3 Individual and Collective Shifts that will Dramatically Improve our Relationships and Help De-escalate the Battle of the Sexes
We're all unavoidably seeing it and feeling it this year aren't we, the moment you jump on social media, the news or often when you walk out the door. Maybe at home, maybe at work...it's on the conversational docket....the battle of the sexes has really escalated 10 points up this year, hasn't it? It's more the question than ever now, how do we love and honour each other and support each other in this new climate, individually and collectively to heal and move through this and realise our highest potential? I say with a lot of love (at the same time as not wanting to get caught up in past wounds or the drama, yet knowing i know so much right now that can help, for those who are interested to read or discuss it), while at times its very painful to watch and experience, there also exists a lot of hope, because now, NOW we're really getting down to what we really need to heal and move forward, individually and collectively as people together. To truly honour each other and support each other to realise our highest potential. This blog is about a few additional communication related insights and practices i'd been contemplating this week that i think can help.
One point of confusion that has been on my mind very strongly this week, that comes up when we raise an issue/a point of being triggered in response to something or someone's words or deeds to the surface is the defensive reaction to it many of us have, like we've just been, like our very personality and character has just been personally attacked. This is a tricky one in the West. Because of how we've been conditioned to build our identities and self worth. Because very often, when someone asks about who you are, the innate social response is to to ask you what you do. In the West our behaviour and what we've achieved through our behaviour (not always, but often) has become one of the main sources of much of our self worth and much of our identity and personality. To the point that often, many, not all, but many people consciously think they ARE their behaviour, they are the job role they do, they are the things they've achieved. Which is great, until one thing happens; us receiving negative feedback about something that we've done/not done or created. If we have become identified with that we ARE our behaviour and our actions and achievements, if we've come to believe that our value in life is solely determined by these, then it can feel devastating and de-stabilising of one's entire reality and or the acknowledgement of one's "failures' if one is told they fell short in their own or in someone else's eyes. Even more traumatic if we've been punished and felt we've had love and forgiveness withdrawn from us along with our past failures at some point in history, and now fear the same will happen again.
Suddenly, what could be somewhat objective in discussion can become highly sensitive. If we're identified with what we do as who we are, we can take it like the person calling us to reflect on our words or deeds attacked who we are, our core identity... and when our core ego, our sense of self feels under attack, we often, not always, can go into flight flight and high defence mode. Fearing the loss of love and relationship that might come with it if we didn't measure up and can't "fix" any perceived "wrongdoing."
One teeny tiny fundamental truth remains though, in psychological and behavioural terms. We are actually NOT our behaviour or soley defined by our achievements. If we look at our identity like a cake for a moment, our our soulful identity is the cake, our personalities are made up of all kinds of yummy ingredients that went into that cake. Our behaviours that lead to achievements or not are like the icing and decorations you put on top to make it even sweeter (or maybe didn't manage to make yet). And you can get all kinds of next level creative with that. Is a cake or lemon meringue pie completely horrible thought without the decoration or meringue? No, it’s cake. Or made the right way, it’s a brownie or a slice and it’s amazing. A lemon meringue pie is a lemon tart without the egg white fluff. My point? Perhaps we do not cease to be awesome just because of what we did or didn’t achieve or how we did or didn’t behave. We as humans, our value, or lovability or worth is perhaps NOT solely determined by what we have said or done, or by the sum total of either our wins or past mistakes. And therefore, when someone gives us feedback about what their experience was of our behaviour in the form of something we did or didn’t do, it might help to remind ourselves that they are not attacking our character and our value, worth and lovability as a human being by default, they are simply commenting on something that we said or did and what their experience was when they witnessed that. Sometimes that might not even really BE about us. Sometimes it helps to ask what's REALLY going on here, before we automatically take it on like it is.
What might the difference between a character attack and asking someone about something they said or did e.g. their behaviour/their actions look like in practice?
Examples of a character attack:
Sorry, forgive me for a moment while we get a bit blunt...
