Wednesday, March 30, 2011

In the midst of heated conflict

I think most people wish they could be calmer when confronted with conflict.  I am always thrilled when my Alexander Technique skills help me deal with conflict in a more constructive, healthier way than I would have without them.

When aggressivity is flying and words are being hurled, it is natural for us to fall into the fight-flight-freeze ("startle") response, as an evolutionary form of self-protection--and also because we unconsciously tend to mirror what goes on around us in other people.  And yet, in most situations (especially when there is no real physical danger), the best response for our health as well as for improving our relationships is likely not to fight, not to flee, and not to freeze.  When we manage to inhibit the startle response, we can think more clearly and direct our responses with greater calm, using our rational minds.

Just now, I found myself as an actor on the set during the scene of a fairly typical domestic verbal conflict (we have two young boys).  I kept feeling my body gearing itself up to react by fighting, fleeing, or freezing, but my logic told me that none of those instinctual responses would serve me--or my family--best in the long run.  Luckily, I was not in a stressed state to begin with (inner stress always makes conscious responses more challenging when we're confronted by conflict), and I was able to successfully practice what I preach.

What I did was quite simple, and it worked!  Thankfully, I was able to stay calm, quiet, and collected, sticking to my intentions with consistency and inner strength, despite loud protests from outside. Hurray!

Here are some helpful ideas for the next time you find yourself in the midst of heated conflict:
  • Keep your awareness forward and up in the area behind and above the forehead.
  • Notice the instinct that wants to give in to the fight-flight-freeze response.  You might feel muscles tensing, disturbed breath, raised heart-rate, panic; emotions of fear or anger; a desire to leave the room or to speak without thinking, etc.
  • Keep your awareness forward and up inside your brain.  Tell yourself firmly, "Forward and up." Keep returning to this; forward & up awareness is the key to the whole process! 
  • From that area in the forehead, keep telling yourself, "I am not reacting.  I want to not react.  I am not reacting.  I don't have to react," etc.
  • Other helpful thoughts: "I am not fleeing," "I am not fighting," "I am not freezing".
  • Make "forward & up" and not reacting your top priority, over whatever the specific details of the conflict are, no matter how much other people try to get you to react (and they will!).  
  • Not reacting with a startle response is not the same as not responding.  Not reacting is an excellent response; it is responsible (response-able).  You can respond with logic and compassion while remaining forward & up and not reacting.
  • Having the self-control to stay forward & up without reacting to triggers is a skill that requires a great deal of practice.  Practice it when you are away from trigger situations, and you will gradually reap the rewards as you are able to put it into practice in more diverse and challenging situations.
  • Congratulate yourself when you are able to not react, and enjoy what it feels like to exercise self-control from above! This is what it means to "rise to the occasion" and "overcome yourself".

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