Family fights

Denial is not a healthy way to deal with conflict

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My family does not talk to each other when there is conflict. This made things hard for me when I was growing up. I feel like I haven’t had a stable relationship with loved ones and now it’s ruining my ability to have a good relationship with my boyfriend. We’re both in college and each work two jobs. That’s stressful enough but we fight a lot, too. Can you help me figure out how to get through this?

Your family taught you one tool for facing conflict: denial. It's a response that allows us to pack away pain, pretend we're not hurt and to behave as though whatever happened is not an issue. You've shut down so often, it's become a habit. Exit that rut by practicing something new. Give yourself tools for managing or dissipating conflict. Try speaking up warmly, with an openness and vulnerability. Say: “My habit is to stop talking and to freeze you out. I'm changing because I love us, I love you and I love myself enough to know that my old behavior no longer serves me.”

The best time to practice new attitudes or actions is when you're not in an argument with your man. It's difficult to change the way you argue without practicing new responses when all is well. Consider the commitment people make to head to a gym and give their physical muscles a workout. We have to engage that same commitment to retrain our minds. Thoughts drive attitudes and behaviors. Attitudes and behaviors create our circumstances. To grow in awareness of your thoughts, it helps to befriend silence. Go on walks solo and without listening to anything except what is rattling around in your head. Notice judgments, the ones you direct at others and the ones you imagine they direct at you. Question assumptions.

We can't know what someone else is thinking unless they tell us. What we can know is this: Whatever we imagine someone else thinking is often the sum of our own thoughts projected outward. In other words, we put words in people's mouths. Don't weaponize this awareness. It doesn't mean you're a terrible person. It could mean that you're hard on yourself. It may also mean that you imagine people saying negative things about you because it validates your insecurities. Another approach is to validate your skills, talents and gifts. Motivation by encouragement is much more successful than motivation through self-hate.

Trauma lodges in our bodies. We may experience it as headaches, stomachaches, disrupted sleep, TMJ, mysterious bouts of exhaustion or muscular knots in the shoulders, glutes and feet. By tending to our thoughts, we can provide better care for our bodies. This changes everything. After all, who wants to give up feeling good in order to step into an argument? You will be more likely to create the ideal environment for a conversation focused on finding an equitable solution, and that's a beautiful way to start your 2020.

Meditation of the Week

“People who deny the existence of dragons are often eaten by dragons. From within,” said author Ursula K. Le Guin. Have you befriended your shadow?