Difficult Relationships: A Discussion with Ezra Bayda

This discussion is now closed.Ezra

 

"If you want to test your enlightenment," wrote one Facebook fan on the Tricycle page recently, "stay with your family for a week."

Our close, intimate relationships can be a treasure. But they can also be a challenge, especially over the holidays, when we're likely to be spending more time with our family and loved ones than normal. Old resentments and issues quickly arise when we're around those who have known us longest, and it is all too easy to jump to anger or bitterness despite years of practice. This week only, Zen teacher Ezra Bayda will be answering any questions you have about managing difficult relationships this holiday season. So if you practice lovingkindness daily—but still find yourself freaking out at your parents whenever Christmastime rolls around—this one is for you.

Need some inspiration? You can watch Ezra's past online retreat, "Relationships, Love, and Spiritual Practice" here, and read his article "Giving Through Relationships" here.

Post your comments below or email them to editorial@tricycle.com.

 

Ezra Bayda has been practicing meditation since 1970 and teaching since 1995. He received Dharma Transmission in 1998. He now lives, writes and teaches at Zen Center San Diego.

 

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yogadiamondmine@hotmail.com's picture

There needs to be acceptance of authentic feelings...not judgement of them. We have feelings for a reason. They are a barometer for us, they give feedback about what is going on in our relationships. Mostly there are very good reasons why we have feelings. If we have an inner mindset that anger is bad-which comes with many spiritual paths, as far as I have experienced, and also have been conditioned to in my family, it does not allow us to see objectively.

We are busy judging ourselves. It takes the beam of our awareness off the larger situation and distracts us and keeps us entangled in our own conditioning, struggling with what we "think" are our negative tendencies. It is only when our anger is taken seriously and embraced and listened to that we can become our authentic selves. And really work with the situation to solve the problem at its root.

nicoleann's picture

My boyfriend commited suicide four months ago. Without giving writing novel about it, I will just say that he was mentally afflicted from ptsd from the navy and some type of genetic mental illness. He suffered deeply with his mind. Medications did not help. He tried everything to help himself. His suffering seemed to not be treatable-it had been left untreated for years before I met him (he was self treating with alcohol) I convinced him to try a Pyschiatrist and go that route. I am not justifying what he did, but I saw the suffering in a way no one else did. I want to be angry with him, but I saw his suffering. I am trying to develop a new relationship with him/his memory now. I want to not be angry with him and am having trouble with that.
I am also struggling with my buddhist understanding of this experience. I primarily study Tibetan Buddhism. In some things I read, it feels like this was also my karma, to have this experience of losing someone so close to me in such a complicated way. In others teachings, I feel that my karma plays no role here and this experience has nothing to do with me. If you can offer and guidance, I would be ever so grateful. Thank you.

nortonsleeper's picture

Oh boy...well, I too am a Navy Vet with 'issues'..very similar to your boyfriend I suspect..Anger is a natural emotion in these situations because they have chosen to leave us without us being involved in that decision making process...so we feel hurt, sadness, a sense of terrible loss, on and on and there is no 'cure' for these feelings...we just have to let them run their course...Suffering, on the level that he was experiencing is truly beyond belief and it looks as though you felt the compassion necessary to help him as much as you could...unfortunately, at times, we are truly helpless to end their suffering and they decide to take that step themselves...I have found that Karma is one of the least understood concepts in Buddhism but in this case your Karma was to love and help him and experience his pain along with him...he had Karma to work out and suceeded in doing as much as he could before leaving us...in this situation just feel blessed that you got to know him and experience his inner being as much as you could while he was here...you also received Grace in the form of actually FEELING compassion!!! To most people compassion is just an idea that they discuss and debate and think that they feel without really knowing what it is all about...the main concept in Buddhism is Acceptance...that is how we overcome our suffering...we learn not to become attached to the outcome of the situation...not to suffer because the storyline was not what we wanted...inside of that pained, hurt, emotionally destroyed individual was Buddha Nature in which we are all connected in some way so his pain was our pain too...and your pain is ours too ! so just realize that you are not in this alone..OK?
Namu Amida Butsu

nicoleann's picture

Thank you, Your comments meant a lot to me. I do truly "know" compassion in it's purest sense from my experience. To experience unconditional love and compassion is a experience like no other. This has changed who I am and has deepend my compassion for all others. I like how you described my "karma" as being an experience of his pain along with him That I did and would have continued to do. Your words are so thoughtful and kind. Thank you so much for sharing with me. Please know that from my experience, I watched my boyfriend try many things to help his condition. There is always more knowledge out there thay may help us that we may still come across to help us, even if we think we are out of options. We never really are. Please remember that for me. Being buddhist, you have the #1 ally on your side already-the dharma. Without the dharma by my side, as my refuge, I don't know how I would be standing.