"you're a piece of @#$S excuse for a man" "you're a heartless angry b@#$ and a sl#t" "f@#$ your stupid (insert racial/minority/political affiliation or viewpoint stereotype)" “nice job f@#$ing up your KPI’s this week dickhead” ”piss off with your stupid trauma victim s@#$" (e.g. what is really going on is “I feel triggered/angry/upset/let down right now” but it comes across expressed as blame of the other party, in some cases combined with a label about their identity or personality said with the intention of degradation or possible imitation. The aim is often cathartic relief/release, where “@$#@ off is added, it’s essentially meaning “I feel you’ve just crossed my boundary and I’m not cool with that” but it’s what we add onto the end that makes it a character attack. The one about KPI’s points to “can I have a chat with you about how you're going right now? (in a job where this person is accountable to the outcomes of their quality of work they’d agreed upon) Is something going on, what do you need, can I support you with anything?” But that version above might be perceived as an attack, even though the real issue is about their performance/behaviour, not their character. What is expressing to the other in these ways ultimately helping resolve, when an attack of their identity is added on the end? Is it the most constructive way to build a relationship? Does it actually solve alone in and of itself the problem? Or does it add petrol to an already flaming fire? Then what? Is there a way to do it, minus what might be interpreted by the other as a verbal low blow?)
Example of addressing a behaviour and people feeling triggered:
(this is the paraphrasing of an actual conversation that was highly effective in resolving about 3 years worth of wounding and tension, when we both sat with each other in a place of heart centred compassion for each other and those wounds:
"Thank you for taking the time to sit down and have a chat with me. I really appreciate it and ............... (insert whatever positive and authentic thing you appreciate about the connection comes to mind.) I just wanted to have a chat to you about what happened earlier, because it seemed like maybe we were both a bit upset within that interaction. Would you say that's how it was for you? Can I ask you what your experience was of what i said and did and what (in their words) it was that upset you?"
Then you listen to their side, reflect on what was said and where needed, take responsibility for anything you need to and are willing to give to make the connection work.
Then you might express that you'd like to share how it was for you now if that’s ok and when they give permission, explain what it was that you reacted in response to, in terms of what they said and what they did and any known triggers you know you already had (so that they have a chance to come to understand why that’s a point of sensitivity for you. The combination of one being willing to hear compassionately, completely shifts the whole energy of the conversation instantly, from one party feeling attacked or unsafe and hence going into fight mode, to feeling safe to be vulnerable and express how they really feel.)
Then the person sharing about their experience might explain how that relates with their ideas and values on how they would like to be treated. Then the idea might be to come to a resolution on what you can both do differently to respect what the other needs and wants in the connection and will help you work together or relate together how you'd both ideally like to moving forward. Both sides need a turn on this. And it can’t be a one off, the agreed outcomes have to be followed through on and communication to become a part of an ongoing relational conversation for the impact of this kind of conversation to last.
This is but one example of many that could work, but can you see the difference between the two examples of personal attack v's addressing something someone said or did in a way that will build and deepen trust, safety and connection in any form of relationship? And why one might be more effective than the other in supporting the other and being supported to heal and realise our highest potential?
Self Responsibility and The impact Zone
As Learning Theory and Psychological theory under the headings of Cognition, and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy might suggest to us, in the cascade of the process of how we think and react to any given experience, e.g.
External event/stimuli > references mental database of experience to make sense of this > thinks thoughts > quality of thoughts triggers physiological changes in the body > and the experience of emotions in response to the external stimuli
We have been taught that what each person personally experienced is of their own creation, as they are the one thinking their own thoughts, referencing their own past learnings and framework of understanding of the world and having a cascade of emotions and physiological responses to something they’re experiencing in the external world.
Just as we are responsible for our own choices of words and deeds in the world.
BUT is it that simple alone? Think about these scenarios for a second: (again, let me just pre-warn you, this is about to get a bit emotive!)
Supposed me or some guy you hardly know are visiting you at your house and state we want to take half an hour to get naked and pleasure ourselves on your kitchen bench, regardless of whatever you do. “What, you just reacted to that? Love, you need to take responsibility for your reactions here. I’m not responsible for them. I’m just expressing myself over here.”
