Relationships 101: How to Handle Conflict and Recognize the Guidance of Spirit vs. the Ego

In this realm of higher learning known as A Course in Miracles, I think of the 600-page Text as the required reading, the 365-lesson Workbook as the study guide, and the Manual for Teachers as the handbook for anyone who chooses to be a teacher of God using this particular form of the universal curriculum. All three are important components of this complete thought system, yet it is in our interactions with and our thoughts about others that the work of what we are learning is put into practical application. Our relationships in the world are the LAB.

Yep, this is where we conduct the science of living experiments – we dissect the frogs (sometimes the one that was supposed to turn into the prince), blow stuff up, grow mold and other gross stuff by letting things fester in the dark, and we sometimes poison ourselves and everyone else with the crazy concoctions we make up. It’s where we test out what works and what doesn’t.

So in today’s lab session, we are going to explore several questions that people have asked to address. They are as follows:

“How can I have trust in my son who has been in and out of hospitals, refusing to stay on medication, prefers self-medication…this has put the family in fear…how do we have faith?”

“I have lived with a partner for 10 years… gone through many addictions… how do I maintain my goal of looking beyond and not making him the center of all problems?”

“What is suggested when family relationships become strained? Can they heal? If family members are no longer in our lives are we meant to see that as healing?”

“How do we reconcile sexual betrayal and forgiveness – maintaining personal boundaries while embracing spiritual oneness?”

“How do you hold on when people close to you don’t see the Light? It is hard to stay there when I am overwhelmed by accusation and rejection by my daughter, who has not forgiven herself.”

“How do I react when someone does not treat me respectfully? Should I say, ‘No, this is not ok’ or should I just think, ‘This is a reflection of me’ and keep quiet?”

Great questions! I’m pretty sure most of us have run into at least one of these issues, if not all of them – hopefully not all at the same time.

What we can see in all of these examples is that the underlying cause of the problem is being seen as outside the person who is asking – in the form of a separate being.

That is generally how the world views relationships and the concerns that they present. That idea stems not from the teaching of Jesus, the creator of this advanced Course we’re in, but from the absent-minded professor of the ego’s thought system.

That is the faulty hypothesis we are laboring under – that we are separate from one another, and that what another person does is real and has thus has the power to affect us. In the theoretical philosophy presented in our textbook of A Course in Miracles, there is no “other” person – there is only one mind, one Son of God, us; never separate from our brothers or from Him as our Creator.

Relationships 101: How to Handle Conflict and Recognize the Guidance of Spirit vs. the Ego

So what is up with the mean substitute teacher that is the ego-mind?

The ego-mind is that part of our minds that believes we have chosen to separate ourselves from our Father and one another. It is the part that thinks we are guilty for doing so and has us convinced that God is angry with us and is going to punish us.

This is, of course, is a ridiculous concept, completely untrue, it never happened, it has no validity; nor is it even possible for us to separate from our Creator or each other, or to be guilty, or for Him to want to punish us. It is the spiritual equivalent of thinking that the world is flat, but like to the bazillionth power.

Resign now as your own teacher. - A Course in Miracles Click To Tweet

God is perfect love, we are created by perfect love as perfect love for perfect love, and perfect love is incapable of being anything except perfect love. As such, it is neither guilty, nor fearful, nor punishing (which aren’t perfect – I hope we all knew that.)

But the ego-mind does not want us to believe that – it does not understand God, love, our perfection as extensions of God, or anything else. The language the ego-mind speaks has one word, appearing as many: fear.

So we harbor this belief deeply buried in our unconscious minds that we are guilty and deserve to be punished. Then we do this insane thing where we think that if we punish ourselves, somehow we’ll escape the much more severe punishment that God has planned for us.

So, like if we punch ourselves in the face, slam our hands in lockers, give ourselves swirlies, and otherwise allow our inner bully to beat the crap out of us on the way to the Principal’s office, somehow he will have mercy on us and not expel us?

