Angus gets a look in his eye when he is upset. His face changes. He looks different. I have come to recognize this look over the years and it is helpful when I can see it, understand his state of mind, and have compassion. The defining moment that helped me with this happened in our relationship back in 2014. Our relationship was not in a bad place, but it wasn’t great.
We were happy living parallel lives that overlapped at times. The occasional conflict would arise, but not that frequently and not that intensely. Not because we had learned to navigate conflict better. We had instead found a more stable equilibrium by not being so close. There was much less friction between us with less emotional intimacy and that worked for us at the time. I poured my energy into developing my practice and parenting and Angus lived his life. I knew he wasn’t satisfied, but as long as he wasn’t venting on me I left that up to him.
Nonetheless, even though I wasn’t looking for change my inner rewilding was unfolding beyond my awareness. I didn’t have a vision board or Ideal Scene. I wasn’t saying affirmations. And thank goodness, anything I would have focused on would have been too small. What we have now was beyond my wildest dreams then. I never thought we were capable of the love and intimacy we have nor did I ever in a million years think we would work together supporting other couples.
My shift out of a victim mindset happened in the least expected moment.
“Why don’t you lift a finger around here!” he vehemently snapped.
We were standing facing each other at the bottom of the stairs. Angus with his back to our open plan kitchen that was a mess. Hence his upset. Me facing him standing two feet away. I can see the details of his face. The drawn face with soft wrinkles around his eyes. The sneer on his lips. There was a red flush on his neck and his hands were clenched. He was wearing his work clothes, cheap dress slacks, a gray-blue cotton dress shirt the color of his eyes rolled up at the sleeves, and black sneakers that he got away with wearing as work shoes. The sneakers were the only part of his attire that is true to him. I was barefoot, wearing jeans and a pink t-shirt, my black hair loose falling over my shoulders and framing my face. There was a small ball of our dog fur at the bottom of the stairs. It was past sunset and the recessed kitchen lights were on behind Angus. Outside it was an aubergine shade of dusk.
“Aren’t you going to say anything?” he asks.
My normal experience would have been to feel hurt and unappreciated. I would think can’t he see how hard I am working. I working three jobs. I’m doing the best that I can. I would have probably then become hostile and critical in my response. I may have presented as rational and calm, but anything I said would have been laced with condescension and judgment. This would have been like pouring gasoline on a fire and the fight would have escalated. I knew how to get under Angus’s skin and have him lose control so I could judge him even more. This time was different.
“No” I replied. “I can see your suffering.” I stood there feeling completely relaxed. There was no tension in my body. I did not recoil from his words. I felt calm and he stood there in his stunned silence.
That was my heart-opening moment. In the face of fire, my heart cracked open. I felt profound love and compassion for Angus while he was spewing vitriol toward me. Every other time this had happened I felt like a victim. This time I felt free, alive, and empowered. There was not one part of me that felt hurt by Angus’s behavior. My equanimity in this situation doesn’t mean that what Angus was doing was okay. It wasn’t. The point I am making is that I was not hurt by it. I was free and that was liberating. Experiencing my inner safety and wellbeing was good for me. The by-product was that it had a different effect on our interaction. If Angus hadn’t settled down, I would have been able to respond from a settled place within myself and make self-honoring decisions without making him less than.
But my new experience did impact Angus and it resulted in him changing. I wasn’t trying to make this happen as I had tried throughout the previous twenty years of our marriage. (Yes, you can call me a slow learner!)
My new inner confidence and stability were what started a ripple effect of change in our relationship and this made everything after that different. Neither one of us can go back to the way it was before. That is why I always tell my clients to start with themselves first. To start with connecting with their truth. To feel who they are. To own their strength. To know their innate worth. To feel the stability of their true nature.
There was a huge difference between the two vantage points between feeling peace and feeling like a victim within myself. I went from taking what Angus would say to me when he was angry personally and blaming him for my suffering. Feeling disempowered and thinking that I needed him to change so I wouldn't hurt. I was convinced I couldn’t be with him at my most hurt moments because it was too painful. He caused me too much pain. I didn’t deserve that. I could do better. I didn’t see that my hurt was coming from all of the limiting beliefs that I was identifying with. My suffering wasn’t coming from what Angus was doing or saying.
After my heart opened in the face of his anger, and instead of feeling pain, I felt love and compassion. I saw this to be true. Angus’s behavior had not changed and I was not suffering. It didn’t matter what he said to me. There was nothing he could do or say that would change my experience. He could not take that away from me because it was me. It is all of us. That is who we are.
I have tears in my eyes writing this as I remember how exquisite that moment was. I knew myself in that moment. I woke up to my unchanging nature that is fundamentally okay. Before that, I thought I was my emotions. I thought my feelings were my identity and believed I needed to fix my feelings so I could be okay. This moment was completely different. It empowered me and enlivened me.
