Monthly Archives: October 2018

The Perils Of Generalizing In Conflict

When couples or family members experience conflict, it is easy to rush into generalities.

“You never help me around the house! I always have to do everything myself!”
“We never have sex anymore. I am tired of being in relationship with someone who doesn’t value intimacy and sex.”
“You never take responsibility for your side of the street. You blame me for everything!”
“I am sick of being the only one who initiates working on the relationship. I want to be with someone who actually wants make things better!”
“You are such a hypocrite!”

When we feel triggered, hurt or angry, generalizing happens almost automatically. Unfortunately, there are many problems with this habit that prevent us from resolving our conflicts and coming back to love and harmony with our partners and loved ones.

When something happens that we don’t want, e.g. when someone doesn’t keep an agreement or says ‘no’ to a request or need, our mind gets instantly flooded with past memories of times when we felt similarly. Old beliefs of not being lovable or deserving bubble up from the deep and we find ourselves awash in a bleak sea of negativity.

Our unhappiness and dissatisfaction skews our current world-view, and suddenly our entire relationship sucks and has always sucked. We begin to see disheartening and frightening patterns.

We can’t help but share our newfound thinking, the connections we are making between what is happening now and what has happened in the past. We might focus solely on the person we are in conflict with and where that person has always been the same (“You have never helped around the house!”), or we might broaden our connections to include previous partners (“All three of my husbands never wanted to help around the house”), or we might even go all the way back to our childhood (“My dad never helped around the house either! I can’t believe I have created the same exact pattern with you!”)

We typically share these “insights” in the middle of being upset or triggered, which is not particularly helpful, to put it diplomatically. The problem with bringing up the past is that you are no longer dealing with a specific breakdown or problem, no longer focused on the one problem that is presenting itself at the moment.

Your focus shifts away from productive solution discovery, away from actions and steps that will help you resolve the conflict and get what you want. Instead, you spiral downwards, into what some call “circling the drain”.

Generalizing and bringing up the past also reinforces your sense of powerlessness. When you generalize, you effectively blow your problem up to unfixable proportions. You add weight to negative stories you have about yourself and others. Once you get lost in these general loops of negativity and complaint, you will likely feel more and more powerless and victimized, because all of the evidence you gather from past similar experiences essentially prove the unworkability of your current situation.

Not only do you feel powerless, but your partner feels powerless too. When your partner feels negatively characterized, pigeonholed, or blamed, they will naturally resist your view and defend themselves and their actions. When they hear your negatively biased view of them or the past, they will want to correct your perception by blasting you with evidence to the contrary, proving their side of the story. They will be reluctant to hear you and your concerns, and will likewise be uninspired to work with you to create win/win solutions to the presenting issue. This is the recipe for pointless arguing.

What to do instead?

Stay away from lumping whatever you are experiencing now with similar instances from the past. Keep your focus on the specific issue, problem or breakdown at hand, and work it all the way through to completion. Resolution and changes occur when you break things down to specifics – to specific steps – to something you can do or say or think differently right NOW.

You can start a conversation by saying …

“When __ (specific instance) happened, I felt ______.
What I made that mean is ______
What I want is ________”
What I’m willing to do to that end is_________
What I’d like from you is _______
Would you be wiling to do that?”

As an example …

“When you sat at the dinner table while I cleared the dishes, I felt mad and hurt. What I made that mean is that you don’t care about me, that I have to do everything myself, and that you’re above working in the kitchen. What I really want is help to clean up after dinner. I want us to work together to clean up. What I’m willing to do to that end is make a calm request and hear you side of the story. What I’d like from you is help to clear the table and do the dishes. Would you be willing to do that?”

Granted, there are a myriad variations depending on the specific situation, but hopefully you can see from the example that you are only talking about one specific instance, not bringing up the past or making sweeping generalizations.

This kind of communication has a much better shot at a positive result than, “You never help around here! My dad was just like that! I always have to do everything myself!”

Beware of your mind’s tendency to look for generalities and patterns when you’re feeling triggered. Reaction = Re-Action, meaning we are re-enacting an old story from times past. Which is just to say, that whenever you are upset, i.e. “in reaction”, you ARE in the past! You aren’t in the present moment!

By using the example above, you help yourself to stay in the present moment, and you help yourself work an issue all the way through to a workable solution. Try it. If by chance you do see patterns, or if resentments and hurts from the past do come up that need to be discussed, healed, or released, talk about those separately at a different time, one at a time, until they are worked through all the way to completion.

Use your awareness to powerfully generate specific action steps you can take NOW to create change. And don’t hesitate to get support from a professional if they feel too big to resolve on your own.

While there are several more actions you can take to work problems through all the way to completion, keeping your focus on the specific problem at hand, avoiding generalizations and not talking about the past will go far to help you resolve conflicts.

Lastly, if you want a chance to work out actual conflicts with support, learn cutting edge tools, and gain a totally different view and skill set around conflict resolution, check out our Gift Of Conflict workshop, Nov 10-11, in Auburn, CA.

This is normally a members-only advanced workshop, but when space allows, we open up a few seats to the public. Contact us right away if you are interested.

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How Am I Just Like That?

Change is afoot.

Ford came forward to speak of having been sexually assaulted in high school by Kavanaugh, who vehemently denies any wrongdoing. Bill Cosby was sentenced to 3-10 years in prison after being found guilty of sexual assault.

