Archive for the ‘interpersonal conflict’ Tag

Is There Room for Me?   Leave a comment

Mazie, our white spitz mix, sat on the floor in front of the love seat, wistfully eyeing a narrow spot between Kimberly and me.  Mitts likes to sit on our laps, which makes room for both dogs, but he sometimes spills into the gap, and he guards his personal space with warning growls.  Kimberly pulled Mitts over a bit, slapped the empty space, and urged the timid Mazie, “There’s room for you!”  Then turning to me she added, “That’s our family motto: ‘There’s room for you.’  It may feel uncomfortable or even scary, but we always make room for each other.”

When I make room for others in my space, I have to adjust.  Their preferences, priorities, viewpoints, and feelings all stick out in odd shapes that don’t fit well with mine. What they say or do may upset me, and in defense I may push back, growl to make them stop.  We make relationships “work” by excluding the parts that are at odds–go silent about politics and religion and the morality of disposable diapers.  After repeatedly hitting the same potholes of conflict, we learn to steer around them, thinking that smoother relationships are better relationships.  But this dance of avoidance hides our true selves, and our deep need for connection goes unmet.

Family and marriage is the quintessential formative ground for these dynamics.  We are most vulnerable here, with the greatest potential for harming or healing.  And the redemptive way forward is no Hallmark movie.  The “precious moments” of marriage, the things that make it rich and rewarding and powerful, are not warm fuzzies but cold pricklies.  It is not romance that makes a marriage great, but the frustrations, fears, and foolishness responded to with stumbling grace.  We build a marriage by the messy process of learning to embrace our real selves with all its brokenness.  This shared grace is the foundation of trust on which every deep relationship is built.  Because the two of us are weak and fearful, we sometimes fail, but we always return to this core value: “There’s room for you.”

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How Families Clash over Worldviews   3 comments

The world we each inhabit is a menagerie of differing perspectives without a guide to help us sort through the issues. If one is a feeler and the other a fixer or if one is an optimist and the other a pessimist, conflicts arise. One may push for action while the other pushes for patience; one inclines to critique and the other to acceptance; one wants to plan and the other likes spontaneity.  Instead of welcoming and finding a place for alternative views, we often react out of fear or pride.  We lack the imagination or guidance to show us how to make room for ideas that don’t fit our outlook, yet how we respond to conflicting perspectives makes a huge difference in our personal development and relationships (as you can see in my previous post), and the family is most formative in this process.

Cholerics like my dad are the engines of the world.  Far less would be accomplished here without their initiative, decisiveness, can-do spirits, diligence and strong-willed personalities, and as with other temperaments, the various elements of their personality are mutually strengthening, consolidating their outlook.  Dad addresses a problem or issue by acting decisively to resolve it. This initiative is grounded in his confidence about his own diagnosis, solution, planning, and ability to control the outcome. His self-confidence not only motivates him to act, but also brings results because others, inspired by his confidence, buy into his plan (cholerics are natural leaders). If there is resistance, his confidence prompts him to vigorously argue his case, become more firm in his position, and inspire others to action.  And so his goals are met, which is especially validating of his outlook, not only pragmatically in seeing the results but especially emotionally because a choleric gets the most sense of satisfaction from a job well done.  These are all good, valuable traits, and rightly admired in our society with its can-do attitude.

Melancholics like myself do not receive the same accolades or appreciation by American society.  We often find ourselves overlooked and our contributions devalued.  We are “a voice in the wilderness.”  Interestingly enough, this also meshes with and validates our worldview.  We expect the world to be this way because we tend to be more aware of the dark side of life–the suffering, antagonism, fear, despair, and brokenness–and we need space to slowly find our equilibrium among these crashing cross-currents.  When a choleric is faced with brokenness, his first response is to fix it, while the melancholic’s first response is to sit with it, understand it, and grow by it. To the choleric, this response is wrong-headed or weak-willed, it looks like giving up and acquiescing to the dark.  Of course, there is a danger that we melancholics may slide into despair, but there is also beauty of soul that comes from listening to sadness and an ability to empathize with and comfort the broken-hearted.  Sitting with those who cannot be fixed but can only weep and sigh may demoralize a choleric but profoundly encourages the melancholic.  We feel that we are finally being real and truly connecting at a deep heart level, and that soul-bonding is what we value most in life.

So the choleric is good at fixing, the melancholic at comforting; the choleric is good at action, the melancholic at contemplating; the choleric has good solutions, the melancholic has good questions; the choleric sees neat and clean distinctions, simple blacks and whites, while the melancholic sees a vast spectrum of slightly differing detail, complex grey-scale; the choleric sees opportunities, the melancholic sees concerns.  In a hundred other ways my father and I fundamentally differ from one another and it has a very big impact on what we feel, how we act, what solutions work for us, what we identify as problems, how we approach relationships, and basically each thread that makes up our fabric of life.  We see and interact with the world in very different ways, even in how we relate to God himself, even in how we understand who God is.  So these differences go to the roots of who we are and what we believe and how we relate to each other.  How profoundly important, then, to ponder these things and seek for self and other understanding.

Facing My Fears   Leave a comment

“GIT YER DOG OFF MY MAILBOX!”  The angry shout came from 100 yards up the hill, from the shadows of the house, and it slapped me back into awareness from my mental meanderings.  He was pissed that my dog had peed on the wooden pole of his mailbox by the gravel road we were traipsing.  “Sorry!” I called back, but he was not mollified.  “YER LUCKY MY PIT AIN’T LOOSE!” he hollered, a veiled threat to sic his pitbull on us if it happened again.  His anger seemed excessive to me.  Dogs pee on everything, especially anything vertical, and I’m quite certain the neighborhood dogs, all of which run loose, regularly mark every roadside post within miles.  Since my dog Mitts had been piddling for the last 5 miles, his tank was empty, so his lifted leg was entirely for show, but that made no difference to the hothead up the hill.