My shift supported Angus with experiencing a shift too. He was befuddled by me and my response. In his befuddlement, he snapped out of his trance of anger and saw how he was behaving. He got perspective on himself. This is the part that is not guaranteed. I can’t say if someone else has a heart-opening experience in the face of someone losing their shit that the person losing their shit will wake up too, but there is a greater possibility of this happening. For Angus, what he recognized was that he was behaving like a complete asshole moments before he felt completely justified. In that self-recognition, he couldn’t keep behaving the way he was. He stopped not because I was judging him and telling him he needed to change the way I would have done previously. He stopped because he knew for himself that he needed to be different. There was no going back from that.
That doesn’t mean that we never have conflict in our relationship. We do sometimes, but I never feel like a victim. Just the other day, Angus was in a shitty mood and blaming me for his mood in an angry way. I wasn’t in the greatest state of mind so I wasn’t feeling particularly compassionate toward him and I told him. “Hey, I’m not feeling great. I don’t have the bandwidth for this right now. Cut it out. I haven’t done anything wrong. ” From a more loving space, I would have listened and had compassion and been supportive, but that was the best I could do and that was fine. So my heart-opening moment doesn’t mean I am always living in that experience, and it also didn’t turn me into a doormat which is what so many people say they are afraid of. It is possible to set boundaries from a place of love and compassion. Judgment and hurt are not required.
The empowerment and freedom that come from having an open heart are liberating! Being in a victim mindset is the opposite of that. My victim mindset was an ego pattern that resulted from the misunderstanding that I was better than Angus because I didn’t express my anger the way he did. It was a way I could feel superior. This was how I was protecting myself from my feelings of unworthiness. I needed Angus to behave badly so I could feel better than him and not have to face the more painful beliefs in my consciousness of being unlovable.
With an open heart, I connected to my wisdom and was guided by that. I knew what to do. We all have this incredible guidance system within. Leaving a situation or a relationship might be what is needed. I trust my commonsense and wisdom to guide me, but I need to hear it. When my heart is defended, I am listening to the noise of my conditioning and I make choices based on it and the repeat patterns rather than respond to current circumstances with real-time commonsense.
Forgiveness, compassion, resilience, empowerment, self-honoring are all by-products of knowing the true self. Feeling like a victim, behaving arrogantly, or as a doormat are all indicators to look within to experience a deeper connection with your loving essence. This is not woo woo, Pollyanna thinking. It is highly practical and personally beneficial. We are designed to be open-hearted. We are designed to be free. We are designed to love. That is the nature of our design and when we work with the design, life is much easier.
Listen to the truth within you. Listen to your heart. Listen to what you know is right. If you listen to your deeper knowing you will feel the loving quality of your wisdom. The voice of your wisdom is loving. It is not harsh. It rides on a good feeling of kindness and compassion and it will guide you. You will never be guided to put yourself in danger or diminish yourself in any way. You may, however, be guided to get over your ego, to get over your conditioning, to get off your position, to drop being self-righteous, to let go of your contempt, to release your judgments. But all of these are good for you. These experiences are painful and limiting. They don’t help solve any situation. They all take a toll on mental, emotional, and physical health and prevent seeing who we are and the possibilities that are available to us.
I share my story to point to where your emotional suffering comes from. It is not coming from the outside. It comes from the lies I believe about myself. They are the source of suffering. The only source. I know this to be true. This does not mean there isn’t unacceptable and unfair behavior in the world. And they may cause physical pain, but they are not the source of emotional suffering. The meaning I create is what causes suffering. I am not to blame for what happens to me or for the meaning that I create about it. None of that is my fault. And I empower myself when I see the real source of emotional suffering is the result of buying into beliefs that disconnected me from the loving essence of my true nature. That is it. It all happens within me. No one else can separate me from the experience of who I am. I innocently do that by believing the lies I have been told over the years about who I am. the truth is I am love. I am lovable. I am whole. I am infinite. I am unbreakable. I am truth. I am god and so are you.
No one and no thing can change that. This is my manifesto. I will be unwavering. I will not compromise myself to accommodate anyone’s lies about themselves. I will risk upsetting you to tell you of your worth. I will receive your anger to tell you you aren’t broken. I will accept rejection to stand for your lovability. I will remain steadfast to see your liberation. It is worth it. And I am okay if I ruffle a few feathers with my unwavering stance along the way.
Rohini Ross is co-founder of “The Rewilders.” Listen to her podcast, with her partner Angus Ross, Rewilding Love. They believe too many good relationships fall apart because couples give up thinking their relationship problems can’t be solved. In this season of the Rewilding Love Podcast, Rohini and Angus help a couple on the brink of divorce due to conflict. Angus and Rohini also co-facilitate private couples' intensives that rewild relationships back to their natural state of love. Rohini is also the author of the ebook Marriage, and she and Angus are co-founders of The 29-Day Rewilding Experience and The Rewilding Community. You can follow Rohini on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. To learn more about her work and subscribe to her blog visit: TheRewilders.org.