Well, kind of… especially if we say someone else did it to us. But again, it’s like that except times infinity.

In response to this guilt, we made up a world where we think God can’t find us, that is completely separate from Him.

Then, we gave ourselves complete amnesia – totally forgot that we are perfect love – and instead of seeing our brothers as pure light, joined in oneness with us, we now view each other as separate beings. We see ourselves as incomplete and requiring something from another in order to be whole – and so we create what A Course in Miracles calls “special relationships”.

Special Relationships

Special relationships are the ego’s substitution for the love we want – that we know somewhere, on a very deep level we are capable of experiencing, because we have the memory imbedded in us of the Love of and for God and our oneness with our brothers. But instead of that unconditional, changeless, constant that is real love, in this world, the egoic “special love” relationship is one in which we see ourselves as separate, as lacking – and needing another person to complete us, or deriving value from being needed by them.

These special relationships often begin with intense feelings of attachment, seeing the person as perfect– such as the way we feel in a new romantic relationship, or with our newborn baby, or the way a young child is attached to its mother. In this way it mimics the love we have for God, and that we have forgotten.

But being in these relationships does nothing to heal our minds from the unconscious guilt we are carrying, or the belief that we have separated from God, so sooner or later that begins to bleed through and affect the “perfection” we were feeling, and we start to experience the person as the opposite of perfect. We start to see faults, imperfections, we don’t like the way they behave, they don’t act like they once did, we’re not getting our needs met – and now there is conflict.

What has actually occurred is that through the use of the psychological dynamic of denial and projection, we have attempted to rid ourselves of the pain of experiencing our unconscious guilt by transferring it onto these special relationships in the form of problems, which we can then see as outside of ourselves and someone else’s fault. Our projections are often feelings that we harbor toward ourselves, or toward the other, but that is so uncomfortable that we turn it around as if it is coming from them instead.

The answer to the special relationship, and to denial and projection, and the unconscious guilt that is at cause of all of these effects – is for our relationships to be made holy, so that we can remember our purpose, which is as the Course tells us,

“To see the world through your own holiness.”

We do this by practicing A Course in Miracles’ version of forgiveness, in order to experience a shift in our perception of our brothers and thus ourselves. In doing so we then surrender our ego-based relationships to Spirit to be transformed into holy relationships.

The Forgiveness Process

The forgiveness process is:

  • To acknowledge that we must have chosen wrongly, because our peace is disturbed
  • To forgive our brother for what he hasn’t done, remembering that we are dreaming an illusion that the ego mind made up
  • To forgive ourselves for believing the dream is real
  • To remind ourselves that whatever guilt and fear we are seeing in our brother is coming from us, being reflected from our own mind
  • To ask Spirit to help us see the situation differently, and release it to Him to be healed

With this shift in perception from fear to love, we are free to look with Spirit – and without the ego’s guilt – at each judgment or criticism we are having – and question how we have projected our guilt by reversing the inquiry to ourselves.

Following are some examples, as applied to the questions from above:

“Where have I not been able to be trusted to do what I should do, or what is best for me?”

“Where have I not trusted God, or my brothers? Where have I not been compliant?”

“What might I be addicted to in this situation? What might I not want to deal with or think about, or wish to anesthetize myself to?”

“How have I separated myself from loving relationships?”

“When have I betrayed myself, or others? How have I not respected the boundaries of others?”

“In what ways have I been attacking or rejecting (toward others or myself) because I have not forgiven myself?

“How have I been disrespectful to myself, and to my brothers?”

As we forgive and look with Holy Spirit in this way, the fear that has manifested itself as resistance lessens. We are able to view our brother’s behavior not with judgment, but with compassion.

A Course in Miracles teaches us that everything a brother does can be seen as either an expression of love or a call for it – and it either case, love is the appropriate response.

