Last month we looked at power in relationships from a “Power Over” perspective. How we use coercion and force to get our way. In this article we will explore ways we can reconnect with ourselves and improve our relationships. Below is a review our working definitions and the visual of my fairy tale adaptation of Karpman’s triangle.
In our daily lives conflict isn’t typically this dramatic, but dramatic enough to cause damage to our relationships. The habit of these patterns adds up over time and get harder to change. For example, your dad, who’s now grandpa to your kids, just gives you ‘the look’ and you are terrified or your mom says a typically Princess statement and you are packing up the kids, and are ready to escape back to your own home, where ‘things are different.’ Are they? Yes, many things you are doing in your family are different and sometimes, especially at an exhausted, overwhelmed moment, you find yourself giving “the look” and sounding ‘just like my mother!’ Oh, no!!
The invitation at this point is to not turn your internal Dragon on yourself. The steps to self connection and empowerment are:
- Recognize the pattern. Notice you are triggered. What’s happening with your body, mind, and emotions?
- Disengage from the triangle. Don’t act out the habitual pattern. Minimum, say nothing and go calm down.
- Self connect and calm down. Re-engage the part of your brain that will help you deal with what’s happening right now. Find a short-term solution.
- Investigate your reactions through writing, talking to a support person, and other ways so you can understand why you reacted the way you did. This info will help you to identify your needs and create a long-term plan to address these at a deeper level.
So how do we do this? Recognize when the pattern happens and understand that when you are triggered, you are stepping into the triangle. This is the choice point, “Do I act out the habitual pattern or step away from it? The more often I disengage, the more I build the habitual pattern of knowing I’m in control of my choices and actions.” That’s the intellectual part of recognition. Sounds easy and we all know that the minute we get triggered, most if not all of our intellectual knowledge, usually disappear. Why? Because as we get upset, our fight, flight, or freeze instinctual responses kick in. Your reactions are hardwired and as you get to know your body’s cues, you can work with them. How this may look is: I hear a “mean mommy” statement from my child, my heart starts racing, my breathing increases, I clench my jaw, my hands go into fists, my body goes rigid, I’m ready to give ‘the look’-all within microseconds. Then I notice the rigidity. I stop ‘the look’ and don’t go into Dragon-like yelling. Next time I notice when I clench my jaw and I stop. The time after that I notice when my breathing changes. I can notice earlier and earlier in the process each time which increases my chances of not acting out my habit, of not discharging my intense emotions in a hurtful way.
- Notice your body’s warning signs as early as possible.
- Calm down by breathing slowly and deeply in through your nose and out through your mouth. Focus on your breath. If triggering or unhelpful thoughts come in, refocus on your breath and talk calmly to yourself “I’m breathing in, I’m breathing out…It’s all going to be O.K…I can handle this…” If needed close your eyes, turn around, walk into another room to help you calm down. If your body is rigid, soften your spine, take your gaze to the floor, move your shoulders in circles, release tension. If your body has collapsed breathe deeply, straighten your spine to a natural, upright position, take your gaze upward.
- Do this until you feel self connected, aware, and grounded—until calm and your full brain is back online.
- Create a short-term plan. How do you want to handle the “mean mommy” statement? What the plan for right now?
In this way you are addressing your body’s reactions and calming your physical self down by the breathing, addressing your thoughts or by focusing on something that is helpful (your breath). You are reassuring yourself that there are more choices on how to handle the situation. You can determine your actions. This is empowerment. Knowing you have the ability to make choices that are in alignment with your values, not act out your habitual patterns. In a calm, aware state you can make self-empowered choices for you and your family.