the Children’s Museum of the East End in Bridgehampton, NY. He is also a frequent contributor to “Who Smarted?,” a popular educational podcast for elementary school children.

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