The transformational relationship

In our journey of self-development, transformational relationships are essential. Photo by Karsten Würth on Unsplash

We need each other to grow.  From the moment we are born (and considerably before) we are dependent on each other as companions in the quest to realise ourselves.  Relationships form the backbone of our development.  We are in relationships whether we like it or not.  If we are not talking to someone, then we are in a non-talking relationship.  Where other beings exist, relationships exist.  Since other beings, inevitably, exist, we, inevitably, are in relationships with them.

We began our lives as ‘this person’ through the joining of other people’s cells.  We were incubated in someone else’s body, and shared their organism in order to grow our own.  We were then ‘trained’ in the art of existence, well or badly, by our early carers and peers.  We have always been in a state of transformation, encouraged or inhibited by others.


When growing up, we all had different experiences.  Some of us had parents who nurtured us, and some of us had parents who neglected us.  This has left us in different stages of growth.  Some of us are very trusting, reaching out to others as a default behaviour.  Some of us, on the other hand, are suspicious, taking a long time to trust others with ourselves.

Probably, our key early relationships helped to form us into the personalities we demonstrate now.  The mixture of our genetic inheritance, our circumstances, and our carers, helped to forge us into something recognisable and distinct.  No two people are exactly alike; even identical twins occupy different spaces and have different lives.

So our early lives helped to make us who we are right now.  We can’t go back and change those early relationships.  We can, though, look back and reinterpret them.  We can stop being angry at early neglect.  We can begin to release ourselves from the personality restrictions our early lives placed us under.


It’s hard to liberate ourselves from the past without transformational relationships in the present.  We tend to get ‘stuck’ in our personal habits and rituals.  This ‘stuckness’ has the benefit of protecting us from disruption.  But it can also prevent us from good change.  Now and then, we may be lucky enough to bump into other beings who can help us to make ourselves new.

These transformational relationships can take many forms.  They can even be relationships with apparently negative people, who seem not to care about us.  If we are ready to learn from everything, then we can even learn from those who don’t wish us well.  But, perhaps more commonly,  we meet people who can bring us the conditions we need to grow.


What are these conditions for growth?  What can transformational relationships bring, that other relationships don’t bring so easily?  Maybe there are five key benefits we can learn to recognise in these special relationships:


Motivators help us generate a strong wish to develop ourselves.  Their presence makes us want to improve.  There are many ways of doing this:  motivators can be gently encouraging, loudly inspiring, strongly disciplinarian… motivation is quite a personal thing.  Good motivators will attend to the nature of the person, and exhibit behaviours which bring out the best in others.


To develop, we need to get familiar with the world around us, and with new ways of living.  Teachers understand how we learn, and that we need some system, method and repetition to get there.  We are very lucky when we find someone who knows the territory we want to learn, and who can show us what the journey looks like.  Teachers are those who turn up every day, reliably, time and time again, to help us familiarise ourselves with our new skills.


We learn a lot by example, and it helps to be surrounded by people who live the life we want to live.  Our brains are even structured to learn in this way, by observing and copying what we see others do.  (You can read about a simple teaching application of this, by Shannon Morris, here.  If you want to go into more biological depth, try this article by Iona Carcea and Robert Froemke.)  Good examples are very effective, because they bypass the resistance we may experience when faced by motivators and teachers.


To develop, we also need to eliminate obstacles.  We may meet people who help us to demolish inner and outer blocks to self-development.  They may provide us with a peaceful environment, or help to chase away bad influences on our life.  Defenders are quite functional, and realise that we all need adequate circumstances to be able to develop.  If we were plants, they would be the gardeners who give us good soil, good pots, defensive walls, and conditions conducive to growth.  As we are animals, they are like conservationists, ready to fight to protect our right to be and develop safely.


The word ‘holy’ means ‘set apart’, or ‘dedicated to a spiritual purpose’ (‘set apart’ in the sense of being a special spiritual version of a person).  We may gain transformational energy by encountering such ‘spiritual specialness’.  Holiness is a difficult concept to see positively, as we already have negative ideas of people who are ‘holier than thou’.  We also have negative news stories about people who purported to be holy, but turned out to be abusive in their behaviour.  We are right to be suspicious and have our critical wits about us. 

Nevertheless, we may be drawn to, and inspired by, people who seem to embody special qualities.  We might, for example, notice that a person is particularly loving, or is especially able to rise above attachment to trivial and unhelpful emotions.  In English, ‘holy’ can also mean ‘whole’ or ‘complete’.  We may intuitively notice certain beings who seem to us to be more complete, more authentic, less polluted, less false.  They do not have to be rich or powerful; only, for us, special and good.


If we invert the above five good influences, we get five destructive characteristics:

  1. Demoralisation – when people make us feel bad about ourselves, or make us lose our will to improve (e.g. bullying, encouragement to be lazy)
  2. Ignorance – when people act foolishly, look for unreasonable short cuts, and are unwilling or unable to learn (e.g. lack of skill, erratic behaviour)
  3. Bad examples – people illustrating a harmful lifestyle, but making it look cool (e.g. addicts by lifestyle, gang leaders)
  4. Attacking behaviour – when people make us feel vulnerable or fearful (e.g. threats, emotional blackmail, neglect)
  5. Lack of integrity – when people seem torn into pieces and unable to present a consistent whole self to us; or when people hide, and seem unable to be authentic, unable to tell the truth to us

These destructive habits are like the negative reflection of the five transformational gifts.  It takes more energy to survive among negativity, and it is extremely difficult to thrive.  Even so, it is possible to learn from other people’s negative behaviour, and to use such behaviour as training in compassion and understanding.


Spend a moment reflecting on the friends and family you have.  Can you spot the motivators, teachers, good examples, defenders, and special people in amongst them?  Do you have a network of people available to you who can help you in your self-development?

Imagine you are a racing driver.  In long races, racing drivers have ‘pit teams’, groups of people whom they rely on to sustain them, improve them, and maintain them.  (The ‘pit’ is a maintenance area.  You can read a definition here.)  Which people are in your ‘pit team’?


Now spend a moment looking at your own behaviours towards others.  Can you spot these five transformational behaviours in yourself?

  1. Motivating and encouraging others
  2. Helping others to develop their skills
  3. Demonstrating good and helpful behaviour to others
  4. Fighting to protect other people’s safety and personal development
  5. Living authentically, truthfully, and with a whole heart

Equally, are there times when you demoralise others, act foolishly, show harmful behaviours, make others feel vulnerable, and act inconsistently?


If we are interested in self-development, we can look for those with the highest probability of helping us in our transformation.  They can form our ‘pit stop’ team.  They can be friends, family, or even people we don’t know personally, but whom we read about and are influenced by.

While we are developing ourselves, we may wish to avoid relying on those who exhibit destructive habits.  This does not mean we don’t care about them.  But we wouldn’t choose, as a mechanic for our car,  a drunk person who hated cars.  In the same way, it is best not to entrust our development to those who may harm us.

We can then use what we have learned to help to transform others.  In this way, transformational relationships are like a continuous stream of gifts between beings.  We benefit from the kindness of others, and we then pass on that kindness to even more others.