Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Conflict Resolution is good for the body and soul

Sunday I read an interesting article on “conflict.”  Chrystle Fiedler‘s article called “Defusing Conflict” in the Costco Connection made me consider my conflicts and how I am dealing with them.

The dictionary defines conflict as:
  • A state of open, often prolonged fighting; a battle or war.
  • A state of disharmony between incompatible or antithetical persons, ideas, or interests; a clash.
  • Psychology. A psychic struggle, often unconscious, resulting from the opposition or simultaneous functioning of mutually exclusive impulses, desires, or tendencies. 
After reading the definition, it seems that conflict is more a part of my life than I imagined.  This little thing called “acceptance” that I mention several times a month appears to cause an ongoing internal conflict for me.  My desire to remain mobile, helpful, and engaged in certain physical activities is at the center of this conflict.  At times  I feel like Charlton Heston at the NRA convention where he commented, “You can have my gun when you pry it from my cold dead hands.”  Some activities I find almost impossible to give up even though I know I can no longer safely accomplish them.

In an August article (It took being shaken to the foundation of my soul), I wrote, “I have found that it is possible to become so involved in the current stepping-stone (life experience) that it becomes nearly impossible to move forward. “  In other words, if I am unwilling to accept my current situation, I can not move on.  Later in the article I commented, “Several times I took a couple of steps backward trying to recapture a moment in time that I thought was better. The comment, "you can never go back" is so true. Life's experiences are meant to be lived once and never resurrected. There is only one way to move and that is forward.”  There are times, however, I just am not willing to accept the loss of some capability.  Logically, I know I must move on, but boy is it tough to just let go.

conflict -1

Fortunately, my wonderful wife is the rational one in our family.  She only wants to see me safe, healthy and happy.  Unfortunately, I do not always want to be rationale.  She has learned that occasionally she just has to step back and let me make a fool of myself when I become obstinate about trying to do something.  If she believes I am not in danger of hurting myself, she will let me find out for myself.  Either way, she has to listen as my frustrations become verbal in the course of my re-education.  Aren’t wives (and significant others) wonderful!

Ms. Fiedler writes in the article that “people who are in high-conflict situations take longer to heal from infections and disease.”  In a research study presented at the American Psychosomatic Society meeting in 2005, it was shown that couples in conflict-ridden marriages take longer to heal (from all kinds of wounds – physical and emotional) than happily married couples.

Anyone living with Kennedy’s Disease knows that stress is hard on the body.  For some reason it makes us weaker … even wobbly legged.  Stressful situations often takes hours to recover from.  Yet, for some reason, many of us have not learned to manage stressful situations especially ones that we have some degree of control over … for example, a conflict with another person.

A Psychosomatic Medicine Journal in 2005 noted that trying to avoid conflict is not the answer.  The healthier option is to assertively express your point of view.  Laurie Puhn, the author of “Fight Less – Love More” states that “conflict is not only inevitable, it is good.  It means that two people have different perspectives … (and when verbal skills are used effectively) … the relationship will grow.”

Conflict path

Fighting fairly (even with yourself) can be accomplished by applying these four steps.
  1. Sit Down:  Sitting down allows your logical mind to regain control.  It goes back to the “fight or flee” mentality that all of us experienced (instinctually).  Instead of pacing around the room or walking out the door, sit down, take a few deep breaths.  Once you have calmed down, ask the other person to do the same.  [I am a pacer.  When I become upset, the adrenaline flows and I have to move.]
  2. Play Detective:  Find out how the other person thinks and feels by asking questions such as “What do you think just happened?” and “Am I missing something?”  (Note: These questions also work with your ego)  We often make assumptions as to why the other party is acting a certain way.  By asking questions and truly listening to their answers without interruption, you are collecting information.  Stay open-minded, otherwise you will have the same argument again.  [This really works.  If I take the time to find out the other person’s perspective or logic, it is much easier to reach consensus or at least to agree not to agree.]
  3. Show you are Listening:  After you have collected the other person’s information (perspective), summarize what you heard.  For example, “You are saying that because of X, Y and Z.”  Once you gain acceptance that you have heard the other person, you are free to share your perspective.  [It helps to ask after you have summarized what your heard, “Have I understood you correctly?”  If so, it is the first step toward gaining some type of consensus or compromise.”]
  4. Make an Agreement:  The goal of any good fight is not to win, but to agree to do things differently the next time that there is a disagreement, mistake, or problem.  “Research has shown that if you participate in coming up with a solution you are much more likely to comply with it,” says Puhn.  “At the end of a good fight, you feel relief because there is a compromise.”  [There is a wonderful feeling that comes over your body when two people reach consensus or a win/win compromise.  The feeling is relief, but it is also a deactivator and what is causing the adrenaline to flow.]

Dealing with the adrenaline overload is also important.  Conflict triggers adrenaline flow and that makes you even more stressed.  Andra Nedea of the Virtual Tranquilizer recommends the following activities to help lower your adrenaline level and make stress more manageable. 
  • Give yourself time and space:  Adrenaline flooding can make you feel claustrophobic and more anxious.  Take a walk.  Just a few minutes away from the situation will help.
  • Breathe fresh air:  Open a window or step outside.  Fresh air can help chase away that trapped feeling.
  • Play with the kids or the dog:  These two activities will immediately reconnect you with the good things in life.  [This one really works for me.  It is tough to remain angry or frustrated when you have engaged someone that you love in a fun activity.]
I will add one more to Nedea’s list.  Meditation:  It might not seem like it is working at that moment, but the deep breathing while allowing the negative thoughts to drift away really can make a difference.

conflict internal

Even though much of what is written above is directed towards conflicts between two people, several of the suggestions can be applied to that internal conflict that I mentioned earlier.  I actually feel that most of my conflicts begin internally (a struggle with acceptance) and escalate to a conflict with my wife.

"If you have learned how to disagree without being disagreeable, then you have discovered the secret of getting along."  Bernard Meltzer, American Law Professor
How about you?  Do you experience these internal conflicts?  Do they occasionally rise to the surface and become a conflict between you and your wife (or significant other)?

Chrystle Fiedler writes about health topics for many national publications.  For more information on the Virtual Tranquilizer, visit www.conflictunraveled.com.

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