As I settled down to meditate in a class recently, the teacher soothingly gave us some words of advice. His voice was low and smooth, almost a caress as he said reassuringly, “meditation is easy. You just observe the breath and think of nothing.” I know very well, that that is not true.
It sounds easy when you put it like that, but seven years of meditating has taught me that that statement in practice, couldn’t be further from the truth. Often, as soon as I sit down to meditate, I start planning my future, hypothesising about what to do in certain situations that haven’t occurred yet and sometimes, just falling asleep.
I can’t stop my tendencies to drift off into planning mode when I’m supposed to be clearing my mind of all thoughts. I’ve learnt to accept it and intend, at least, to recognise when I’m doing it so that I can go back to concentrating on my breathing and relaxing a little more.
It’s the same with our difficult emotions. In my last blog post, I wrote about anger and why you might be feeling this, especially during conflict. If you can recognise your own deeply rooted emotions about conflict, you might be able to conceive of the possibility that your opponent is finding it as emotionally difficult as you and that’s why they are angry too. Using empathy to resolve conflict is powerful because it connects us as human beings. It allows you to understand the other person’s point of view and it helps you to express, assertively, what it is you feel. Taking this approach may also help you to come up with solutions that serve both of your interests and needs which is the only way to discharge the emotional charge that conflict has over us.
I’ll never say that this is easy. It’s not. Like meditation, it takes time, patience, intention and practice to recognise your own emotions and to take a step back from them. This is a valuable life skill because it allows you to assess, objectively, the best way to deal with a conflict. I can’t stress how important that is when children are affected by the anger you feel towards your ex-partner, when you are dealing with disputes in the workplace or you are tied into a conflict that could damage your interests in some way.
Feeling vs. Repressing
Dealing with difficult emotions requires (1) becoming aware of them; (2) acknowledging them; (3) feeling them in full. You may be reading this and wondering how you feel emotions in full. It’s usually physically pleasurable when those feelings are positive. When I think of my close family and how much I love them, I feel taller, more open, my chest feels more expansive and my heartbeat reverberates in a relaxed, rhythmic tingle. It’s easy to feel satisfied and content when I dwell in that love.
It’s much more difficult to feel negative emotions. When I feel anxious, I want to shut it down as quickly as possible. My posture closes down and my shoulders hunch, I feel an uncomfortable, constricting pull in my stomach which stops me from eating. You might be talking to me but I can’t focus on you, my mind begins to race about all the things that can go wrong. Knowing how this feels physically and not necessarily giving it a label, is something that you can work with to allow the anxiety to die down. What helps me is knowing what to do when I feel that way. I go the gym, go for a run, dance or do some Pilates. This is, at least, my personal way of dealing with anxiety.
Instead of feeling those uncomfortable emotions, we might repress them with alcohol, drugs, sex, work or any other destructive behaviour. Anger is another way that we shield ourselves from those difficult emotions.
The sad thing about repressing your negative emotions is that you unintentionally stifle your positive emotions. You dull your capacity to feel anything and that leaves you living a life in black and white, instead of vibrant colour.
Five Strategies To Help You During Conflict
Take a Step Back and Get Some Distance
You have every right to disengage from the conflict if it is becoming destructive, abusive or it is harming your mental health. There is nothing wrong with this! This could include blocking somebody on social media, blocking them from calling you, avoiding where they may be, or cutting off contact with that person and their friends. This is particularly relevant if you are dealing with a narcissist or a bully. Taking a deep breath, leaving a room to regain your composure and waiting an hour before responding to a curt email or text, are all practical ways you can get some distance.
Use That Distance Wisely!
Whilst taking time out from the conflict, use it to calm down. Take some deep breaths and allow yourself to recognise what it is you feel. Writing down how you feel is helpful, doing some physical exercise and feeling the sensations of those emotions will help you let off steam. When you feel ready, you can re-engage more constructively.
Give Yourself Some Love
This isn’t just about pampering yourself. Instead, it’s about recognising your needs and interests and understanding how you can satisfy them. This is also about realising that your needs and emotions are just as important as everyone else’s. When you can acknowledge this, you can ask yourself what you want from this conflict and how you can turn it around to come up with mutually beneficial solutions. Asking the right questions might help as well as communicating assertively as opposed to non-assertively or aggressively.
Emotions Aren’t Good Or Bad
Although I might refer to negative or positive emotions, what that really means is that some feel pleasant and some feel unpleasant. We might feel ashamed or guilty to feel emotions such as anger because we see them as “bad” or we might believe that the emotions we feel are wrong in a particular context; feeling happy or relieved when somebody dies or excited when a friend fails at something. Those labels really make no sense. We feel what we feel and that’s really all there is to it! We don’t really have much control over which emotions arise, they may even surprise us, which is why it’s more helpful to just accept them.
Don’t Judge How You Feel
This is all, just a reflection of how we attach judgments to our emotions which can damage our self-esteem and lead us to repress what we feel. Emotions are just energy that comes and goes, gathers strength and fizzles out. Accepting what you feel, without judgement, is a good way to allow them to just be there without trying to get rid of them or push them away.
It’s so important not to get carried away with conflict to the point of no return. Conflict becomes destructive when you allow your anger to take control of you and to consume any chance of resuming potentially healthy relationships. If that doesn’t make sense to you, think about the people who are affected by your conflict. Your anger might drive you to seek revenge instead of forgiveness, it could veer you towards costly and stressful legal proceedings and most importantly of all, it could damage your mental health and impact negatively on your ability to connect with friends and family.
As always, I’d love to know if you have any tips of your own or comments to share !