Example 2: suppose my (fictitious) monogamous BF of the last 10 years and I just broke up 10 mins ago and he’s now kissing my best friend, next to three of our other friends in our lounge room and he says to me “What? Seriously, you just need to own your projections and your reactions. I'm not responsible for how you feel. If you cared about me, you’d be happy for me right now. We want to be together right now. Go deal with your stuff.”
Example no 3: You’re sitting at a cafe with a friend. A guy driving a rubbish truck drives up and parks out front. Several of the bins are a few metres from you. He starts emptying them into the truck and dropping them loudly back on the ground, the second one bounces off the first and nearly hits you. He says, “what? I’m just doing my job!” Seriously, can you just take some responsibility for your reactions please? They’re not my problem.”
How does each of those sit with you? How does it make you feel, if you put yourself in that scenario?
Does the “own your reactions, own your behaviour” help or hinder do you think in each scenario? Does the rule excuse a character attack, breaking the law, or what might be perceived as a moral infringement of the values, boundaries or literal safety of someone close to us?
It’s not quite that simple in the end, in practice, hey, when you want to actually maintain and build relationships?
What is The Impact Zone?
Because there’s actually a middle zone between reactions on one side and behaviours on the other. I call that the impact zone. It’s the inevitable zone in any given human relationship where we have to set the ground rules and set the vision and expectations about what is and isn’t acceptable in this particular relationship. Some of those have been collectively determined already for us and are called laws. They regulate the big things we all collectively decided weren’t cool, like people saying “I want the freedom to punch people in the face whenever I’m upset”….Western society literally voted no to this and there is as a law reflecting this.
To take it down a few notches of intensity, for every given two people, there are also values and moral standards and codes we will develop and refine within each unique connection which each of the two people involved determine as they interact and attempt to be of service to one another's growth e.g. behave and react and hence IMPACT each other in each other’s presence. This process is often done completely on auto pilot and subconsciously at the start of new relationships, sometimes consciously, but it always happens, even when, as David Deida would’ve once put it, we're being as self responsible as we can and we evolve to the phase of relationship where it’s all about “how do I be of service to the other to help them reach their highest potential? That process STILL happens under the surface. And it's still needed.
In the current 2018 social climate of individualisation however, as Esther Perel discussed it in The Future of Love presentation, what is required now of each gender and individual in relationship has forever changed now. Because as a society we’re now so focused on “how does this express who I am and what I stand for?” And “what is my life purpose? How do i live that and reach my highest potential and be who I’m here to be in all aspects of life?” Having a traditional universal gender role definition for how we should behave as wives and husbands in general or as bosses or employees or clients in any given role actually isn’t going to work now, so much as it's now a starting point for a conversation to evolve. We’re evolving to a point where each relationship and the parameters within it, need to be defined by the two people creating that relationship, which its now more important than ever to understand the self reflective processes, the visualisation and intentional processes, the self accountability processes and heart centred communication processes that we can implement to successfully create and grow each unique relationship, at work and at home. This is a MASSIVE cultural shift and role re-definition we’re going through. It's no wonder so many people are freaking out right now as all genders are being called to let go of the old ways and create individual new ones that work for each, case by case, right? I don’t know about you, but that busts my heart open about 100metres wider in just wanting to give the whole world a giant hug.
Understanding the difference between Blame v’s Personal Accountability
What though is really the difference between blame and accountability when it comes to the impact zone? Blame might be defined as putting 100% responsibility on the other person for whatever has happened (wether literally or projected). Whereas accountability might be defined as asking someone to take responsibility for their part of what they’ve contributed to the impact zone, knowing that both parties in a relationship contribute the impact zone by being participants in the dynamic. Two people means 50/50 or at least shared responsibility for the outcomes. Does that make sense?
Having an understanding of these processes and putting them into practice can not only markedly improve the quality of communication in all of our personal relationships and contribute to the personal healing and hence growth of each party in the direction of the realisation of their highest potential. But also, collectively, on a communal, sociological level, incorporating these few understandings and putting into practice these few communication strategies could start to catalyse potential shifts and healing in the current polarisation that is happening between the genders as we all work to determine, how do we truly relate in ways that best serve each others growth towards the realisation of each and everybody’s highest potential now.
Nat talks about Self Expression, Heart Centred Communication and Lifestyle for Leaders.