Special Relationships

"Love is not learned. Its meaning lies within itself. And learning ends when you have recognized all it is not. That is the interference; that is what needs to be undone." --ACIM

Nowhere in our lives is the backward, upside-down, and pain-producing thinking of the ego more apparent than in our relationships. Yet we have bought into the ego’s thought system so thoroughly that, although our relationships always seem to involve—and frequently end in—pain, we rarely question the very premises on which we attempt to build them.

What A Course in Miracles calls special relationships, or illusions of love, are those relationships in which we believe that something outside of us can fill up or compensate for what seems to be lacking inside—that something outside ourselves can make us feel happy, loved, worthy, safe, important, powerful, whole, fulfilled. Special love finds expression in our lives as addictions, such as addictions to alcohol, drugs, food, sex, work. We can have special relationships with things, like our cars, our homes, our possessions, our jobs. Most often, though, it is the special relationships we form with other people that cause us the greatest anguish, and at the same time provide us with the greatest opportunities for growth, transformation, and healing.

Special relationships with people are not limited to romantic or sexual relationships, although these kinds of relationships seem to be a place we frequently get caught in the illusion of love. But the dynamics and fantasies of special love can also operate in the relationships we have with our friends, our families, our teachers, etc. Whenever these relationships have become a source of conflict, disappointment, frustration, and pain in our lives, we can be certain that special love has been at play.

Special love is literally a contradiction in terms. Real love is inclusive, not exclusive. Its very nature is to extend, to share, to reach out from and beyond itself.

Real love sets no conditions, makes no demands, sets up no bargains. Real love is naturally generous, expanding. It gives freely and joyfully from the abundance of its own nature—which is limitless—and it can only increase in the giving. By contrast, special love is based on a belief in, and feeling of, lack. The longing for specialness says "I don’t have enough. I want and need more." This experience of lack grows out of our profound sense of separation from our real spiritual identity—from God and the love that is our true nature. Believing this state of lack to be our reality, we seek specialness as a substitute for the wholeness we have forgotten is our inheritance as part of God.

Specialness by its very nature must limit and exclude, because one is special by being set apart from others, by having something others do not have, by being different or by having more of something while others have less. Inherent in the very structure and assumption of specialness, then, is the set-up for envy, jealousy, fear of loss, and a belief that we need to defend whatever we have from others who would try to steal it from us. Specialness literally sets us up to be at war with each other, and war has nothing to do with love.

The Course points out that the special love relationship is the ego’s most powerful weapon in its arsenal for keeping us bound to our nightmares of guilt and fear. For in these relationships, the ego disguises its "gifts" of hopelessness and pain in glittering promises of the fulfillment of our hopes and dreams. When we end up, again and again, in pain, lonely, and unfulfilled, the ego counsels us to blame the other person and look for someone else. Or it tells us that we are, after all, not good enough—leaving us desperately hoping that someday someone will prove to us we are wrong. Finally, the ego may offer us the option of cynicism and the conviction that love does not exist.

The Course tells us there is an alternative to this cycle of infatuation, disillusionment, desperation, anger, and blame that characterize special love. But in order to be open to the alternative, we need first to recognize that beneath all its promises of happiness, special relationships really offer us nothing but self-attack and belittlement.

"In looking at the special relationship, it is necessary first to realize it involves a great amount of pain. Anxiety, despair, guilt and attack all enter into it, broken by periods in which they seem to be gone ... and even when the hatred and savagery break briefly through, the illusion of love is not profoundly shaken.

Yet the one thing the ego never allows to reach awareness is that the special relationship is the acting out of vengeance on yourself. Yet what else could it be? In seeking the special relationship, you look not for glory in yourself. You have denied that it is there, and the relationship becomes your substitute for it." --ACIM

Once we are willing to look truthfully at the pain and ugliness built into the very structure and dynamics of the special relationship, we eventually become willing to let go of the hope that we will ever find our fulfillment there. Finally we reach a point where we can genuinely say, "I hope there is an alternative to this, and I don’t know what it is."

