Written by: Susanna Wu-Pong Calvert, Executive Contributor
Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.
Pandemic life is even more challenging due to conflict and disagreement in our personal lives and national narratives. We are often unaware of the role that we play in contributing to conflict, either accepting or casting blame too readily, when we should instead be fostering intimacy and true understanding. In so doing, we entrench ourselves dysfunctional dynamics instead of finding pathways towards healing.
Here is the basic dynamic of conflict and what we can do to stop the downward cycle that results.
We all have pain points from wounds from our past, either from childhood and/or from cultural and ancestral traumas. These pain points turn into beliefs, or schemas, that define how we view and therefore respond to the world. Since these schemas are general assumptions, by definition they are not always true in a given situation, yet we have a tendency to react to them as if they were unassailably true and threatening. Our fight or flight response gets triggered, and we may act or speak based on an unfounded assumption.
For example, one of my personal hot buttons concerns respect. If someone interrupts me or says something (that I interpret to be) demeaning, I may experience a physical reaction and anger or sadness as part of my fight or flight response. Depending on how I manage my reaction, I might elevate the conflict resulting in lasting damage to the relationship.
If I elevate the conflict, I may cause an internal shame response which I want to avoid feeling at all cost. This tends to result in me doubling down on my position, rather than confronting what might be a mistaken assumptions and rush to judgement. In this way, we further deepen conflict and discord if we lack self-awareness and conflict management skills.
Furthermore, according to the Arbinger Institute (www.arbingerinstitute.org), this cycle can begin even without our hot buttons getting pushed. It starts when we fail to honor our tendency to do the right thing for another person. For example, if I have a sense that I should help my sister when she gets into a bind, but then I betray my inclination to be helpful, then my tendency will be switch from seeing her as a human whose needs, wants, and desires are as important as my own to someone who is a problem, irrelevant, or a means to an end. Such mindsets rarely result in the type of relationship outcomes that we claim we want.
Reverse the Cycle
There may not be an easy fix to your relationship tensions, but practicing the following strategies can improve the odds in your favor, especially when practiced over time. One great resource for developing relationship skills is with the Foundation for Family and Community Healing’s Relationship Wellbeing module (www.HealingEdu.org) where you can deepen your relationship practices.
1. Do a schema inventory – We all have schema that is based on rigid fear-based beliefs. Schema results in emotional behavior patterns that can be helpful in certain circumstances but can cause problems in your life. Reflect on the types of events, or antecedents that trigger your hot button(s) to discover common themes. Increasing your schema awareness helps you to constructively manage them. Emotional Alchemy by Tara Bennett-Goleman is an excellent source to learn about the common emotional schemas.
2. Be present – The benefits of mindfulness cannot be overstated. Excessive rumination on past grievances or possible future events is unhealthy for our hearts or minds, and potentially damaging to our relationships. Mindfulness can help you be aware when your hot button gets pushed, even in small ways that may fly under your radar. Meditation builds your mindfulness muscle; even 5 minutes of practice per day can make a positive impact.
3. Assess – Once you’ve identified that you may be rushing into a reaction or a rigid schema belief, you can intervene. Congratulate yourself for noticing! Then challenge your schema or other belief that is causing you to want to fight or flee. For example, ask yourself, “in what ways am I being disrespectful with my viewpoint or behavior? In what ways might those words be (or intended to be) helpful or respectful in a larger context?” Byron Katie’s book, Who Would You Be Without Your Story? is an excellent resource for challenging beliefs.
4. Be curious ‒ I believe that others’ intentions are almost always benevolent, even in light of egregious behavior. Lean into curiosity instead of assumption and judgement. Ask questions. You may be making an unfair assumption.
5. Practice generosity and grace ‒ Life is hard and complex. No one is perfect, especially given the challenges of modern life. Offer a sincere benefit of the doubt, focusing on virtue rather than where you or others have fallen short of expectation. Your focus is a choice, so choose connection, generosity, optimism, hope, gratitude, and beauty especially if it’s hiding among more challenging feelings and inclinations.
6. Draw a boundary if needed – Know and honor yourself and your needs. Communicate them kindly and clearly. If you’ve done a good job listening, you improve the odds that you will be heard too.
This recipe does not guarantee any outcome, but rather a better chance for you and those around you to enjoy greater intimacy, and a more peaceful and satisfying life. It also is a lifelong practice that must be embraced sometimes on a daily basis. Choosing peace and love over judgement and discord is one of our most important life skills, especially important in this era of chaos and loss.
Susanna Wu-Pong Calvert, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine
Dr. Susanna Wu-Pong Calvert, MAPP, PhD is a leader, coach, speaker, entrepreneur, educator, and writer who inspires and enables others to make our beautiful future a reality. She is the Founder and Convener for Mission and Vision at The Foundation for Family and Community Healing, a 501(c)3 nonprofit that helps all to develop the skills needed to create healthy, rewarding, and resilient relationships with ourselves, each other, Earth, and the loving force that unites us. She is a blogger for Psychology Today and hosts Finding Our Fit, a radio show on WRWK93.9 FM. Her mission is to help individuals, organizations, and communities to become their highest selves and fulfill their deepest, most authentic purpose – our spark within that creates ripples throughout. Learn more about her at SusannaCalvert.com. Photo credit: Rebecca D'Angelo