PROLOGUE: A Free Mind Grows Fruitful Relationships
THE LEADING PREMISE BEHIND THIS LITTLE ARTICLE is that it is impossible to have a fruitful relationship — whether with a good friend, a lover, a ‘partner’ or a spouse — if one or both parties are overtly or secretly being controlled by something or someone else. Human relationships flourish in situations of shared loving freedom rather than a controlling coercion which excludes the other. There can certainly be some kind of low level relationship between those who are not free from external controls. But one can only have a full-bodied, fruitful relationship with the mind of another which is free, and if one is free oneself from any kind of external control or unhealthy internal constraint. This is common sense really; but it seems so little understood that it would be worth going into it a little.
There are two conditions in which a relationship between two human beings can thrive without hindrance or manipulation: The first is when both parties have minds which are free from external controls and therefore are unenslaved by anything; that is, when those two minds are not under the control of other people or of external elements (or even internal ones, as I will elaborate below!). The second is when both parties fully exercise self-awareness — the state of being deeply observant about, and conscious of, why one thinks and acts as one does. Both freedom from control and the practice of self-awareness take great self-discipline, determination and endurance in this world of deception, distraction and dissembling. I have written about self-awareness in depth on a number of occasions. So here I want to major on the importance of freedom from control of any kind in order for a relationship to be able to flourish.
EXTERNAL ELEMENTS WHICH CAN CONTROL US (with or without our knowledge)
When something or someone outside of us controls us — whether overtly or secretly — we are not free to give our whole selves to a relationship, for we will be ‘in hock’ to situations outside of the relationship which should not be stealing us away. This is NOT because two people should control each other rather than be controlled by something else! It is because there should be no control other than benevolent self-control, by which I mean self-discipline, having the desire and determination to be who we are really meant to be rather than what someone else wants us to be or what something else malevolently constrains us to be. This is a tremendous challenge in a world such as this. But that should only spur us on to greater accomplishment and personal development. For the greater the challenge, the more the incentive to overcome it! Would you not agree?
So what are the elements which can most commonly control us? I will divide these into two categories: People and Things.
1. People Who Can Control Us
Most people are being detrimentally controlled by human influences outside of themselves. Examples of this would be parents, offspring, lovers, friends, partners, spouses, peer group members, or even bosses. It is understandable for such people to be influential in some way. However, I am not speaking about influences but controls. Influences can be resisted or taken on board at will, depending on their usefulness or didactic function. But it is completely different with people who control us. Often these people can control us in ways that we might not even discern.
A very obvious example would be where a teenager falls under the controlling nature of a new-found friend of the wrong kind who turns his or her mind against the parents who then find they can no longer have any decent relationship with their son or daughter. The youngster’s strings are being pulled, puppet-like, by the new “friend”. An external force is in control. Another obvious example would be the old mother-in-law ‘chestnut’ whereby a husband cannot have a fruitful relationship with his wife because she is still being controlled by her mother (or vice-versa because the husband is “under the thumb” of his mother). Someone else is pulling the strings. Another example would be where, say, a daughter is unable to relate to her father anymore because her new boyfriend is threatened by the influence of the father and has manipulatively planted negative ideas in the daughter’s head about her father. The daughter probably wouldn’t even recognize what was happening and will just imagine that she has outgrown her father. But the father can no longer relate to the daughter because her thinking is being controlled by someone other than herself. A relationship has been undermined through the daughter giving her strings (which she alone should control) into the hands of another — in this case, a manipulative, controlling boyfriend.
The above are very obvious examples of outside control undermining a relationship. But these kind of negative family influences can also happen in a more subtle and unconscious manner. For example, a man or woman could still be under the subconscious internal control of a parent who was abusive in their childhoods and thus that man or woman will react to his or her spouse in inappropriate ways, based not on current relations but on those forged in traumatic ways early in life. There is something from outside the relationship which is then controlling what happens in that relationship and how the parties relate to each other. The formerly abusive parent might not even be currently alive, but the internal ‘ghost’ (so to speak) of that parent — if the trauma has not been resolved — still exercises an unconscious hold over the son or daughter, subsequently messing up current relationships.
Thus, a relationship can only progress fruitfully if there is no external or internal control (other than benevolent self-control) interfering in the way that each party in a relationship can relate with the other. So many people allow other people or elements to control them, at the expense of their current relationships. But this is not healthy, and neither is it fruitful. Relationships are only worth experiencing if they are fruitful. While I accept that it is true that an open, healthy soul can learn from an unfruitful or unhealthy relationship (and I speak from experience as well as from learned knowledge), one would have to be very foolish to expose oneself to such a relationship deliberately in order to get some lessons! Such self-flagellation is unnecessary in this life.
Apart from people who can control us, there are also non-human elements which can interferingly exercise control in human relationships.