The alternative that the Course holds out to us is not a swearing off or avoidance of relationships. The alternative is, rather, the transformation of the special relationship into a holy relationship—a relationship which has been given over to the Holy Spirit to be used for healing, to be used as a classroom for forgiveness.

"Be glad you have escaped the mockery of salvation (happiness) the ego offered you, and look not back with longing on the travesty it made of your relationships. Now no one need suffer, for you have come too far to yield to the illusion of the beauty of guilt ...

What guilt has wrought is ugly, fearful, and very dangerous. See no illusion of truth and beauty there. And be thankful that there is a place where truth and beauty wait for you. Go on to meet them gladly, and learn how much awaits you for the simple willingness to give up nothing because it is nothing." --ACIM

Ego's Use of Time

To really understand what is going on in special relationships, it is helpful to understand the way the ego uses time to perpetuate itself. Key to this is the ego’s investment in the past and its determination that the present and future be simply a continuation of the past. The ego emphasizes the past because that is where the source of our guilt is found. Thus, to let go the past is to let go of the foundation of the ego’s entire thought system, which is the belief that guilt is real. The ego, therefore, ensures its own continued existence by keeping the past alive and real to us.

"The ego has a strange notion of time—and it is with this notion that your questioning might well begin. Remember that its emphasis on guilt enables it to ensure its continuity by making the future like the past, and thus avoiding the present.

By the notion of paying for the past in the future, the past becomes the determiner of the future, making them continuous. For the ego regards the present only as a brief transition to the future, in which it brings the past to the future by interpreting the present in past terms." --ACIM

Caught up in the ego’s way of thinking, we see our present experiences as being determined by something that happened in the past. We blame the way we feel about ourselves on how our parents treated us as children. We blame our reactions in our current relationship on what happened in our last relationship. We fall in love with someone because he or she seems to be so different from those we see as the cause of our pain in the past. From the perspective of our ego, we define and experience the present in a way that is essentially and thoroughly past-referential.

"Now has no meaning to the ego. The present merely reminds it of past hurts, and it reacts to the present as if it were the past. It dictates your reactions to those you meet in the present from a past reference point, obscuring their present reality. In effect, if you follow the ego’s dictates you will react to your brother as though he were someone else, and this will surely prevent you from recognizing him as he is. And you will receive messages from him out of your own past, because, by making it real in the present, you are forbidding yourself to let it go." -aCIM

The special relationship, which is an illusion of love, is based on the past. Specifically, the Course points out that it is an attempt to seek vengeance on the past. In the special love relationship we initially hope and believe that the other will somehow make up for what we did not receive in the past. In our minds we continue to accuse, condemn, and attack those in our past for what we consider to be their ‘sins’ towards us. We select a special love partner who we think will somehow be different from those figures from our past.

"It is impossible to let the past go without relinquishing the special relationship—for it is an attempt to re-enact the past and change it. Imagined slights, remembered pains, past disappointments, perceived injustices and deprivations all enter into the special relationship, which becomes a way in which you seek to restore your wounded self-esteem.

What basis would you have for choosing a special partner without the past? Every such choice is made because of something ‘evil’ in the past to which you cling, and for which someone else must atone. The special relationship takes vengeance on the past ... It has no meaning in the present, and if it means nothing now, it cannot have any real meaning at all." --ACIM

While the special love relationship seems to be an attempt to change the past, in fact it is really a way to preserve and hold onto it. If our current special love partner does treat us better than we were treated in past relationships, we use this contrast to highlight the guilt of those from the past. If he disappoints us—which eventually, in some way or other, he will—we react with the accumulated rage and fury of all the past hurts, insults, and disappointments we have nursed over time and brought with us into the current relationship. We then add one more grievance to the heavy load we carry, and become even more wedded to the belief that the past is what is real and meaningful, that the present is merely a continuation of the past, and that future will be nothing but more of the same.

The Course teaches that all healing is release from the past. The special relationship is never healing because it preserves the past. Within the special relationship we interact, not with another in his wholeness and totality, but rather with what the Course calls the shadow figures from our own past. They are shadow figures because they are not whole, real people, but are simply our limited, partial, egocentric perceptions and definitions of others.