Ezra Bayda's picture

sometimes a person is in so much pain that the only doorway they can see is to end their own life. for you to think about karma is just philosophy, and is not at all helpful. real practice is possible in only one place: in exactly what we are experiencing in the present moment. if you are experiencing anger, along with the sadness and grief, you don't have to think about it - you just have to experience what it really is. in many cases anger acts as a cover - a way to shield ourselves from experiencing the more difficult emotions, such as sadness and loss. it's possible that if you stay with your present moment experience, without analyzing it, you can drop down deeper into what's there - which is the genuine compassion for another being in pain. when that happens you can remember and feel your friend in your heart with the poignant tenderness that is obviously already there.

nicoleann's picture

Thank you. Your words are helpful. I tend to analyze everything in general (which makes Tibetan Buddhism my best friend), and my mind wants to do that now with this. I will try to stay with my compassion and slow down the analyzing since there is truly nothing left to analyze here with this. I will remind my anger that it is really compassion and try to stay with that. You are right about karma. It is just philosophy and not necessarily literal all of the time. (My words, not exactly yours. That is just how I took it) Thank you.

Sukha's picture

Hi Ezra,

My "difficult relationship" is with my father. I'm not sure how to describe him, as he's something of an enigma. I've never had a great relationship with him -- it's not bad, but just not close. I would describe him as out of touch with himself and others, and just not very connected. He's very superficial. When I talk to him, I usually feel like I'm talking into a black hole. And when he talks, it feels like it's coming from somewhere else. I'm not sure if that makes sense, so let's just say he's a very hard person to connect with. So part of the difficulty in the 'relationship' is that I mourn there not really BEING a relationship. I thought I had come to peace with that until recently, when I found out he was cheating on my mother with a prostitute. First I was angry, then hurt, and then eventually came around to feeling extreme sympathy and pity for him. I realize now that many of his issues stem from his childhood and that he's suffering a great deal, even if he doesn't realize it. So I guess my question is how to maintain a relationship with him now after all of this. Or even just how to be around him when I go home for the holidays as he feels like a stranger to me. He's hurt me a great deal, and I think even though he's currently working on his issues, I'm reluctant to try and build any kind of a relationship with him for fear of being let down again. I also have a hard time getting past the affair and it's hard to be normal around him when all I can think about is that and how much it disgusts me.

Ezra Bayda's picture

not to diminish the difficulty you feel, it nonetheless sounds like a somewhat self-centered version of your father. even though you express sympathy for him, is there any real effort to know him as he is, as opposed to how you want him to be. is there any effort to really be with your own complex and somewhat confused feelings about him. practice can't be reduced to trying to figure out our or others psychology; nor is it about changing others; nor is it about being free from hurt. this may be a hard message to swallow, but as long as we're in the analytic mode, or the fix-it mode, or the protective mode, we can't be open to either being present with ourselves or to relating to others. as difficult as your situation may be, you may need to start with being present with yourself - including your own assumptions and views.

r_samit's picture

dear Ezra,

Thank you very much for conducting this web based question answer session...its just awesome...because every question to a greater or lesser extent applies to almost every human being.

My biggest conflict is with trying to determine where to draw the line...if some one is asking for more than i am willing to give, do i then dig in my heels or do i give in to their demand...if i did dig in my heels would that be construed as lack of empathy and selfishness?

the other issue is that many dhamma talks speak of radical forgiveness...in a family context, is it ok to forgive oneself for what undoubtedly was a mean spirited or hurtful act?

thank you so much

warm regards

samit

Ezra Bayda's picture

dear samit,
it is always valuable to experience remorse for our own unkindness toward others - not just in our actions, but even in our thoughts. to genuinely experience remorse is one of the best motivators on the spiritual path, in that it gives us the emotional push to live more awake and open heartedly. regarding your question about where to draw the line - there is no general answer, because the answer depends on the specific situation. however, you can always ask yourself this question: "if i were to live my life over again and again in the exact same way throughout eternity, what would i do in this situation?" if you are sincere in asking this, it will help you bypass the confusion of the small mind.
ezra

alanbell_1969's picture

Hi Ezra.

