A dad friend of mine told me about his recent struggles connecting with his daughter. It is a small interaction, but illustrates an important point of how we often misunderstand or take things personally and end up missing chances to connect.
He hadn't slept well so wasn't at his best Tuesday morning. He had gotten up early to help her make breakfast and get off to school. She came down and was feeling stressed about a test and the day ahead. She asked him about getting new running shoes that he is usually happy to provide.
He was making her eggs and added a bunch of salt. She exclaimed with an eye roll, "Dad, I don't like so much salt in my eggs." He reacted and yelled, "Why don't you come in here and make your own damn breakfast. And don't ask me to buy you new shoes at 7 in the morning, I haven't even had my coffee." She visibly withdrew at the angry outburst, hungry and just wanting something she liked to eat.
This type of interaction happens all too often in homes across the country. We unload our upset on others, especially those we live with. Both the dad and daughter thought they were 'right' in their perspective and both reacted, inadvertently directing their upset towards another, taking what was said 'personally'. This happens so fast and is often done without awareness or intention.
The insightful book, The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz speaks to this clearly as the Second Agreement is "Don't take anything personally." He writes, "Even when a situation seems so personal, even if others insult you directly, it has nothing to do with you." We all come from a point of view made up of our life experience and what we were taught by our families, our culture. Every emotion and reaction we have is, therefore, about us, even when it is stimulated by another's action. This is a complex and counter intuitive concept, understanding it has changed my life for the better.
Back to the situation above, let's see how we can untangle the conflict using the 5 Steps To Connect framework to experience harmony and understanding.
When I am 'in it' ie. yelling, upset, wanting something to be different than it is, my first step to untangle is to MEET where I am, naming and owning it as mine. The dad could say, "Wow, I'm tired and grumpy. I didn't sleep well last night." This stops the cycle of entanglement where the daughter may take his anger personally and believe that she did something 'wrong'. The daughter could admit she was stressed about her test and that she appreciates her dad's effort getting up and making breakfast. They both would have felt seen and accepted which is what we all crave.
The challenge is that when I am 'in it', I am by definition not aware, but lost in the reactivity, feeling unconsciously threatened, fighting, flighting, or freezing. Questions, metaphors and visual life preservers are helpful to me to WAKE UP from a reactive state. When I am aware, I am more able to own my experience and not entangle with those I love.
A good question to bring awareness is, "Where am I?" Being curious and checking in with myself shines a light to wake up my observer part. It also brings me to the present moment and out of my interpretation it. Conscious Leadership Group uses a black line as a tool of awareness. When I am below the line, I am reactive, feel threatened, want to be 'right' and take things personally. When I am above the line I am curious, open, and willing to see many perspectives. Throughout the day I fluctuate below or above the line. The key is to know where I am as the awareness itself is what supports a shift.
The next question I've learned to ask myself is, "What is happening in my body?" This again brings me to the now. It could bring my attention to what my state is as I am more likely to react when tired, hungry, or 'needing' coffee like the dad was. Or it could shine attention on what sensation or tension is in my body? (tense jaw, stomach glitch, fast heart beat, shallow breath means I am wanting life to be different than it is).
The 5 Steps To Connect framework explains how our body, thoughts, emotions, and values work together to either conflict or connect.
I learned by parenting my two daughters how to transform conflict (and nagging, yelling and eye rolling) into connection. Join me and other parents build community and play with these concepts to untangle our upset and have meaningful connections with our child.
Join us! Last class of the year at Mar Vista Elementary Library December 12, 2019 Thursday 6:45 for community time, 7-8:30pm connection and learning time.
How to Reliably Connect. Practices to slow down during the holidays & connect to what matters most!
Sign up to come & get materials by 12/9/19: allison@5StepsToConnect.com or Mar Vista Office (831) 761-6177 (Space Limited to 24)