The Gift of Someone’s Else’s Bad Behaviour

welcome_new_light-500x292‘Step 9 : Atonement With the Father – For if it is impossible to trust the terrifying father-face, then one’s faith must be centered elsewhere (in the Blessed Mother); and with that reliance for support, one endures the crisis—only to find, in the end, that the father and mother reflect each other, and are in essence the same.

Joseph Campbell, The Monomyth

I have to say at no other point in my life would this quote have ever made sense except in the circumstances that I have recently found myself in. Having just gone through a difficult separation with my partner, I was also then faced with a lot of rather unsavoury exchanges with him over the logistics of how we would move forward to take our lives apart as a couple, but still remain co-parents of our young daughter. The practicalities and tricky nuances of which are commonly experienced by separating couples who have children.

Under the emotional strain of the break-up and stress of the new reality I was faced with, I found myself being very angry and aggressive and wanting to react with antagonism to anything and everything. Yet I knew, as we all do deep down, that it would add nothing except to further escalate the situation. Despite this, I struggled to reign in the Valkyrie in me that wanted to fight for my own rights and preserve her sense of ‘universal justice’. I saw in Campbell’s quote , a possible solution to this challenge.

The Wound is the Place Where Light Enters You.” – Rumi

In it, he says that at the heart of it – all things, whether they feel good or feel really terrible at the time, are essentially from the same source and part of a unified experience. That positive experiences are therefore, just as necessary and valid in our lives as negative ones. I began to wonder what would happen if I could see just as many blessings in the negative experience I was going through as the positive experiences I also had had. How could I find a place where, as Campbell puts it- “the father (difficulty) and the mother (support and love) reflect each other’ and really become ‘ in essence the same’ for me?

To draw more from the the quote at the top of this article – through it Joseph Campbell , originator of “The Hero’s Journey” (12 steps which all stories with heroes and villains can be mapped onto) , looks at the climactic moment of greatest conflict and tension in the hero’s path. This moment ,known as “Atonement of the Father” , also coined by Campbell, is characterised by the hero facing his greatest fear or whatever holds the greatest power over him in his life. In Campbell’s steps, the ‘father’ in this case is the metaphorical representation of this looming and antagonistic power, while the ‘mother’ represents the support and sources of strength the hero has in his life.

So two opposite forces, yet as he clearly believes, also in essence the same. I began to toy with the idea that just as positive experiences helped to support my growth, so would this difficult one – that perhaps, this too was a blessing and gift that would push me beyond the parameters of my former self to emerge larger, bolder and more impassioned than ever to take on the challenges of the present. If I could somehow come to believe that these set of circumstances were exactly what I required, specifically tailored for me, to grow and become a fuller expression of myself, perhaps I could actually be in gratitude and less inclined to react so negatively to my ex-partner in our exchanges.

This is of course, easier said than done. However, I think there is a lot of freedom that can be found in looking at someone else’s difficult behaviour as a gift that has been offered to us – from the same source of love that the gifts of good friendship and support come from.

In therapy, clients often benefit from developing mental constructs that serve to disentangle them from the negative emotional attachments they have about contexts or people in their life story. This can be more simply understood as a shift in perspective, which positive psychologists advocate as being central to to transcending most life challenges. So perhaps the next time someone is rude or particularly difficult to engage with, whether in a personal of professional arena, you can look at  it as a blessing rather than a thorn in your side – and begin to see how this impacts your own response and behaviour towards them.

References, Wikipedia for Joseph Campbell , The Hero’s Journey 

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