This article continues to focus on personal awareness as one key pillar to transforming challenging relationships in life.
As referenced in the previous article, the usual starting point, one that humans seem to be hard-wired towards, is to blame the other when one is in conflict. It is a kind of magnetism, to point at the other person. However, as long as freedom from the pain of conflict is seen as the other person doing something different, then one is immediately at the mercy of the other, disempowered. When feeling disempowered, it is much harder to find the ground and strength to act in a way that will promote a healthy relationship.
Even more importantly, at some stage it is necessary to recognise that the unpleasant feelings we’re having reside in us. This is so easy to write, and yet when these feelings are so painful it can take a lot of work to come to terms with; that this pain is our pain to bear, whatever the other has done.
In terms of relationship and dialogue, David Bohm (2004) frames it this way, “what is crucial is to be aware of the nature of one’s own blocks”, and goes on to say, “when we come together to talk, or otherwise to act in common, can each one of us be aware of the subtle fear and pleasure sensations that “block” his ability to listen freely? Without this awareness, the injunction to listen to the whole of what is said will have little meaning.” Ken Cloke (2017) echoes this when he says, “every internal blindness results in something that you can’t see externally”. I believe the point Bohm and Cloke are making is the same as I am beginning to outline here, to resolve something out there, in a relationship, I must also resolve something in myself.
Depending on one’s history, current resources, communication skills, and the wider field, this process of resolving something in oneself can be a life’s work; or to re-frame it, to truly come into awareness is a life’s work. It may involve sitting with fear, anxiety, anger, emptiness, uncertainty, hope, and hopelessness, amongst others. However, to sit and recognise these feelings, to sit and breath into them, to let them be and not act from them, can, bit-by-bit, be transformative. The more that one can tolerate difficult feelings when faced with conflict, the greater options one has in choosing how to respond. This is highlighted by the “Window of Tolerance” model (Siegel, 2002). If we are in our window of tolerance then our physical and mind resources remain fluid and agile. Whereas if we are out of our window of tolerance then we are in emergency mode and responses such as fight, flight, freeze, submit.
Window of Tolerance model:
High anxiety, fear, or other emotion that makes it difficult/impossible to stay calm enough to make sense of the situation we’re in and to engage constructively in relationship. Fight or flight responses likely.
Zone of functioning where we can operate at our best.
Calm enough that we can regulate our emotions and stay engaged in relationship in a constructive way.
A lack of energy accompanied by perhaps numbness, depression, a sense of being cut-off and disconnected; feelings and emotions that make it difficult to engage in relationship and that can lead to a freeze or submit response
What can help us stay in the optional zone is staying well and feeling safe and grounded enough. So for example: having at least one or two people in our lives who we can trust and turn to for support; taking part in some form of group or community activity; establishing good sleep patterns wherever possible; eating well; moderating alcohol intake; taking exercise, taking time for meditation or simple time off from “doing”; intentional breathing exercises; some form of spiritual practice; creativity, e.g. drawing, writing, dancing, singing, playing an instrument, pottery, woodwork, gardening, cooking, building; clinical support such as counselling, psychotherapy, systemic constellations; travel, adventure, and the “new”; regular and familiar routines.
All of us might need something slightly different to stay well and feel safe and grounded enough and ultimately you will find your own approach and framework that works for you. Perhaps the best thing I can encourage is to experiment and try out different approaches that will support you to stay in your window of tolerance. I’d also like to reference the following You Tube video by Pooky Knightsmith: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vYab1q5N9-U (hopefully if you click on the link this clip is still on You Tube. It’s a great concise and personal overview on the Window of Tolerance).
This article is the continuation of a call to take control of the conflict situation you find yourself in, reflect on your experience and begin to notice what is happening in your mind and body, what is triggering in you and what is asking to be resolved. From this place you have the potential to free yourself from the cycles of pain and helplessness.
Awakin Call (eds) (2017) Ken Cloke: There is No Them. There is Just Us. Accessed 09.02.2020. Available from: https://www.dailygood.org/story/1883/ken-cloke-there-is-no-them-there-is-just-us-/
Bohm, D. (2004) On Dialogue. (ed: Nichol, L.). New York; Routledge
Knightsmith, P. (2018) Window of Tolerance – a simple tool for emotional regulation. Accessed 15.10.20. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vYab1q5N9-U
Siegel, D.J. (1999). The developing mind: How relationships and the brain interact to shape who we are. New York; Guilford Press