Years ago, I read in a book that the purpose of our adult relationships is to work out what we couldn’t with our parents. We unconsciously seek out people who remind us of them and then, equally unconsciously, try to work out all of the unresolved issues from our childhood. I saw this clearly playing out in my life with a co-worker this week. We have similar roles in the company, and in fact, we were both promoted to this position around the same time. We’re professional equals. And yet, I find myself entertaining feelings of competitiveness toward her, wanting to be the favourite. When I objectively look at the situation, I know there’s nothing to be competitive about. My position is assured because I’m good at my job and management’s acknowledged this many times. And yet.
In many ways this relationship mirrors the one I have with my mother. We’ve always had a complex relationship; one that alternated between love, competitiveness and detachment. I remember yearning for my mother’s affections as a child and then feeling hurt when she didn’t or couldn’t respond. Despondency and angry would usually follow. Then there was the competition for my father’s affections. He often made it obvious that I was his favourite, and there being just the three of us, this must have made my mother feel left out.
When I look at all the female relationships in my life, they are all just as complex. Regardless of who they are or how kind they are to me, I will invariably feel a mixture of warmth, longing and competitiveness toward them. I realized all of this in a flash this week when I was struggling to find a way to get along with my co-worker, and not wanting to do this familiar dance again. When I looked at her rationally, she’s wonderful and kind. She’s simply trying to do her job well. But I was secretly harbouring negative feelings toward her, which made me feel incredibly petty. I realized that what I was feeling had nothing to do with her, and everything with me and my past.
Interestingly, after I had this realization, things felt easier between us. Even though I didn’t know how to resolve the issues I have with my mother, the rest of the day went much more smoothly between us. Maybe just realizing the truth is part of the solution. I often think about this quote from Carl Jung, “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life, and you will call it fate.” Perhaps, uncovering the truth and being with it is all I need to do. Once the truth is unveiled there’s no longer the need to play it out.