Dreading the Holidays? by Pam Stoddard

Holidays can be stressful, even in the healthiest of families.  When unresolved trauma leads to conflict with family members, holidays can feel absolutely overwhelming.  I’m using the definition of trauma as "any negative life event that occurs in a position of relative helplessness".  This could be anything from shame to war.  Conflict can occur when we aren’t aware of unresolved trauma- our own or someone else's.  Unsuccessful attempts to transform conflict without insight and effective tools can inadvertently lead to additional trauma. 

Navigating trauma and transforming conflict are critical to our well-being.  Understanding, along with inner strength, helps us to cultivate healthy relationships, turning holidays into something to look forward to.  Imagine if we related to ourselves and others as if we’d experienced trauma to some degree and are still working through it.  Would we be less reactive and more invested in transforming conflict?  The following video shares the necessity of a bottom up approach for the repair of trauma.  Don’t let the emphasis on age keep this from being relevant to you or anyone else-

Learn more about the ACE study at acestoohigh.com.  Keep in mind, the study only takes into consideration 10 adverse childhood experiences by age 18.  Trauma can occur at any age and in a multitude of ways. 

There’s an emphasis on trauma informed approaches focused on youth development, yet how about for older individuals?  Limited perspective and objectification don’t pave the way to transform conflict, and all too often the conversation goes something like this- “He should know better (be better, do better, etc.) because he's ____ years old.”  Or maybe even, “She is such a_____(expletive).”    Age is irrelevant.  People are not things to be objectified.  A brain is simply an accumulation of its experiences.  Fortunately, brains are malleable! 

In regards to personal change, the goals of conflict transformation are to minimize destructive effects of social conflict and maximize the potential for growth and well-being at a physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual level.  In relationship to others it's to minimize poorly functioning communication and maximize understanding, as well as to bring out and work with fears and hopes related to emotions and interdependence in the relationship. 

Objectivity- the ability to perceive or describe something without being influenced by personal emotions or prejudices- is key in navigating trauma and transforming conflict.  When we do this it’s as if there’s an observer and what is observed.  The experience can then become impersonal.  In the words of Victor Frankl “Between stimulus and response there is time.”  Taking the time it takes to reduce or diminish our reactivity sets the stage for conflict transformation.  I’ve gained a lot of insight through the work of Brene Brown.  Motivational speaker Erik Qualman aka. Equalman put together a compilation of some of her talks he calls 7 Super Tips.   Check it out-

Conflict Transformation is to see conflict not as a problem to be managed or resolved, but as an opportunity to strengthen a relationship- to self or others.  Here are six possible practices:

1. View conflict as opportunity.   When we see conflict as a problem we dread dealing with it. Learn to see conflict for what it is, a valuable look beneath the surface.

2.  Respect your adversary. Pride is the primary obstacle to transforming conflict. When we’re sure we’re right, the other person is wrong, and—even worse—see them as the problem, the conflict is sure to escalate or stalemate.

3.  Identify primary issues. Look beyond the presenting issue to name the real problem.  For example, your spouse (all of a sudden) begins to leave their clothes everywhere despite you asking them to be tidy.  Their behavior may stem from a lack of control in another area.

4.  Envision a shared future. Begin with the question “How can we create something better for both of us?” If, for whatever reason, we can’t envision those we’re in conflict with as part of our future, we won’t transform the conflict.

5.  Know when to quit. A conflict cannot be transformed unless both parties are willing to negotiate in good faith. If the other party is committed to being contentious, you may need to walk away—or at least maintain a holding pattern. Conflict transformation is not the same as capitulation.

6.  Capture the learning. Again, conflict is often related to underlying tension or anxiety due to unresolved trauma, likely to resurface at some point. How might you capture—and communicate—the lessons from the current conflict to possibly assist in the transformation of a future one?

What if you’re in conflict with someone you care about and they’re committed to being contentious or don’t envision a shared future with you?  I’ll contemplate a few of the above practices for next month’s blog.  In the meanwhile, please realize this- another's stance doesn’t necessarily make them wrong, bad, or a _____ (fill in the blank).  The behavior is what it is… until it isn’t (said the self-directed, positive neuroplasticity junkie).  Their behavior may never change.  Perhaps there’s a gift to be found in it. 

I’ll leave off with this quote by DaRa Williams:

"When genuine compassion arises it moves through us as grace bringing together a tenderness and fearlessness that could never come together by other means.  The fearlessness compassion leads us directly into the conflict and suffering of life.  Fearless compassion recognizes the inevitable suffering of life and our need to face the suffering in order to learn."

Happy holidays!