Thanks for this opportunity - I love your books. Personally, I sit Zazen every day and it has certainly brought me an increased level of awareness more than I have ever experienced before.

However, I still struggle from time to time with my wife's family ... They are due to visit this Xmas ..They are not nasty people or anything, just generally quite selfish, for instance, when our daughter was younger (she is 4.5 now), they would hardly come and visit and help out when we needed them to. they tend to nearly always put themselves first, when family values (from my perspective) should certainly tend towards being selfless, loving and support each other. My wife agrees their behaviour is less than ideal, but she says she is used to it, having obviously gown up with them !! I also know if I where to ever confront them, they would struggle to understand, as they live in their own bubble.

I think I know what the answer is I.e. accept people for who they are (as long as they are not destructive), but I am also interested in your perspective.

Thanks
Alan

Ezra Bayda's picture

dear alan,
you mention that you believe family values should include being selfless, loving and supportive. do you think that your attitude toward your in-laws is loving and supportive? is it selfless to want others to be different, so that they see things your way? it's a given in families that people will have different wants and different views on how things should be. the conflict arises when we require others to change, rather than leaning the delicate art of letting people be as they are (assuming, as you say, they are not overtly harmful.) practicing loving kindness towards others goes a long way in making family relationships more harmonious.
ezra

alanbell_1969's picture

Thanks Ezra, you could say, you just held up a mirror to me !!

The famous Gandhi quote "be the change you wish to see" also comes to mind ....

bdgeo's picture

My problem is a romantic relationship that has been almost consistently difficult. Poor communication, money and career troubles, built up resentment and most harmfully betrayals (not infidelity but just as hurtful, on both our parts; committed by my partner in the beginning of our relationship and me recently) have created a tumultuous few years for us. I find myself wishing we could start over together and wondering how something so good could have gotten so messed up. This holiday season has me feeling especially down. I'd never quite realized how pervasive and in-your-face romance is during the holidays and a simple commercial can put me in tears. It's usually my favorite time of year but right now all of the joy and love has got me depressed and feeling like I'm on the outside of it all, and in the worst moments feeling like I might never be happy again. He's a wonderful person whom I love and want to be with, but I get caught up in a sort of "throwing the baby away with the bath water" mentality sometimes. I'm angry (mostly at myself) for things that have happened and start seeing them as a stain on what we have, or had. How can I let go of the past and stop clinging to the need for our relationship and history to be perfect and unblemished with struggles and mistakes? How do I forgive myself for my parts in the madness, especially the recent betrayal which I still resent myself for? Is it true that the right relationship can also be hard? I am new-ish to Buddhism and it has been helpful in so many areas of my life, but when it comes to this I still get stuck. I want to stop the past from dragging me down. I hope this is comprehensible. I have such trouble articulating my feelings about this.

Ezra Bayda's picture

your situation sounds very complicated and difficult to address in a short e-mail. however, if you have a meditation practice, i suggest that you sit regularly and watch your mind. see if you can clearly see your most believed thoughts - the ones you believe as The Truth. once you can put even a little space between you and your beliefs, especially about yourself, then try to just sit there with the experiential feeling in the body. allow yourself to feel what's there - to feel it fully. this is very different from indulging your emotions - that's what we do when we believe our thoughts. to truly feel what's there may allow you to break free of your deeply conditioned reactions - the ones that you seem to be stuck in. be aware: this process will take time. it is also helpful to have a teacher who can guide you through the process. but if you stay with it, you can find the equanimity that you are looking for.
ezra

elizacutcher's picture

Just hearing this person's name brings up yucky feelings of anger, resentment, jealousy , insecurities galore! You say we need to sit with these feelings, observe them and not allow the mind to dominate with its negative storyline. Forgiveness rings true how do I do this?

Ezra Bayda's picture

how to actually practice forgiveness is a good question. i am inserting a copy of the forgiveness meditation that is in my book "Beyond Happiness." i hope it will be helpful. but the only way it will be helpful is if you do it for as long as it takes to heal your resentment.