The MeToo movement has emboldened women to speak out about their past sexual assault, abuse and rape experiences – many of whom have held their abuse secrets for decades. Men are judged and handed “guilty verdicts” by the public court of opinion in a matter of hours as women’s stories make their way through the news media. Both genders are forever impacted negatively by these misdeeds and their ever trailing after effects.

The number of rape and abuse cases is staggering. Human rights violations across the globe are appalling. War, violence, crime, human trafficking, environmental disasters – we can’t listen to the news anymore without hearing about someone who is suffering somewhere.

All point to a need for a vast global overhaul in our political, financial, educational and legal institutions to ensure equal rights for all, regardless of race, gender, sexual preference, financial status or religious belief.

Massive change is required on so many levels, from the global to the individual. We also need advanced communication and problem solving skills, where we really listen to and learn from one another, and work together to create win/wins. We need to develop workable strategies for achieving sexual, cultural and racial healing, gender reconciliation, and effective reparation practices for people who take responsibility for and are genuinely sorry for their actions and want a new start. We need a safe space to look at ourselves, learn from our mistakes, and develop effective relationship practices that enable all of us to thrive and realize our pure positive potential.

In our work, we focus on where we can make a positive impact, in our interpersonal relationships. We notice, that when we are willing to take a brave and honest look at ourselves, there is much we can accomplish.

From outward focus to inward focus

It is far too easy in relationships to take someone else’s inventory; to point out someone else’s faults and weaknesses and lay out what they need to change or improve. We do this with public figures just as readily as we do it with the people we love. We think we are different. We are better. We aren’t like that. We aren’t as bad as they are.

Unfortunately, this way of thinking only inflames disrespect, inequality and separation. It breaks down our relationships.

Alternatively, we can use our judgments to gain insight into ourselves, to build bridges between others and ourselves, and to find compassion for those we love (and those in the media spotlight).

One of the favorite tools that we use in relationship, especially in the face of judgment, is to simply ask, “Where am I just like that?” For example, if I judge you for lying, I ask myself, “Where do I lie?” If I judge you for being selfish, I ask, “Where am I selfish?”

In the context of MeToo, we can ask:

  • Where have I been sexually assaulted, abused, or harassed?
  • Where have I abused, harassed, or taken advantage of someone?

It takes great courage to answer these questions honestly. It is a brave person who can admit to them and offer up apologies and make amends.

But even if we haven’t been abused, many of us can relate to feeling afraid or powerless to speak up in the face of a partner’s angry outbursts. Many of us have had the experience more than once of saying yes to sex when we really meant no, and of feeling coerced to go along with something that didn’t feel right.

Me too. I didn’t listen to my deep-seated intuition to walk away from a financial investment that turned out later to be a Ponzi scheme that cost me thousands. I allowed myself to be talked into a job that I didn’t want. In my 20’s, I had sex with several men I didn’t have the courage to say no to. I stayed in an abusive relationship where I got beat up for a whole year before I found the courage to leave.

On the flip side, we can explore how many times we have used our power to coerce someone to give in and go along with something we wanted – in everyday instances like doing the dishes, watching a movie, or getting our way with any given situation. How many times have we tried to override someone’s resistance to romance or sex? How many times have we yelled or cried or begged or explained our side to try to get someone to do what we want them to do?

Me too. I have caught myself more than once trying coax, force, or guilt trip my kids into answering a text or returning a phone call. I have screamed at my ex for not parenting the way I do. And I withdrew my love and affection from Christian when he declined my sexual advances early on in our relationship.

When I judge the people I love in my life, and I dare to explore “Where am I just like that?” I see places where I can grow, change and improve. Healing comes from honestly and squarely looking at myself, from owning my side of the street and taking responsibility for the impact of my less-than-ideal actions. There is power and healing available when I take responsibility, both within myself and in my relationships.

I can do the same thing with public figures. When I dare to investigate where I am just like Ford – to honestly explore where I too have been victimized in my life, where I have been terrified to speak up and reveal my secrets, where I still need healing from past painful experiences, I see aspects of myself I might not see otherwise.

Or when I explore where I am just like Kavanaugh – where do I act self-righteously from privilege and entitlement, where do I defend myself rather than listen and take responsibility for my actions, where do I lash out when feeling attacked and afraid and made wrong, something powerful happens …

I am suddenly no better or worse than they are, or any other human being on this planet. Judgment shifts to compassion, resentment shifts to forgiveness, separation shifts to connection, hate shifts to love. My heart softens. Healing happens. A new possibility emerges.

Actions I can take to improve my interactions in relationship begin to show up. Apologies are offered up and new commitments stepped into. A better version of myself arises. And consequently, better versions of those I love and happier relationships also rise up.

It is my hope that we will use this new chapter in our lives to learn from one another, to deeply listen to each other, to honor and respect our differences, to bravely share our stories, to own our shadow, to take responsibility, to ultimately offer amends, heal, forgive and create a courageous new world together.

It is my vision, that every one of us will be able to say one day, “I have never been disrespected or sexually abused by anyone”, and all of our brothers and sisters will be able to emphatically say, “Me Too!”

 

P.S. Check out what our friend Dave Klaus’ Facebook post; it’s a really powerful example of “Where am I just like that?” in the context of the Kavanaugh issue. Click here to read …

 

 

 

Posted in Communication, Conflicts, Men, Relationship, Women | Comments Off on How Am I Just Like That?