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

With Kelly Russell

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.

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.

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.

I’d love to hear from you…

Question: Has anything in this class resonated with you, or inspired you to think about conflict in your life in a new way? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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


Want to learn more about exactly what A Course in Miracles is and why people love it so much? Click here to access your free copy of Lisa Natoli’s video, ‘What Is A Course In Miracles?’.

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

  1. Right now, my daughter and son-in-law have cut off communication with us, not sure what is going on, but all I can do is pray. Just because communication between us is cut off – in a physical sense or in this illusion world – it doesn’t mean it is cut off spiritually. I am continuing to keep a Devotional Diary for my young grand-daughter, which I started before she was born. She is still too young to read and I know this Diary will find its way to her, after she is 18 yrs and ready to receive and read it. This is my way of staying connected to her, sharing my inspirations, uplifting thoughts and my heart to her.

    I also send ‘positive vibes’ and prayers to my son-in-law and daughter as I do want to always keep the light on and the key is still hanging in the same place it always has, so they can enter my home any time, day or night. My heart my arms are ready to embrace them and give them a big hug.

    • Hi Beth! What a gorgeous example of remembering that our true relationship with one another is the one we never left – forever joined by love as love. As we cannot be separate, and thus all minds are joined, your daughter and her family can hear within every loving thought you send. I love the metaphor of leaving the light on and the key in the same place. That’s what Spirit keeps reminding us of too, isn’t it? Keep the Faith. Thanks for writing. ❤️

  2. I always love learning /hearing about the “special” relationship from every teachers angle. We can learn so much about ourselves & our self perceptions. Opportunities never end to learn more about my own stories & healing. My ego is always trying to make me think I’m separate , from my constant judging of others, challenging habit to break! But through my commitment to watching myself like a hawk( my totem animal btw) I’m quickly catching the dual thinking in my mind & returning to Love. Not always easy but with the wonderful support of the course in miracles community & blogs like this I feel so grateful to be able to reach out & know we are all in this together! Thank you Kelly & Teachers of God for all you do!
    Gina Lucia

    • Thank you Gina! You are right – the ego’s thought process is just a habit pattern. Retraining our minds to remember the Truth of ourselves, each other, and our Creator -and thus undo the ego mind and all it’s crazy – can feel like a big endeavor. But keeping our story going actually takes more energy than just forgiving and letting it go. I am grateful for you, too! Thank you for sharing your thoughts, and walking your talk!

  3. Yes this did strike a chord with me. I have been divorced for 13 years now but still have dreams where my ex stars in them. Even in the dream though I realize I don’t have to deal with this. Last night was a particularly vivid one, and today after reading this, I realize I’m still projecting, Even in my dreams! Thank you for pointing this out. I’ve been A Course student for over 20 years and still need daily reminders 🙂 peace and love.

    • Hi Patti! Undoing the ego mind is an ongoing process, isn’t it? Dreams at night, dreams during our waking hours – no difference – they are all projections. As you continue to forgive your ex and yourself, those dreams will evolve into happier versions. Thank you for writing!

    A Conversation between Paul and Raj for May 13th, 2016
    PAUL: My sister was recently diagnosed with dementia in its advanced stages. She has become consumed with intense anger because I am not fulfilling her expectations—or, more correctly, meeting her wants on her terms . . . which are not your terms. As well, there is the biblical statement that “with God, all things are possible,” which suggests that no matter how abusive she becomes, if I will hang in there with her, joined with the Father in the holy instant, the situation will be corrected. My question is, as a teacher of God, how do I respond to her calls for help?
    RAJ: Paul, what the ego can’t see and hear on its own and take credit for, it despises. It is called selective deafness because it excludes hearing God, and is an extreme form of willfulness. Do not be afraid to look at its thought system, else you will not recognize it and will be subject to taking it on as yours. What your sister is engaging in is the practice of the obstacles to peace—specifically the last obstacle, “the fear of God”—which she wants to project onto you since she sees you as being her special “Teacher of God” who is not meeting her needs. Since the ego prefers not to experience the effects of its thought system and needs a scapegoat to relieve it of feeling the return of the “gift” it is giving, you feel the impact of her anger in this aggressive manner, and you, thinking you can be responsible for her changing her mind, believe her anger is deserved and let it in.
    What is the answer? Do not allow another’s practice of the fear of God be a cause for fearing to listen to me and sharing it with others. She wants an audience (you) to agree with her “justified” anger and join her in it, proving that a mind apart from God can be real and can be shared. That may be what she wants, but it cannot be done. You cannot let a so-called personality in you have empathy with a so-called personality in her and maintain your sanity or your union with me in the holy instant. And if you maintain your union with me or the Holy Spirit, you will not be subject to the pull, the negative impact, the temptation to be the willing guilty recipient of another’s wrath. It is that simple.
    Now, let’s be clear on the following: The statement, “With God, all things are possible,” is true. But, the key word is “with.” And the “one” who needs to be “with” God in order to experience the possibility of all things is the one with the problem, the one who needs to allow correction. It is your sister who needs to be willing to be “with” God in order to experience healing. Likewise, it is you who needs to be willing to be with God in order to experience correction of whatever your issues are. But, your being with God does not and cannot give you power over the choices your sister or anyone else is making for themselves. It is essential to understand this, else you will labor under the false idea that you are failing when actually you’re simply trying, with all good intentions, to do what cannot be done.
    Let me explain. If you think that practicing the holy instant puts you in a position of being an agent for change who is divinely authorized to “make things happen,” your fellow man will frustrate you, generate fear in you, and arouse unreasonable anger when you cannot control him and he does not change. It will also cause you to tolerate abuse because you are unaware of where the responsibility for correction lies. The fact is that the holy instant only puts you in the position of being an agent for change by illuminating Love in a way which clearly makes Its expression more important than anything else. And the “self” that might have had an agenda for his brother disappears in the presence of that movement of Love Which is inspiring and allowing for a new choice to be made . . . OR NOT!
    The self which has investment in outcomes for any reason is not present in the holy instant. And the self which is joined with God in co-creation let’s God be all, forgetting to take even the slightest bit of credit in order to assert an independent righteous selfhood. This state of genuineness and humility promotes change maximally because the Love in it is not covered. And, because of the incredible integrity of Being, such absence of control and independent authority promotes Atonement without confusion for the one who appears to be the agent for change as well as the one who decides to change. In other words, the ego orientation which made the two seem different in the absence of Love loses meaning in the presence of Love and is abandoned, bringing the clarity of Atonement.
    If this makes you feel powerless, accept the feeling with gratitude. It is the same for me. It is not a handicap, but part and parcel of the incredible integrity of Being. It simply means that instead of using coercion and force in the name of Love, one must, through the act of Love, initiate and persist in communication and education, illuminating Truth in the way the Holy Spirit leads and allowing a new choice to be made for reasons known only to the one so loved. You cannot dare to have an agenda for Truth or Love or Light without losing Them in the exercise of an imagined beneficent authority over a brother as a “healer,” or a duty which you must perform for the purpose of establishing your righteousness through a special relationship.
    Be the Light because that is your Function.
    It doesn’t matter whether another finds It invigorating
    or withdraws into the shadows to hide from It.