FORGIVENESS MEDITATION
First Step – Remorse: See if you can get in touch with the remorse of going against your own heart – that by holding onto resentment you are hurting yourself more than the other person is hurting you.

Second Step – Resistance: picture the person you feel resentment toward and try to breathe their image into the area in the center of the chest. If you feel resistance, don’t try to force it; just stay with the physical experience of resistance as long as it takes for the resistance to soften. This might take numerous occasions of doing the forgiveness meditation for this softening to begin to happen.

Third Step – Surrender: Ask yourself: Can I surrender to what is? Whatever you are feeling – whether it is hurt, anger, resentment, bitterness or fear – try to stay with the physical experience of the emotion. Label any strong thoughts that arise, but keep coming back to the body over and over. Gradually try to breathe the painful feelings into the center of the chest on the in-breath, until they can rest there without struggle. This step may also take a fair number of occasions.

Fourth Step – Forgiveness: Silently say the words of forgiveness.
Say the person’s name.
I forgive you.

I forgive you for whatever you may have done,
Whether intentionally or unintentionally,
From which I experienced pain.

I forgive you,
Because I know that what you did
Came from your own pain.

Return to the meditation as many times as you need to until the words of forgiveness come forth naturally from the heart.

elizacutcher's picture

Thank you now it's my discipline to sit and practice!

Joyous Holidays!

Anneig6's picture

I feel like hiding every holiday (birthdays, ect.). It is always just my 2 kids, my husband, myself and my mother. None of us really enjoys each other's company in various combinations and it is painful to be part of these gatherings, or at least tedious. I can't figure out how to be in the presence of this fact and be enjoying myself and the others at the same time. While I am learning how to notice what is there suffering versus my suffering, it is still hard to be happy around a small group of discontents. How do I improve on this familiar dilemma?

Ezra Bayda's picture

when we're in the midst of an inherently difficult situation, with little prospect that the objective situation will get significantly better, regardless of what we do, one option that always remains is to learn what it would mean, very specifically, to see the situation as your path. just like people with serious and intractable illness, to see the situation as our path means that we find ways to go deeper within ourselves. we can still learn, even if we are not happy in the conventional sense. remember, it is possible to find genuine happiness even in the midst of discomfort - whether the discomfort is physical or emotional. what this requires, however, is first seeing how the situation is your path. for example, if the situation triggers emotional pain, or even just tediousness - what would it mean to see the pain and the tediousness as your path? at very least, it would mean that each time the reactions arose, they would serve as a red flag, reminding you to take three breaths and be as present to your feelings as possible, without focusing on your family members. this would be a good start. how far you're willing to go with this would be up to you.
ezra

Anneig6's picture

thank you for those kind words. I think they will be very helpful to me.

keith.haas's picture

Dear Ezra,

I am thankful to get the opportunity to speak with you, as your writings have been recommended to me many times by my teacher. My challenge is not entirely related to the holidays, but is nevertheless making itself known in a big way during this season. This issue is this: I am harboring some pretty strong anger and resentment toward my wife, over an issue we have been dealing with for some time (challenges in intimacy). I know she is not being willful, and that it is just a function of who she is psychologically/biologically, but nevertheless, Small Mind continues to trump Big Mind, and I find myself feeding the fire of anger and resentment on a regular basis, which then leads to me distancing myself from her emotionally. I have a regular meditation practice, am working with a teacher, and have a strong connection to Sangha. I am familiar with this habitual pattern of mind, and know it is connected to some deeper conditioning, yet it often gets the best of me. Your thoughts and advice would be most welcome.

Bowing,
Keith

Ezra Bayda's picture

dear keith,
having a regular meditation practice, a teacher and a sangha are all essential, but still not enough when we are caught in anger and resentment. the situation you describe triggers our deepest fears, but because we don't want to really feel these fears, we stay stuck in anger and resentment. there are different ways to work with this, but my first suggestion would be to do a forgiveness meditation. be aware that this is a very difficult practice, because more often than not we would rather hold onto our resentment than make the effort to really experience what's there. perseverance is key - you may have to return to it many times before you can reap the benefit of genuine forgiveness. but as difficult as a forgiveness practice is, it is equally worthwhile. in the meantime, if you decide to take on a forgiveness meditation, be sure to consult your teacher regularly, because it's easy to get caught in detours.
ezra

keith.haas's picture

Ezra,
Thank you for this feedback. Even as I read it I feel anxiety well up in my chest. Letting go is not going to be easy. I will consult with my teacher and look into an effective way to engage in forgiveness practice. Thanks again for taking the time to respond.
Keith

catherinejoly's picture

Dear Ezra,
My husband, who is getting on in age and does not practice meditation, is extremely anxious about money issues. Does it mean I should first consider my own anxiety about money issues ?
Thank you, dear Ezra, for your advice and, most of all, for your beautiful books, which have been of great help to me through difficult health problems,

