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Staying Connected As A Loving Adult In The Face Of Conflict

By Dr. Margaret Paul
August 22, 2016



Have you found it hard to stay open in the face of conflict? Does your wounded self quickly take over, and your conflict resolution skills disappear?



Love in conflictAllison asked me the following question:

"I practice Inner Bonding when I feel I need it. I basically feel connected and when something is going on I sit down to do it. My question is, in the heat of the moment I feel wounded and find it hard to communicate effectively. When I take care of it later I get grounded and feel ok. Can you please share advice on how to connect to my loving adult self in the split second of active conflict?"

Staying connected as a loving adult in the face of conflict is a challenge for most people. The reason for this is that our deeper fears of losing ourselves, losing the other, or not being seen or heard triggers our fight or flight mechanism housed in the amygdala, and we are off and running with our old programmed control mechanisms. Whatever conflict resolution skills we've learned disappear in the face of fear.

How often have you found yourself getting angry, explaining, defending, trying as hard as you can to be seen and heard? How often has this worked for you?

The problem is that, when we are in our wounded self, we are not available to seeing and hearing each other. We can see and hear each other only when our higher brain is online, not when we are triggered into our wounded self. Our conflict resolution skills are in our higher mind, not in our lower mind.

So, as Allison asks, how to stay connected as a loving adult in the moment of conflict?

The first thing to do is breathe. Take a deep breath. Give yourself time to tune into what you are feeling and what's happening with the other person. Taking a breath and tuning inside will let you in on the fact that you likely feel a tension in your heart – which you might want to call 'heartache.'

Instead of responding to the other person not seeing or hearing you, this is a great time to practicing zipping up your mouth. That's right – practice not saying anything to the other person! Surprisingly, practicing being completely quiet is part of developing conflict resolution skills.

Why say anything? Your heartache is letting you know that the other person is stuck in their wounded self and they won't be able to hear you. Instead of reacting to the other person, bring your focus inside. Put your hand on your heart and say to your inner child, "I know it hurts your heart when he/she doesn't see you or hear you, and they see you in a way that is hurtful to you." Then lovingly disengage, again without saying anything. Then let your inner child know that you see and hear yourself.

Research indicates that it generally takes about 30 minutes for our higher mind to get back online. So wait 30 minutes before approaching the other person. You might want to say something like, "Are you still upset?" If they are, then leave them alone again. If they have calmed down and seem to be more open, you can try talking about the situation and see if you can see and hear each other and reach an understanding of each other. Conflict resolution occurs only when both people are open to learning about themselves and each other.

If the other person doesn't open, then you need to accept your lack of control over how they see you or if they hear you. Continue to see and hear yourself and decide what loving action you need to take in the face of not being able to resolve the conflict together.

The most effective approach to attaining conflict resolution skills, and the way to maintain your loving adult in the face of conflict, is to not even enter the conflict unless both of you are open to learning. Entering the conflict when one or both of you are closed will likely result in an escalation. There is no resolution or understanding that can occur when one or both of you are coming from your programmed fight/flight behavior.

Join Dr. Margaret Paul for her 30-Day at-home Relationships Course: "Loving Relationships: A 30-Day Experience with Dr. Margaret Paul - For people who are partnered and people who want to be partnered."

Photograph by Melina Stathopaulos



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