I’ve been feeling a lot of fear lately. Maybe you have too?
Fear is not usually helpful, unless a tiger is chasing you and fear makes you run. Then it is super helpful!
When we are afraid, our brain shuts downs. We get less blood flow to the decision-making parts of our brain. The most primitive part of our brain, the amygdala, is in charge. Again, this is awesome when we literally need to fight or run for our lives, but not great when we are in an argument with someone, or in bed at night trying to sleep.
Because my go-to response is overwhelm or a sense of helplessness, I always look for how I got back to a sense of agency. How I can choose to respond, instead of my brain shutting down.
Yesterday I was feeling a lot of fear for humanity. I’m afraid of our isolation and our inability to see each other because we are wearing masks. Masks cover the parts of our face that convey whether we are dangerous or safe to others.
For the brain geeks reading this, the part of our face between our eyes and mouth constantly has micro-movements we can’t consciously control. The nervous system takes that information and tells our body whether we can relax with someone or be on guard.
Back to the antidote (woohoo!) One of the best antidotes to fear is connecting—connecting to ourselves, others, pets, nature. Connecting gets your brain on board.
Yesterday was a beautiful, warm, sunny afternoon in Seattle, and I was filled with fear. It was time to be in nature.
As soon as I was done working, I hauled my towel, a good book, snacks, and my floatie to my favorite place in the summer—Greenlake—a lake in the middle of Seattle.
I floated in the lake, feeling the water on my legs, looking at the blue sky, the ducks, and the people swimming. I got out of my head and into the amazing part of the world that is still here, even during the coronavirus.
I felt peace and calm and joy. Greenlake brought me back to myself.
Nature has the power to bring us out of our minds, so we can come back to ourselves.
There are many ways to connect. A favorite way to connect is to talk to people I love. Even leaving a voicemail saying I called to say I love them makes me feel connected. I pet my cats. I get out of my fear-based mind and am present with what is outside my mind and my negative thoughts.
What are your ways to connect? Use them, especially now that the world is set up to disrupt our connections. It is important that we intentionally choose to connect and relate, and be in our hearts versus in fear.
My new favorite way to connect is through being on podcasts. I am always amazed at the conversations I have. The connection that occurs in the space of an hour, even when I’ve never spoken to the person before, still surprises me.
I invariably leave the interview feeling deep gratitude for the experience and the person I just spent time with.
In this Love Note I am including a podcast recently posted. Conveniently, the Podcast is Connectfulness.
I’ve known Rebecca Wong for several years. We met at a conference for therapists. I connected with her right away. And during this podcast I remembered one of the things that drew me to her—her skill at listening and being present to the conversation are unparalleled.
P.S. As I type this up, a little later, I am feeling ridiculously good. The world is not any different than yesterday, but I am different in it, because I made the choice to connect rather than stay in fear. Woohoo!
I just had what could have been a very painful conversation with a good friend of mine. It could have been, but it wasn’t. At one point she stopped and said, “This is going a LOT better than I expected.” I wholeheartedly, and with no small amount of relief, agreed.
I was pondering why it went so well.
It was a superstar of a conversation because of these elements we both contributed to our discussion. Read below for 7 tips to effectively resolve conflict.
1. Do your best to avoid saying “you” as in “you are the problem”
We both used “I statements.” I statements are when you say what you are feeling because of the situation. Here is an example: “I am feeling angry because I don’t feel heard sometimes.”
Here is what NOT to say: “You make me so angry when you purposefully ignore me!”
Here is the secret of I statements. When humans hear the word “you” they start defending themselves, even if they don’t know what they need to defend against.
Think about it, when someone says to you, “When you…” your brain immediately starts coming up with reasons you didn’t do anything wrong. You don’t even need to know what the other person thinks you did “wrong.”
As soon as you use the word “you” when complaining, the other person immediately becomes less available to what you are saying. So whenever possible use “I” in your communication.