Ezra Bayda's picture

if you have anxiety about money issues, it would of course be good to work with it. but regarding your husband's anxiety about money - especially because he doesn't have a practice, wouldn't it be best to try to ease his discomfort? if he was practicing it would be a little different - you might be more willing to let him resolve his anxiety on his own, as part of his inner growth. but since he doesn't practice, what would love look like? love is the wanting to do things for another, so in this case, along with giving him comfort, you can also work on your own anxiety, so that it won't be contagious. you would be doing it for him as well as for yourself.
ezra

catherinejoly's picture

Thank you very much for your kind answer to my question, Dear Ezra. I feel I shall not lose my time if I work on my own anxiety. In fact, I am not particularly anxious about money issues, but I feel anxious about every possible issue. I guess it is one of the reasons why all your books have been meaning so much to me, since I started with "Being Zen" 2 years ago, before ending with with "Beyond Happiness". Again, thank you immensely for your teaching,
Catherine

northernstar's picture

Dear Ezra~In reading the other thread contributors' posts, I feel slightly petty in asking this question, however, this issue is something that is disturbing my work and I need some feedback on another way to look at it so I can have peace with it within myself. A few months ago, it came to my attention that a colleague whom I had regarded as a friend had been engaging in rumor mongering and saying hateful things about me behind my back to others. Although none of it was true, and it didn't cause any problems for me or my reputation, I was hurt and angry about this, as I had regarded this person as a friend and I had been instrumental in them getting a promotion. I guess I felt as thought I had my hand bitten so to speak. I tried very hard to see where this behavior was coming from, and I suspect it was because this individual is very insecure, and lashes out at people as a means of making himself feel better about his shortcomings. While this helped me understand the behavior, it really tainted my view of this individual and their character, and the friendship ended. Now I have to sit diagonally from this person at work, and I have a line sight view of him coming in late, leaving early, taking numerous breaks, goofing off, bullying, talking behind others' backs. My company is currently going through a downsizing, and I've seen many good people being let go, while this individual takes advantage. It's very frustrating to watch, and I suspect my reaction to witnessing this behavior is magnified by my own hurt at being betrayed by this person. Can you give me some guidance on some techniques to calm my ire about this situation? I realize that I probably should let this go, but it's been very difficult. I'm having trouble seeing the good in this person, and even having compassion for his feelings of insecurity.

Ezra Bayda's picture

why do you think you should be able to let your reactions go? have you ever found it easy to just let go of something that was fairly intense? "letting go" is rarely an option, except in small things - it's more a nice sounding philosophy than it is a realistic practice. perhaps instead of trying to let go of your feelings you can try to just let them be. what would that look like? it would mean, when sitting across from him, that you would be willing to really watch your mind - noticing all the thoughts of anger, blame and hurt. it would also mean that instead of indulging the thoughts, you would remind yourself, "don't go there!" - and then, as best you can, feel what's present physically in the body. remember, in sitting across from you, he's a perfect mirror, allowing you to look at yourself and your reactions more deeply. what you ultimately decide to do practically (whether you say something or not), must come out of your ability to be present to your own inner experience.
ezra

northernstar's picture

Ezra, thank you very much for your feedback. I think I felt guilty for being upset at what had occurred and what I witness, and perhaps felt that if I was to stay the path, I was not entitled to feel that way. The analogy of the mirror explains it perfectly, and I feel it will be very helpful in me acknowledging my feelings, and "letting them be", rather than trying to deny them completely. Thank you for helping me look at this a different way.