This segues to a number of great questions we have received regarding guidance, summarized as,

“How do you know when you are hearing the voice of Holy Spirit vs. the ego – or whether it is the voice of Spirit but you are just resisting it?”

Expressing love does not mean that we have to remain in certain relationships in the world of form, in order to be spiritual, or be “good Course students”.

Remember, it is a dream. You can choose not to remain in a dream where you to agree to be abused, or mistreated, or in conflict, or continue in a situation that is painful. You can make the decision not to keep buying into whatever the story is that is playing out in your dream.

The healing process is in the mind, not in the world. - Kelly Russell Click To Tweet

But the way you change your experience to a happy dream is not to blame the other person, see everything as their fault, make the dream real, and drop out of love school and become a slacker. That would be following the ego’s “guidance” and there is no love in that.

Love would advise you to be willing to look at the situation honestly, to take responsibility for your own projections, to practice forgiveness of your brother and yourself, to give your relationships to Spirit to be made holy, and then ask for guidance as to what might be yours to do – what, if any, action to take in the world.

Sometimes we are guided to end the form a relationship in the dream takes. We may be guided to stop saying yes to a particular dynamic that is taking place in a relationship.

However, let’s consider the wisdom in the following two brilliant Course quotations,

“Beware of the temptation to perceive yourself as unfairly treated”


“Trials are but lessons that you failed to learn presented once again, so where you made a faulty choice before, you now can make a better one, and thus escape all pain that what you chose before has brought you.”

Guidance from Spirit is always loving, and makes us feel peaceful when we go within and experience it in our hearts, with trust and without fear. Even if we have to say no to someone.

If we find ourselves making decisions out of a sense of victimhood or righteousness or despair, we are seeing ourselves as having been unfairly treated and have chosen to follow the ego rather than the guidance of Spirit. If we choose this form of attack, we can be certain we will then later punish ourselves by re-creating a similar situation down the road.

We can do anything from a place of love, and that is the litmus test.

If we are taking action that is coming from a place of anger, fear, defensiveness, resentment, guilt, shame, judgment, or seeing another person as weak or needy, or less than ourselves in any way, we are seeing ourselves as being “guided” by the ego and it will not feel peaceful. Although we may gain temporary relief, these decisions are not made in our right mind, and thus the condition will not be healed and will rise again, perhaps just wearing a different mask.

When guidance is of Holy Spirit, there is a sense of trust, an inner ”yes” that feels calm and sure, never harmful to another, and in the best interest of all concerned. It is knowing that your Inner Teacher is with you, always and forever.

Thank you so much for joining with me in Relationship 101 class today – I love having you here!

You get an A+ for participating. Your assignment, should you choose to accept it, is to look at any relationship in your life in which you are not at peace, and apply the concepts from today’s lesson: the process of forgiveness, examining your areas of conflict along with Spirit, taking responsibility for your own self-judgments and projections, and asking for and discerning the guidance that comes from the Voice for God.

If anything in this class has resonated with you, or inspired you to think about conflict in your life in a new way, I’d love to hear your comments below the blog. I read every one.

We are all the teacher and the student. Thank you for being both for me, as well as my lab partners for today! I love you.

Rev Kelly Russell
Spiritual Life Coach & Holistic Psychotherapist

One Comment on “Relationships 101: How to Handle Conflict and Recognize the Guidance of Spirit vs. the Ego”

  1. Hi Kelly! Thank you sooo much. This was a wonderful lesson. What I keep noticing returning in my life are bullies and victimizers. It reminds me of younger years when all I used to see were criminals and muggers; I’ve been mugged three times and escaped three other possible muggings. It finally stopped when I stopped expecting to get mugged on the street. But somehow it has returned in the form of close friends “ganging” up on me in horrific ways. Ways that I would not have expected from “friends.” In other words, treating me very badly, to the point of near violence. There must be something I need to forgive myself or others for. Anyway! Thank you so much for this. 🙂 <3 You are such a wonderful light!

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