"Would you recognize a holy encounter if you are merely perceiving it as a meeting with your own past? Each one peoples his world with figures from his individual past, and it is because of this that private worlds do differ. Yet the figures he sees were never real—for they are made up only of his reactions to his brothers, and do not include their reactions to him. The shadowy figures from the past are precisely what you must escape. They are not real, and have no hold over you unless you bring them with you. They carry the spots of pain in your mind, directing you to attack in the present in retaliation for a past that is no more. And this decision is one of future pain.

Unless you learn that past pain is an illusion, you are choosing a future of illusions and losing the many opportunities you could find for release in the present.The ego would preserve your nightmares, and prevent you from awakening and understanding they are past." --ACIM

Special Love Is Dependency

Ken Wapnick has pointed out that what the world calls love—special love— is really dependency.

"...what this world calls love is really specialness. Another word to describe it is dependency. This illusion of love is to compensate for our own perceived lack by using someone else to fill it up. I become dependent on you to meet my needs, and I will make you dependent on me to meet your needs. As long as we both do that, then everything is fine."

Dependency is not love, but attachment. Yogi Amrit Desai clearly contrasts attachment, which seeks fulfillment from without, with real love, which shines forth from within.

"Attachment focuses on an outside person or object as the center of your being. Real love emanates from the center within. Special love uses the other to fulfill your needs and addictions. The attached person is dependent on the object of his attachment. When the object is gone, the feeling of love is also gone. The person who has contacted his inner source of love, however, carries the light of love with him wherever he goes. He is like a miner with a light attached to his forehead. Wherever he turns, he sees light, because the light is a part of him." -Amrit Desai

When we view another as the source of our well-being and happiness, we also see him as having the power to withhold or withdraw that happiness from us. The other thus becomes, in our mind, a threat—a reminder of our perceived vulnerability and lack of wholeness. Thus, the hope and promise of love we seek in special love or dependency eventually give way to the fear and hatred out of which it is born.

"Attachment begins in fear, lives in fear, dies in fear and is again reborn in fear ...When (one) feels incomplete in himself, he looks for someone who will provide the qualities he lacks. He becomes attached to the person whom he thinks will make him complete. Now he needs the other. He is in bondage to the other.

Realizing this subconsciously, he fears the other’s withdrawal. Gradually and subtly he begins to hate the other. He cannot help but hate that which is a source of fear and anxiety to him. Even though he himself created the fear and addiction, he paradoxically hates the other as the cause of all his insecurities." --Amrit Desai

Real love, the Course teaches, is changeless and eternal. Special love inevitably turns into hate and fear. It therefore cannot be love, but merely the illusion of love.

The Present— Now

By defining the present exclusively in terms of the past, the special relationship seeks to obliterate our awareness of the power and opportunity offered us by the present moment. The present— Now— is the only aspect of time in which we can choose to see differently, choose to forgive, choose to let go of the perception of guilt that gives rise to all our pain and fear. The present is the only aspect of time in which we can choose and experience healing.

"How can you change the past except in fantasy? And who can give you what you think the past deprived you of?

Do not seek to lay the blame for deprivation on it, for the past is gone. You cannot really not let go of what has already gone... The past is gone; seek not to preserve it in the special relationship that binds you to it, and would teach you that salvation is past and so you must return to the past to find salvation. There is no fantasy that does not contain the dream of retribution for the past. Would you act out the dream (of vengeance) or let it go?" --ACIM


Love Always Answers by Diane Berke The core practices of A Course in Miracles are forgiveness and listening to the Holy Spirit, our inner teacher, the voice for God within us. This book is offered as a simple sharing from my heart, to give readers new to the Course some feeling for what this path of healing is like, and readers already working with the Course some feeling of companionship on the journey.

What has been sustaining me and giving me the courage to travel through the darkness toward light, through fear and pain toward love, is the foundation of faith I've developed to this point on my journey. And through this experience, I continue to learn, in an ever deeper way, that Love does answer us—Love always answers.

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