Sarah11.11's picture

This retreat has made my season. I have been carrying such guilt, shame and sadness since my youngest sister and I had a falling out last year when she left her job on a whim to become homeless with her boyfriend (who is a registered sex offender), and soon after became pregnant. The quick transformation of someone I dearly loved into someone I now loathe has been traumatic, and I have been considering the teachings on death and loss at Tricycle these past months as they apply to the death of my former relationship with my sister. Feeling my heart close to her has been the worst experience, and I have felt like the world's worst Buddhist for ending our communication, despite her attempts to reach out to me. I just don't see how I can interact with her in a friendly or compassionate manner without sending her the message that I am complacent about her situation, or that the horrible life decisions she has made have had no effect on our family. I don't know which gift to give her through our relationship, forgiveness or the lesson that horribly selfish decisions can have lasting consequences.

heidi.caslin@gmail.com's picture

Last year, my husband announced to me that he was leaving me for another woman. This was on top of some very serious health problems that I was right in the midst of. It has taken me a good length of time and some serious self-evaluation to come to a place where I can forgive him. Unfortunately, some of my other family members have not been able to forgive him for what he did to me. I have seen one sister, in particular, get so involved in her own hatred that it is just tearing her up inside. She is furious with me for having made the conscious choice to forgive. I feel very badly for her well-being. Harboring resentments like that can do nothing for the situation and certainly can do nothing for her own health and happiness. The practice of loving-kindness has really opened my heart to the fact that those who we resent are usually suffering themselves. It is definitely possible to forgive the person without condoning their mistakes. May you (as well as your sister) find peace....
--Heidi

Ezra Bayda's picture

dear sarah,
the gift you can give your sister is to love her as she is. you don't have to like or approve of her life style to still care for her as a person. if you're concerned that forgiving her will prevent her from learning a lesson, what about the lesson of forgiveness? and besides, life itself has a way of showing us where we screw up - if she made a bad decision life will let her know. it's very hard for us to learn this, but it's not our job to change other people (not that we can anyway.) the primary way we can serve others is by our own example - in this case by your working with your own self-centered reactions and letting her back into your heart.
ezra

Sarah11.11's picture

Thank you Ezra (and Heidi and Margees) for your encouragement and insight into my relationship with my sister. I really did need a push to meditate more on compassion and to heal my emotional wounds with forgiveness. My sincerest thanks!

margees2002's picture

dearest sarah,
i'm very much in agreement with ezra about the power of forgiveness, as well as the power of loving someone compassionately thru dark times, even when it feels hardest for us to do so. this doesn't mean that you don't set some boundaries for yourself around this relationship, but your sister will need you if at some point she realizes this partnership isn't working for her. sending you lots of love and courage <3

stking49's picture

Dear Ezra,
Thank you so much for this retreat. I would like to know what your feelings are as to what exactly we owe our parents. The guilt I feel not inviting my mother for Christmas is ALMOST as bad as the anger I feel when she is around. I have been working with the anger and resentment but cannot bring myself to be around her. Phone calls are about weekly but I still hear the whine and self-pity in her voice talking about Christmas. And if you give her an inch......a mile..... Arrrgh!! What should I do?
Thank you,
Sally

Ezra Bayda's picture

dear sally,
the question about what we owe our parents is a philosophical one - and one for which there is no single answer. perhaps another question would be more relevant: what would it mean in this situation to live more awake, and more from the open heart? one thing for certain: you can continue to work on your own anger - the anger at yourself in the form of guilt, and the anger at her, in wanting her to be different from how she is. the more we free ourselves from anger, the more clearly we can actually see another person, and the more we can be in touch with our own heart. as always, our difficulties push us to exactly where we are stuck - in this case your own anger. sometimes (not always), as we begin to resolve our own part, the difficulty no longer seems so difficult.
ezra

sbayless's picture

What are my responsibilities to parents who tend to be verbally and emotionally abusive? Yes, it would be ideal if I could show them love in person and not allow their behavior to wound or frighten me, but I am not a saint. They’ve screamed rejections at me many times over the years so I rarely have contact with them. I cannot travel to visit because of my rather extreme financial situation and made the mistake of not answering when asked to visit. Their reaction was volcanic and vicious and I’ve been told that they hate me and never want to hear my name again. Must I keep an open door to them just because they are my parents? What is the loving thing to do that is also loving to myself?