2. Things Which Can Control Us
Apart from people, various inanimate elements can control us. For example, when someone accepts uncritically what is written or said in the media. This may seem like a surprising example, but one cannot have a free-rolling relationship with a person who believes what their newspapers or television tell them or what their government inculcates them to believe, for they are then being controlled by an outside source which is based on falsehood and disinformation. Similarly, it is very difficult to have a fruitful relationship with someone who fanatically holds to an ideology or a religious dogma, for their thinking and behaviour will be continually controlled by them. All your conversations and times together will be filtered through them. They will not be free. Even if two people in a relationship share the same ideology or dogma, that relationship is not based on freedom but merely on shared conditioning. For they are both trapped in an ideological or religious prison.
Also, those who have personality disorders (such as Narcissistic Personality Disorder, NPD, or Borderline Personality Disorder, BPD), or addictions of any kind will be unable to enjoy truly fruitful human relationships, for those disorders and addictions control them from within in various ways. This will always be the case if both parties in a relationship have not freed themselves from external controls or, at the very least, are not willing to face up to those obstructive (and even destructive) controls and eliminate them from their lives. It has to be both parties too. A person who is free from controls may enter a relationship with someone who isn’t, imagining or hoping that the other will change. But that is an illusion; for the one who is free will just end up becoming the other one’s ‘therapist’, or get sucked into an endless round of co-dependency, which can never be good solutions.
Furthermore, certain personal attitudes or stances can stand in the way of fruitful human relationships, controlling them destructively. For example, an inability or predominant unwillingness to forgive others (i.e. where it is endemic in a person’s mentality). This is because the person who habitually refuses to forgive is being controlled by whatever or whoever has wronged him or her. For that reason alone, one can never have a fruitful relationship with an unforgiving person. It will be doomed to disaster, for the resentments will build up as there are always elements in any relationship which are in need of forgiveness.
Moreover, surely the reason that so many people are ‘triggered’ by so much these days is because something alien to them is controlling them. Their reactions are not untarnished and pure, faithful to the moment, but they are besmirched by old untreated wounds or outmoded defensive psychological strategies. What an unreal mode of living — the psychological equivalent of zombiedom! Triggeredness is the direct result of people’s strings being pulled by something or someone other than oneself. The widespread curse of narcissism is also going to create mayhem in any relationship. Vanity and self-centred obsession will always mean that the stroking of the “I” as the controlling force will be massively more important than the securing of the “we”; and right there is a relationship failure in the making.
EPILOGUE: It is the Spirit Which Counts!
We live in a world in which the mass of people’s strings are being pulled by manipulative people and hostile elements which turn them into mere puppets rather than free human beings making healthy choices every day. If one values truth and freedom, one finds oneself living in an alien land surrounded by people who do not value those things, however much they may pay lip-service to them. It therefore becomes increasingly difficult to find a life partner who is able and willing to share in a relationship based on freedom from external controls or unreasonable internal constraints. Thus, it is easier to become a recluse, even though aloneness is not really the natural or ideal state of the healthy human; and many choose to live like that these days, rather than find themselves in a relationship which is akin to childish ‘painting by numbers’ rather than a masterpiece. Surely, there is no point in being in an intimate relationship if it is not going to be a masterpiece!
Essentially, a mind which is not free from external or internal controls (apart from benevolent self-control) can never enjoy a fruitful relationship, which is why so many relationships are fractured or broken (or just doggedly function on the basis of an unhealthy co-dependency). This is why I am never impressed when someone boasts about how long they have been together with someone in a relationship. Fact is that most people stay together out of habit and because true freedom frightens them. I am not really interested in how long a couple stays together. I am only interested in how much they have grown into free and wise souls through the dynamic interaction between them.
I have to say that virtually no one comes into a relationship free from controls or in a complete state of self-awareness. But we all have to start somewhere in releasing ourselves from unhealthy elements which get in the way of being real with each other. What’s more, it is the spirit which counts. If I am determined to work my way towards freedom from unnecessary constraints and controls, however long it might take, and whatever I have to do to achieve that (and not just for myself but for the sake of any relationship and my integrity-flow with the other person), then that is what is important. I am not talking here about ‘perfection’ but simply about correction — the lens of life being polished until all is clearly seen for what it is.
The questions we should ask ourselves regularly are these: Who or what controls me? Who is pulling my strings? Am I free from outside interference or inner hindrance? Am I the subtle object of manipulation by others or by the media in which I invest my time? Are there deep pains and untreated wounds which are preventing me from responding and reacting to life’s circumstances and the overtures of others with freedom and joy? Am I flowering as I should be? Am I developing in wisdom, insight and love? I mentioned at the beginning of this little piece that both freedom from external control and self-awareness are vital for a fruitful relationship. In fact, one needs self-awareness to be able to answer all these questions honestly in any relationship. For when one does so, then the strings by which others have manipulated us will soon fray and break, the masks we have worn to protect ourselves will become superfluous and fall away, and then real life can begin.
© Alan Morrison, 2020