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Working through our differences

This is a very personal blog about my own experience. In my process I am learning a great deal about myself, and how to continually evolve so that I can still be in relationship with others, despite our differences.

I have felt quite disheartened since the election. I have come face to face with many ideas and beliefs that I didn't know I felt so strongly about, until now. I feel as if many of my freedoms are being threatened. I feel that some very core beliefs could be dismantled, defunded or restructured in a way that feels bad. I notice that I want to become more of an activist and defend them, after all my beliefs hold great meaning to me.

From a personal standpoint I feel a sense of loss. I feel powerless amid chaos. I feel like my voice can't be heard through all the political noise. I don't want to be idle, so I am looking for an outlet. These feelings, emotions and concerns are too much to bear internally. I have trouble talking to people that are politically different than me. The differences that show up anger and frustrate me. They also hurt my relationship with others.

Psychologically, I am in need of being accepted and my worthiness affirmed. I want to know that my opinion counts, to someone. It's a core need as a human being, to seek acceptance. So what do we do when this isn't our reality? When we come up against barriers that feel suffocating, how do we manage our way through them, with others? Does this sound familiar to you? You can feel this way about many things including a job, a marriage, a friendship, family members or co-workers.

There is a voice, a part of my subconscious, a part of my psyche that is chanting loudly, "This means a lot to me, can't you see me?" I can't silence this part of myself because it won't go away. I have discovered that we cannot cut off parts of ourselves that need love, acceptance, praise or affection and expect all to be well in the internal world. I have to integrate these parts in order to come to terms with the differences I'm having with another person. I want to resolve the conflict without betraying myself.

I offer ways to resolve this in no particular order. Most importantly in this process, it will depend on who you are, what is not being seen or acknowledged, who the conflict is with and if you are able to express yourself in a safe manner with that other person. I will speak in first person, from my own personal experience and professional training, as I have given much thought and research into the topic.

1. The first question I ask myself is what do I need from this interaction? If I can understand where I am coming from, get a felt sense of the deeper beliefs that are driving my actions to be confrontational, argumentative or critical, then I can look at what unmet needs are present. Upon investigating, I want to be understood. I need validation that what matters to me also matters to them. An uncomfortable question then lingers, can I come to terms with the fact that this may not happen? I have to let the other person have their own needs, own expectations and own beliefs. It feels like a double bind.

2. Where does this need originate and why is it playing out this way? In this particular situation it goes back many years, to other relationships where I didn't feel like my thoughts or opinions mattered. I felt dismissed, less important, often working really hard to be "good enough." This was my starting place to rebuild. Buried in subconscious are unresolved emotions that are stuck. I'm trying to work them out in the present. This is often the case in relationships. In fact, almost every interaction with others isn't just about "this or that", but it's loaded with a history of hits, misses, failures, successes, pain, happiness, expectations, fears, desires and a busload of other things. Personally, I am working out my desire to be unconditionally loved by those closest to me. Where do we go from here?

Old wounds and pains are part of the subconscious. Something happens and then we move on. I believe all experiences are stored in our body. (I highly recommend the book, The Body Keeps Score by Bessel van der Kolk, MD to learn more about this). Out of our awareness we easily operate in our current lives based what has happened in the past. It takes conscious awareness and effort to work through things so there is integration and re-wiring. "Important remembered experiences are embedded in emotion, and emotion arises in the body. Emotions play out in the theatre of the body, feelings play out in the theatre of the mind" (*Weiss, Johnson, Monda, 2016, p. 35).

3. Now back to all these unresolved feelings that are driving me into arguments with someone I care about, yet I don't mind fighting in order to push my agenda. I feel uncomfortable, I feel uneasy and I feel determined all at the same time. When I take a step back and understand the WHY, the SOURCE, then I am able to understand that as much as I disagree with this person, this person is not the person in my past that hurt me. This person does accept me, does love me and cares for me deeply. I am taking the hurt that's buried inside and projecting it onto them. The theory of projection is when I am uncomfortable with the "bad" feelings in me, it eventually becomes intolerable. I don't know what else to do with them and I definitely don't want to feel it, so I find an object (person, pet, job, political party, company, etc) to put all those bad feelings on. Sigh, now I have relief because it's on them, not me.

However, having these feelings of unrest, resentment, anger, frustration, or whatever you are feeling actually isn't bad! It becomes difficult when we try to bury them and go on with life. The subconscious won't let that happen. And so they slowly rise to the surface every so often and what you do with them is essential to the healing process. Put more dirt on and bury it - well it will rise again and until then life is more uncomfortable.

-Acknowledge the feelings - now you have given them a little space to breathe. They don't have to go into hiding anymore looking for an escape route. EX: I want to be accepted and loved for who I am, which includes my beliefs.

-Acknowledge them AND begin to ask yourself what do you need in this situation or from this person. Now you are moving the feelings in a positive direction. We all have needs. Needs are not selfish. They are fundamental to our core, our growth and interactions with the world. EX: I need to feel accepted so I know I am loved. I want to be loved by this person because I love them. I want peace in our relationship, not conflict.

-Acknowledge them, discover what you need and where did that need come from - You are moving towards deeper self awareness. Still the focus is on you, and not the other person. Explore if the need comes from a place related to a painful experience, lack of affection or love, never feeling good enough, struggling to keep it together. It will be very personal. There may also be some pain involved in this process because you are going to a vulnerable place within. PLEASE be compassionate with yourself. We do not stand alone in the world, we are part of many, many, many relationships. Taking on the blame for everything is not the answer, nor is blaming everyone else.

-Acknowledge your feelings, discover what you need in the situation, ask where that need came from then look at the disagreement or discourse from the other person's point of view. They are having their own experience through all of this too. How are my projections affecting them? In my case it put the other person in a defensive stance. How can we understand each other if I am causing them to be defensive because I am fighting to be accepted? I don't want to do that to them. How can I approach this differently?

It is often useful to enter most conversations that seem charged to you, from a place of curiosity and openness. Share with the other person that you may feel frustrated, vulnerable, angry, or whatever it is before the conversation. Take the defenses down. Being honest, as much as the situation will allow it, opens the door for you to hear how each other feels. People can argue with bullet points and about politics all day long, but it's hard to argue about how someone feels. Depending on the severity of neglect, anger or years of putting hard conversations off, these steps can be helpful in one conversation or it may take a long time to resolve. Being true to yourself is key to any healthy communication. Being able to express yourself using "I" statements instead of blame often de-escalates the intensity. Actually understanding what you want from the other person allows you to recognize if this person is able to give it to you. If they are not, then you come from a place of understanding that. This information changes the expectations. If you both are able to engage from an genuine place, then take the process slowly.

One of my favorite quotes is "You may not always remember what someone says to you, but you will remember how they made you feel." Conflict is about so much more than words. It's about voice tone, body language, past experiences, needs and expectations between two people. Be patient and kind with yourself, and one another.

"We are in constant motion and never stop to plunge to the depth. We talk and talk and never listen to the voices speaking to our depth or from our depth...Like hit and run drivers, we injure our souls by the speed with which we move on the surface...We miss, therefore, our depth and our true life." (Paul Tillich)

*Weiss, Johnson and Monda, "Hakomi Mindfulness-Centered Psychotherapy," 2015.

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