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20 Questions with Jenelle Duval from Eastern Owl, First Light
As a young girl growing up with my family, there was a lot of conflict and fighting. I learned to deal with it by going away and avoiding it. Now, as a 45-year-old, their hostility is often directed at me and it’s affecting my ability to sleep, sometimes for days. The conflict eventually gets resolved but it leaves me feeling drained and fearful of the next occurrence. How do I get out of this loop?
Here’s the thing about your family’s dynamic, the trauma of conflict can run deep and the effects of it are cumulative. It’s not just this latest event that’s keeping you up, it’s all the toxic interactions you’ve exchanged that’s wearing you down. Here are three steps for helping you to create a healthier situation for yourself:
1. Take responsibility.
The first thing you need to do is look at the situation as objectively as possible and ask yourself “How am I contributing to this situation?” What are you saying or doing that could be causing the conflict? Do you poke the embers with inflammatory or derogatory comments? Does your pattern of withdrawing ignite a sense of abandonment in them? This may be tricky to figure out on your own, so the support of a therapist may be in order.
2. Practice non-reactivity.
It’s important that you practice remaining neutral in the heat of emotional situations so that you don’t add fuel to the fire. If you notice yourself losing composure, then remove yourself with an explanation, by saying something like “I’m going to take some space to reflect on what you’ve just said and I’ll get back to you shortly.”
3. Watch your words.
Imagine the words in your mind before you speak them, and ask yourself “Is what I am about to say going to dampen the flames or stir up the situation further?” Your power lies choosing to communicate in a way that contributes to positive change so become laser sharp intentional about your words.
Every day is a new day, providing us with opportunities to let go and begin again.
As a highly sensitive person, I understand how conflict and hostility can affect you long term. For some people, elevated or heated conversations can give them energy and help them to feel more alive. For others, it can leave us feeling exhausted and even depressed. But here’s the paradox about life: we are pack animals and need people for social nourishment, and it’s also people who can bring so much pain and discord into our lives.
Our challenge then is to learn how to communicate effectively, without blame, criticism or scorn while expressing ourselves honestly and clearly, with connection as the goal. Given the models of communication that we watch on TV and in politics, we are in dire need of a communication course that’s taught throughout our school years to provide healthy tools.
Unfortunately for you, being caught in this toxic communication cycle may not change anytime soon. Some people are just too resistant to shining the spotlight on themselves and do the inner work necessary to grow and evolve. This refusal to look at their own issues leads them to project their unresolved wounds onto people closest to them, because it’s the only way they know how to deal with their pain. Therefore, you need to create your own set of boundaries that will help you to stay connected with your family in a way that preserves your well-being. One such boundary might be to request that you communicate according to the non-violent communication model designed by Marshall Rosenberg, which has a clear, concise framework.
It’s important to practice self-care before and after your interactions by intentionally releasing any residual harmful effects. One suggestion is a regular mindfulness practice of breathing deeply with a focus on the exhalation to release unhealthy energy.
As you sit quietly, imagine the exchange you’ve just had with your family flowing out with the out breath. You can also scan your body with your mind’s eye from head to toe, relaxing any muscular tension with each breath. Energy flows where our intention goes so this can be very effective for moving negative energy through your system and make room for the good stuff, like joy, love and happiness.
All the best!
Have questions for Jenny and Blair? Send inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org, all questions are confidential.