Ezra Bayda's picture

this reply is to you, to the person with the difficult sister-in-law, as well as to others who feel a relationship is verbally or emotionally abusive. if there seems to be no possibility of movement toward reconciliation, and if the abuse seems like it's too much to handle, it would probably be wise to stop seeing the person, and maybe even stop communication. however, even though we can't change another person, we can always work on ourselves. in cases like these, if we too are closed, we can work on our own anger, hurt and resentment. we can practice forgiveness even if we may never see the person again, because as long as we are holding onto resentment, and unable to extend kindness to another, we will remain stuck in the small mind of ego. our kindness can never be dependent on how another person treats us, and at the same time, we can in good conscience decide that it is best to have little to do with that person, at least for the present.

sbayless's picture

Thank you.

lrochelle's picture

Hello Ezra
I have had many difficult relationships in my life and have worked through them and grown. The one relationship that has effected me for 50 years is the one with one of my sisters-in-law. This person has so little self esteem and fear that she has driven wedges between my brother and everyone in our family. I recently went to visit them at their winter home in Florida...I had not seen them for 4 years and felt I so wanted to see my brother and spend time with him, and that I could stay centered and even compassionate towards her, that I went to visit them. I won't go into the details, but she is so manipulative and truly hateful to me, that after 5 days, I did lose it...I actually yelled at her that she was the most judgemental, mean spirited person I had ever known. Not my best moment, I removed myself and worked through the anger, but I do want a relationship with my brother and don't seem to be able to get around this...what am I not seeing, knowing that I need to and what is your advice for me? Thank you so much.
Lane

hmrosen's picture

Is it not best, in some cases, to remove yourself from a relationship that is harmful? To bless the person and release them from your energy field.

Shae's picture

Hi Ezra,

I have not spoken to a family member in the past two years concerning substance abuse. The confrontation got ugly, there were things and actions done that have been very difficult for me to let go. After two years I've turned to meditation and journal writing. I have to say the process has gotten easier for me and I am beginning to finally come around to forgiving the actions that happened and letting go, but I cannot begin to bring myself to contact them again. This family member has attempted to contact me several times, in which I did not answer back for reasons I feel they were not willing to speak about the incident they caused and bring some sort of resolution, reasoning, and understanding to. I feel in order to truly overcome this, I would like for this family member to speak about what happened and to forgive themselves. Would I be asking too much of them for them to forgive for the hurtful actions and words that were said? Not only to myself, but to other family members as well?

I would like to be able to have a decent relationship with them again in the future that is at least civil, but I cannot find it in myself to open the door for them again. I'm not certain how I can work this out, since there is a part of me on the inside that has taken enough mental abuse from this family member for years that I simply do not care to deal with it anymore, or attempt to try. I have meditated on this feeling and found the feeling to be correct every single time: I am not willing to budge to speak to them yet, as much as my mind tells me to be "civil", my heart tells me to keep the distance for now.

If you can offer any insight in technique of going deeper with meditation and overcoming my block of contact again, that would be much appreciated.

Thank you.

Ezra Bayda's picture

it is understandable not to want to put yourself in a position where another may abuse you. but in this case the person is reaching out to you. if you really want to have a decent relationship with the person, how could you do that if you don't give the relationship a chance? when we close another person out, we have to realize that it is we who are closed. to be truly open to another means, in part, that we don't demand that the other person change. perhaps it not your heart that is telling you to keep your distance, but your mind - the mind of fear and protection. it is always worthwhile to ask ourselves if we're willing to pay the price of living from the heart, or if we would prefer to close down in fear.
warm regards,
ezra

joleelacey's picture

Dear Ezra
I have been practicing meditation for a number of years and try to sit everyday. However my relationship with my 28 year son is often very difficult. He is unable to manage his life and his finances and comes to me to bail him out financially. This is the only time I ever really hear from him. I have helped him to get back on track many times as I do not want to see him hit rock bottom and lose his home, however I am not in a position financially to keep doing this and also where does it end? I am already £5K in debt as a result. When I try to talk to him about sorting his life out he is rude and abusive and we have now fallen out because I am so sick and tired off going through this again and again. He wont answer my calls or my texts and I anticipate that I will not see him over Christmas now. I do get angry and upset and I sometimes feel it would be better to cut my ties with him but of course he is my child and I love him and just want for things to be ok. He has not had an easy life and feels that the world owes him and I cannot seem to get him to see otherwise. I would be grateful for any help you may be able to offer me.
Thank you
Jo