    • Well said, Raj! Wonderful clarity. Special relationships are one of the ways the ego mind twists us into thinking we are doing the work Spirit has given us to do with our bros, when to do so would actually be following the egoic agenda. Thanks for sharing the wisdom, Rosa. Be the Light. 🎆

  5. Thank you… this “lab” was so insightful and I will be back in class and referring to the principles often.

  6. I love this, at first it’s so hard to say this is something that is about me, not the other person. For instance my daughter was being sent inappropriate text messages from a guy she worked with (they all have each other’s phone numbers because they need to contact each other while working in various locations), then he propositioned her. It made her very uncomfortable, she went to the boss and with backing from a co-worker who had seen the messages, he was fired. I was of course happy that she took initiative and stood up for herself. Six months later a new guy comes in and soon starts messaging her outside of work and commenting on her appearance to other co-workers in her hearing. Her co-workers start telling her she needs to go to the boss, she needs to give the guy a talking to or they would do it. She didn’t want to get another guy fired and she was afraid to confront him. I said okay, there’s something going on here. This situation is going to keep repeating itself unless we take a look at you. What are they doing when they do this, are they not being respectful of you? So are you respecting yourself? I felt moments of real self -doubt where I felt, here I am blaming the victim. But it wasn’t by having her take a look at her behavior, or in how she looks or dresses, but just internal self reflection. She took me seriously, (yay!) and said, maybe I do need to respect myself more. A few days later, she told him not to message her unless it was work related. And he has stopped making comments on her appearance . Talk about self-empowerment!

    • Hi Colleen! I love that story! It is ALWAYS our own internal thought being projected and acted out in the world. What a healing for you and she to join in the asking of the internal question. Her result of consciously respecting and loving herself enough to tell her own projected egoic thought messenger to stop the behavior was a beautiful demonstration.

  7. Thank you for taking the time to spell it out! Going inside and asking for guidance, and giving the issue over to god – feels so much better than suffering with conflict!

    • Hi Zoila! It is YOU who is listening to Spirit – I just happen to be the mode of communication this time. Thanks for tuning in! 😊

  8. This post is filled with so much wisdom, love & power. I have read it every morning for the past three days & have shared it as well. Yesterday I entered into the dream with two “special relationships” called Mom & sister to the point of frustration & tears. I’m so truely tired of this story & it’s repetitiveness & was able to recall these words that touched my heart & surrendered it all to God. The old story was caught & a different version was laid out for me. And it wasn’t denial or fantasy…it was truth! My heart knows the truth! Within moments my perception changed & love took over. My interaction with them was peaceful because that’s where my heart was at the moment. At peace. For me the lab gets extremely moldy, messy & lonely but I just wanted to share the good news of yesterday & thank you for writing this post!

    • Hi Cheryl! It is stories like yours that are the reason I write blog posts. If my way of being able to relate my understanding of the wisdom of the Course can be helpful in a bro reaching higher ground along with me, then I’m doing my work. Thank you for rocking it! ☮️

  9. Thank you so much Kelly for your clarity and perfect guidance.
    This reminder has restored my peace of mind. I am willing to forgive and practice this process!
    With love and gratitude,

  10. Hi kelly, yes this applies to me. I felt rejected by my father when he was alive , I am now 68 and still feel the same. I have 3 failed marriages because I was still searching for my father’s love. Now I loathe men and in any relationship family etc. Any form of rejection affects me badly. Hopefully I will now see this differently. Many thanks eve xxx

  11. Where do i have a behavior disorder? is the question for me,doesn’t make alot of sense. That is the question that comes up under ur forgiveness is asking me to look where i am oppostionally defiant.that seems a stretch when i do not have symptoms.