That was yesterday, and even as I write, the feelings seep back in–fear and defensiveness towards a world where even pastoral, peaceful spots now feel unsafe–and other nameless feelings flow through, shadows that settle in from being unfairly misunderstood, misjudged, belittled, chased off.

Moments before I had been reflecting on my spiritual journey, and many thought streams had unexpectedly merged into a sense of direction for 2015, summed up in the word “courage.”  My 2014 focus was “gentleness,” first to myself and then as an overflow to others, and though the visible changes are small, my outlook has started to shift fundamentally.  Being gentle with myself has given me some emotional resources for choosing courage.

In our culture, courage is a force marshaled against fears, taking a beachhead at first and then slowly conquering more territory.  You bravely take the stage to speak or you ask your overbearing boss for a raise, and gradually you become less fearful and more in control of your life.  But I’ve discovered a very different take on bravery–my real fears are not out in the world so much as in my own soul, and I need courage not to conquer my fears but to embrace them.  In other words, instead of trying to override my fears and silence them, I try to understand them compassionately.  Fears are my friends, not my enemies–they are clamoring to tell me something important about myself which I ignore to my own peril.  My journey has been completely in reverse of the norm–starting out fearless as a young man (because I was in denial), then learning to recognize my fears, and finally growing to welcome those fears as helps along the way.  We are most controlled by the fears we least recognize.

As I trudged, I pondered.  I have been dodging certain fears, leaving them unaddressed until I had enough emotional resources to open myself to feel their punches without crashing my heart, a truce of sorts instead of a lasting peace of mind.  I am finally ready, I thought, to address some of those dark shadows within.

Then that loud, angry shout yanked me back to the present and opened a psychological fork in the road–how should I respond to these feelings?  As I turned out of sight around the bend, I wondered how to pick my way through the mental debris.  Should I try to brush aside his words by changing the subject or argue with him to prove my innocence or castigate myself and resolve to do better?  What internal dialogue will protect my heart when it feels under attack?  And this odd solution came to me: rather than defend myself, I open myself to feel the sting and understand it with self-compassion.  That is the courage I am choosing this year as I support myself with gentleness.

This is the next leg of my journey: to sit with painful and scary feelings, to let them course through my veins and pound in my heart, to let them tell me all they wish to say about my own struggles and wounds and skewed perspectives, about my subconscious self-judgments, crazy expectations, and harsh demands, and to lovingly listen and feel sympathy for a boy that has always tried so desperately hard to find the right way and walk it against all obstacles. I need to gently open myself to feel and understand how this world’s edges cut my soul, to follow the contours of each gash with my fingers and trace its origins from the tender vulnerabilities of my early years.  Wounds need the gentle touch of sun and air to heal.

Posted January 21, 2015 by janathangrace in Personal

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“You’re Not Listening to Me!”   4 comments

Yesterday Kimberly and I were walking the dogs in our neighborhood.  My brain was stuffed with thoughts that were spilling out everywhere. (This is not as common as you might think since I’m an internal processor.)  Towards the end of my rambling monologue I commented that I was slowly coming to realize people are not very logical.  She responded, “That’s what everybody thinks.  Everybody believes their arguments are more rational than everyone else’s.”  With that short exchange our conversation slid into the ditch.  It is our most familiar, but still unavoidable, conversational pile-up.  We don’t see it coming, we don’t know how to avoid it, and once we’re off the shoulder, we don’t know how to recover.  The best we can manage so far is an autopsy after the talk has crashed and the dust settled.

In short, we each hear the other stating an absolute position that leaves no room for our own perspective.  In this case she heard me saying that I was smarter than everyone else and I heard her saying that everyone is equally logical.  My approach is to try to make some room for my view, in essence saying, “Will you give me this half of the room?  This end?  This little corner?”  It seems to me that I am negotiating for space for my viewpoint, smaller footage with each argument I propose, and after the third or fourth try, I give up, growing silent.  There is not even a cubbyhole in her outlook for my perspective (in this case, that logic is important but underused).  She, of course, hears something entirely different.  For her, every time I give a reason for my view, I am demanding her total capitulation.  It seems to both of us that the other one refuses to yield an inch.  On this occasion I tried to assert, “Logic is very important… logic is kind of important.. logic has some small role to play,” but each time, she hears me giving one more argument for why logic is king and I am his chief officer.

When the topic is minor, we just let it go.  It’s not worth the trouble to sort out.  But when it is a personal issue, touches a core value, or has significant practical implications, we are  too emotionally invested to welcome the opposing viewpoint.  So this conflict pattern that needs a clear-eyed examination arises when the fog is thickest.  Initially we don’t recognize it, but the deeper into the conversation we push, the more emotionally invested we become, so that ironically, the more obvious the situation grows the less possible it becomes to resolve it.

All our standard relational conflicts take this path of growth.  We start to recognize the pattern in hindsight and discuss it.  Then we begin to realize when we are in the middle of it, but we still can’t figure out a solution.  Then we take some baby steps that slowly grow more helpful.  After falling in the same ditch hundreds of times, we find a way to sometimes avoid the ditch, slowly becoming more adept.  We’re still at step one on this particular dynamic.  But we’ll figure it out.  We always do.

Posted October 24, 2014 by janathangrace in Personal

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