Ezra Bayda's picture

dear jo,
this is the first question i've looked at, and i doubt that there will be one that is more difficult to answer. i am familiar with your situation - i have a grown daughter in similar circumstances - and it took me a long time to resolve it within myself. one thing that helped me was rereading herman hesse's novel "siddhartha." even siddhartha, who had experienced enlightened understanding, was thrown totally off when he discovered his sixteen year old son. the son had lived an entitled life, and wanted nothing to do with him, which caused siddhartha, like you, much suffering. as parents, we want our children to be happy and safe, but within that wanting is often great fear and attachment. it is in working inwardly with our own fear and attachment that we can find some resolve. this may mean spending a lot of time on your meditation seat allowing yourself to truly experience the grief and loss that are no doubt there. but it's very important, when staying with our feelings, to learn how to drop the thoughts, the story - thoughts such as, "after all i've done, why can't he appreciate me?" it's admittedly difficult to do this, but with perseverance we can learn to stay with just the physical sensations and energy of grief and loss. what will come of this? for me, i saw the depth of my attachment, and out of that clear seeing i resolved to stop telling my daughter who to be and what to do. i also was willing to see her "fail," based on the understanding that in her difficulties, just as in mine, was the best opportunity for her to grow and find genuine happiness. i also made clear what i was and wasn't willing to do for her, and since then our communication and relationship has definitely been better. remember, we can tell someone we love them and still tell them they are on their own.
warm regards,
ezra

joleelacey's picture

Thank you Ezra. I will try and let go of the story line as you suggest and simply sit with the feelings. I know that I have to let go of the fear of what will happen to my son if I dont help him out again. He has his own path to follow and perhaps he does need to reach his bottom in order to transcend to a place where he appreciates what he actually has. Letting go is not easy.

gradymcg's picture

Ezra, Thanks for the topic, and the invitation. I suspect you'll answer my question(s) in the course of your retreat, but I'm hoping to fast forward a bit. I very curious about your thoughts in response to five related questions (which overlap in a way most people are likely to find irritating--I hope you're not among them and apologize if you are--it's the only way I know of getting answers as precise as I'd like.):

#1. What recommendation have you found yourself making most frequently to people who struggle with difficult relationships?

#2. What behavior on the part of yourself and others most often benefits from this recommendation?

#3. What recommendation have you found most easy for people to integrate into their thoughts and actions in the effort to improve their ability to manage difficult relationships?

#4. What in your experience are the several most frequently named "difficult relationships"?

#5. What in your personal experience are the several most difficult relationships?

And yes, I'm aware that letting go of the occasional need to compose communications of this character introduces legions of unnecessary difficult relationships into my life. :).

Thanks for whatever patience you can muster for this one.

Warm regards, Grady McG.

Ezra Bayda's picture

dear grady,
the most frequent recommendation i make is to encourage people to see the difficulty as their path - their path to waking up. all of us believe that when we have difficulties it means that something is wrong, and that something needs to be fixed. the truth is, when we find ourselves in a difficult relationship, regardless of what the difficulty is, we are in the exact perfect situation to learn where we may be most stuck. what this will often require, and what will be of most benefit, is that we first stop blaming someone else for the distress that we feel. this is not easy to integrate, but waking up is not supposed to be easy. in fact, the more difficult the situation is the deeper we usually have to go within ourselves in order to find freedom. for you, this may require turning away from the analytical mind that wants intellectual answers, and instead be willing to actually experience what your life is right now, difficulties and all.
warm regards,
ezra

ksovio's picture

Hi Ezra,
I've struggled the last few years with managing my family relationships in combination with my meditation practice. I've been practicing regularly for 5 years now and have been to numerous retreats of 5-10 days in length, some of which have involved intergrating psychology and spiritual work. I feel that my practice has opened up pandora's box in a way for me and I feel very aware of all of the "stuff" that I put away for years from my childhood. Its been difficult going from getting in touch with this and then coming home and having dinner with my family. Things have been (very) slowly improving in the way of I truly feel more compassion for my parents and how hard things must have been for them when we were kids, however I still have waves of anger at times.
My question is: do you think it is wise to spend less time around your family when you feel that you are in the transitional process of forgiveness and letting go? I said to one of my teachers this year that I feel like I'm not getting nicer/kinder fast enough for what the world needs(and my family)....I still kinda feel that way.
Thanks,
Kate