The calm after the storm

Relationships require hard work, almost like experiencing childbirth that includes long, arduous hours of painful labour. Be it any relationship; it takes time for people to settle and arrive at a place of mutual understanding where they can co-exist with their differences. Be it an intimate relationship, friendship, professional or familial relationship, they are all rooted in conflict. Individuals experience intrapsychic and interpersonal conflict, which is challenging and agonising, and growth comes only through experiencing it to its fullest.
Conflict is an ongoing life process where we are constantly consciously and unconsciously choosing between our impulses and rationality, internal and external influences. We hope to arrive at a place with a sense of safety in that relational space.
We are relational beings, and personal growth comes from relating to others. Ruptures are part and parcel of any relationship. Contrary to the perception that a rupture indicates a regression in the relationship, in reality, it’s another opportunity to grow personally for the relationship to evolve.
It is impossible not to feel triggered by differences that exist between people. When the psychology of two different people interacts, the difference exists not only at the body-mind level, but each person carries their unique wounding story, culture, parental history, core nature, and nurturing influence with them.
Sometimes we get along very well with people and start noticing getting triggered, which induces anxiety when we realise that others are different. A child-like part in some of us feels safe to identify with others in being similar. In contrast, the adult can appreciate the uniqueness of every human being and can connect with others in their differences too.
I often hear people in therapy say they want to avoid conflict at all costs and believe what works is to hold the silence and not permit themselves to have a voice in their relationships. They believe this will keep the connection safe and prevent it from falling apart. But that conflict they avoid manifests in other ways, and the relationship stops growing and comes to a standstill. Most of us oscillate between a passive and aggressive voice and imagine that if we are not silent, we can only be angry to express how we feel in a conflicting situation.
A rupture is inevitable but can repair organically or by the conscious intention of the people involved. Understanding each other doesn’t come from muted conversations over coffee; it involves ugly fights, raised voices, blaming, victimising, tears, and more. It’s painful. Chaotic. One feels like giving up more often than not. There is an impulse to surrender, and there is an impulse to run from it all, but it’s also true that those relationships that can survive the storm of differences thrive and grow and experience calm and peace that can be long-lasting.
How does it happen? Simply through trial and error, the process of connecting keeps changing, growing, and evolving; it involves hurting each other while having the fantasy of healing each other. There are expectations of being met by others as we want to meet them. To be seen and to be heard. There is heartache post the fantasy castle collapse, where we believe everyone lives happily ever after.
Almost everyone feels anxious when experiencing conflict. To their conscious mind, they imagine the anxiety of being around ‘this conflict will lead to a termination’ in the relationship. But if people can learn to believe that a rupture is just the gateway to healing and progression of a relationship, they can work through it. The anxiety symbolises that something needs to change, and it is only possible once we accept our uniqueness and if we desire to change.
I do not deny how scary it is to experience conflict. It is easy to give up rather than stay and work through it. The fight, flight, and freeze modes are also fully activated, and in the throes of extreme distress, it is hard to remember that this scary storm will lead to peaceful co-existence. Allow yourself to experience relationships in their full realistic glory and have faith that every human wants to change and work through them. ‘I am not only the calm before the storm. I am the calm and the storm.’ Ivy Atalanta

The writer is a BACP (British Association For Counselling and Psychotherapy) accredited individual and couple psychotherapist based in Islamabad. She can be reached at or her official website.

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