A lifelong friend of mine had a horrible argument with her mother the other morning.
The two women had long been estranged. Even so, in the past several years they had patched up their differences sufficiently to feel they were drawing close. Yet old wounds have power. A simple disagreement about money made all their fine efforts at friendship vanish in a puff of smoke. My friend, who is in her late 40s, found herself locked in a sarcastic exchange with her Mum such as they hadn’t suffered since she was in her teens, decades ago.
Our parents have tremendous power over us, no matter what our age, just as we can dominate or injure our own grownup children with a thoughtless word that has no weight for us but for them recalls a long-ago anguish. Indeed, the tragedy that accompanies so many parent-child relations is that here we often find the “core wound” which defines and perhaps scars a person for life.
Each of us has a core wound. However we came by it, whether through our families or courtesy of neighbors, schoolmates or lovers, this wound involves a duality. The pain of them is expressed through a feeling of being permanently at war with our selves, or those we love most. In counseling my friend, I thought a lot about how “love-hate” relations reveal where we are most essentially wounded.
We all have love-hate relations with somebody in life. It could be a parent, it could be a coworker: but some people quite simply provoke a duality in us. We can’t stand this person, and we can’t do without them. As Joyce Carol Oates so beautifully put it: “Love commingled with hate is more powerful than love. Or hate.”
I have a theory about such relationships, painful as they are.
These people are our greatest teachers in life. It is through them, from them that we most truly learn to stand up for ourselves. We learn to negotiate. We learn to navigate a world of adversities.
This is worth remembering, next time you are caught in a hurtful conversation that has you feeling as if many decades of life experience have just gone out the window and left you protesting with the heart of an aggrieved child. Take the pain and learn from it. Ask yourself, especially if you can remain conscious and focused under such stress, how you might stand up for your self, right here, right now, without raising your voice or giving in to the “hate” part of the equation. You might be surprised at how deeply you free yourself.