2. Say what you are feeling, not that they are creating your feeling in you.
Consider these two ways of saying the same thing: 1) “I am angry because we are leaving late for the airport and I had asked that we be ready to leave 15 minutes ago” and, 2) You make me so angry when you continually ignore the fact that I get anxious when we don’t have plenty of time at the airport.” It is much harder for someone to sound reasonable if they say, “you shouldn’t be angry” than if they say, “You shouldn’t let that obviously tiny, inconsequential thing I did bother you.” If you focus on the feeling rather than the action, you will get more to the root of what is going on, rather than the surface irritant. In the example above, the root is not feeling listened to, not the airport leaving time.
3. Don’t create motivations or feelings for the other person’s behavior.
There are two problems with telling the other person what their motive is: 1) They can argue with you about what their motive is vs focusing on what you want to change; and 2) you are very possibly wrong. I know, that seems completely unbelievable when you think you have been wronged. When we feel we have been wronged, our ego does a lovely job at convincing us our interpretation of events is the only possible interpretation. And…you are still possibly wrong.
4. Remain curious.
I can’t emphasize this enough. I’m not sure why, but it is impossible to be curious and judgmental at the same time. We can’t be curious about what the other person is thinking and feeling and think they are a moron. Really listen to the other person. Try to see the situation from their perspective, not just how their words do/do not fit into your own narrative.
When I aired my complaints to my friend, she said, “I’m curious, are you talking about the present or last year?” She didn’t say, “I haven’t done that since last year, aren’t you paying attention (you moron)!”
5. Be compassionate.
This fits in with seeing it from their perspective, but it goes deeper. The perspective shift is almost an intellectual process, whereas being compassionate or having empathy is more rooted in feeling. Both can be helpful. Compassion opens our heart. A closed heart makes for a good you-versus-me fight. Sometimes I rest my hand on my heart to help me remember to keep my heart open.
6. Stay focused on the topic instead of creating an everything-and-the-kitchen-sink argument.
This type of argument is when we bring in all the problems we have every had with the other person. This is a favorite tactic to make ourselves look more wronged and better than the other person. (You may not think you are doing this but notice how you feel when you are listing everything the other person has done wrong.) We cannot solve everything and the kitchen sink in one conversation. We can make progress on a single issue.
7. In the beginning, at the end, and (if you can) during the conversation, tell the person what you appreciate about them.
As I was talking with my friend, I was telling her what I have appreciated about her throughout our friendship. As I was telling her, I felt my heart open, and she also felt my love for her. You can bet both of us became less tense and more gentle because of that.
These tips work for me. Try them and see if your next fight becomes a discussion that clears the air and draws you closer. It is possible to leave the conversation feeling more intimate rather than angrier and more distant.
That’s what you really want when you start the conversation, right?
When did we start thinking ignoring other people in our vicinity was a good idea?
I live in Seattle, the “land of no eye contact.” This reputation is reinforced almost every time I go out in public.
One of the places I love to walk is a wonderful, tree-filled public land called Discovery Park. It is a popular place, so I pass 50-100 people every time I venture there. Not being from Seattle originally, I frequently smile and say hi to strangers. I am amazed at how few people make eye contact unless I say hello. I am even more amazed at how many don’t respond. Note—I do my best not to appear like an ax-murderer.
The other day I passed a middle-aged man, sitting on a bench in the sun, who steadfastly stared at his phone as I walked by. (I chose not to intrude with “hello” this time.) I marveled at how much energy it took to pretend someone wasn’t there.
If you want to try this yourself, next time you are waiting at a red light, trying not to see the homeless person standing a few feet away, notice how much tension this creates in your body and mind.
Here’s the thing…all this ignoring is not natural. We are creatures with minds that constantly scan for danger. To ignore other big creatures close to us goes against instinct.
Yet that is what we do.
Why? When did connecting become so scary? When did pretending other human beings don’t exist become normal? I don’t have the answer, but I do have hope that this wacky trend can change.
It feels so good when I say hi to a stranger and they look at me, their eyes lit up by a smile. One time, years ago, I gave a dollar to a homeless man while I was waiting at one of those red lights. He reached down, pulled a flower from the side of the road, and handed it to me. I gave him a gift and he gave me one. Somehow, I think I got the greater gift. I felt warm all day from that simple, kind, gesture. It still warms my heart.
A connection, however brief, was made between two human beings.