Julie Tkachuk

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Lessons Learned from Difficult Relationships

Posted on 24 May, 2019 at 13:25

Relationships have been both the bane and joy of my existence. I have suffered tremendously in them, yet I have also experienced great joy as a result of my connection with others.


My greatest teachers were the people closest to me – my parents, partners, children, close friends and bosses. And each of them has taught me something wonderful. For example, my two children have provided me with opportunity after opportunity (and in ways that tested me for all I was worth) to become more patient and giving. Partners have taught me that there were times I needed to get closer and times I needed to say goodbye.


One thing I have noticed in relationships is that we all perceive life through our own filters. When I speak publicly, people in the audience often approach me after my talk. Often, at the same presentation, more than one person comments that my talk was meant specifically for him or her. One person would say they loved my message of “living in the present moment” while another said I spoke about “lightening up about things.” I probably addressed both points, but each participant heard and remembered what resonated with them.


We do the same thing in our relationships. If we tend to feel hurt when criticized, we will be overly sensitive to the innocent comments of others. Not only that but we will likely attract or be attracted to people who criticize us. We bring out in others what we expect to see.


At one of my very first jobs I worked as a secretary for a small consulting firm. I had only been there for a few weeks and all was going well. Then one morning, as I was sifting through the new work from my in-basket, I found a 20-page handwritten document with a sticky note attached to it that read, “Please type.” Upon closer examination I realized that the document was a university paper written by the son of my boss. I was stupefied and amazed that my boss would expect me to type such a thing. On the other hand, I was both nervous and scared about saying anything to him. Never before had I stood up to someone in authority. So I sat with how I felt for most of the morning. I took a long walk at lunch and mulled things over, trying to figure out what to say and how to say it. I had no idea that my decision would have such far-reaching consequences.


It has been said that we teach people how to treat us and time and time again I have experienced the truth of this statement. On more than one occasion I have said nothing when I should have said “no” and my consequences ranged from mildly uncomfortable to extremely painful. I now fully understand that silence, for the most part, is considered to be consent.


Because each of us looks at life through the filters of our own lenses, that capricious thing called perception is often a slippery slope. Think about how two children growing up in one family have such different memories of the same upbringing or how two people going through a divorce have completely opposite recollections of the events that occurred. We each see through the color of our own lenses. Some people’s glasses are rose-colored; others are very dark. That being the case, when do we speak up? And how do we all get along? We speak our truth all the time. And we allow each person to experience their own reality. We cannot create someone else’s life experience for them anyway – that is their job. So, our task is to say what we mean, concern ourselves with ourselves and do the only work we can...our own.


Eleanor Roosevelt said that no one can make you feel inferior without your consent. I have often said that the word “inferior” in that sentence could be replaced with any number of other words and still be correct. You could substitute the word with “angry” or “sad” or even “happy.” Yes, all any of us can do is focus on what we, ourselves, are thinking, saying and doing.


With knees shaking, I walked into the office of my boss, looked him in the eye, and said, “I don't think that my job duties include typing this report for your son.” His immediate response was, “My father's secretary used to type my school reports.” From some strong, confident place within me I heard the following words flow from my mouth: “I am not your father's secretary.”


Never again was I asked to type a school report. Instead, over the course of the decade that I worked for this company, I was promoted many times, given increasing responsibility and I received great financial bonuses as well. Not only that, but in all the jobs I have had since then I have never been asked to do anything that I felt was incongruent with the position I held.


When I decided to leave the position, a woman I’ll call Brenda replaced me. After I had been gone for about a year, I was in the neighbourhood of my old office and stopped in to say hello to everyone. Brenda called me aside and asked me how I could have worked for such an abusive man for so long. She told me that my old boss yelled at her often, watched the clock like a hawk to see if she returned from lunch on time and basically treated her very badly. Here we were, talking about the same man, yet we had totally different experiences. How could this be?


As far as relationship challenges are concerned, I have found that my answers were always found within. There are, after all, no demons on the outside. And even when it looks as though one appears “out there,” some serious reflection always revealed that I created the enemy in my mind long before he or she showed up in my life. For example, my own feelings of unworthiness have served as the magnet for any and all my previous less-than-desirable relationships. My own inner critic, and inability to speak up for myself, always showed up as someone willing to tell me my beliefs or actions were wrong and how I “should” think or act instead.


Personal development is the key to healthy relationships. After all, your relationship with yourself forms the basis of all your relationships with others. The more I worked through my own issues and got to know myself better, the better my relationships became. As I became more honest with myself, I became more honest with others. My willingness to show my vulnerability has strengthened my relationships and made them more real and deep.


Give thanks for the difficult people in your life. Look within to find the cause of the relationship “problem” and then address the issue with the person who is providing you with the opportunity to learn more about yourself. And always, keep in mind that some people look better walking towards you while others look better walking away.


How you view yourself, others and life will create your reality. Work at eliminating any old limiting beliefs you have and begin to see all of your experiences through crystal clear eyes. Perceive each of them as an opportunity to learn, grow and become the best you can be.


“We gain strength, and courage, and confidence by each experience in which we really stop to look fear in the face...we must do that which we think we cannot.” – Eleanor Roosevelt


Copyright © Julie Tkachuk

Published in The St. Albert Gazette on September 25, 2004

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