By Nik Lovaas, MS, LMFT | The Village Family Service Center
While we are in many ways still bound to our primal instincts, we’ve evolved. In times of conflict, we can communicate our complex thoughts and emotions. I believe we owe it to our ancestors to address conflict by communicating.
It starts with defining the problem. A common mistake is to identify a person as the conflict rather seeing the choices, behaviors, circumstances, or the interactions as the cause of conflict. It’s easy to blame others. Blame distracts from our behaviors and removes our responsibility to make changes. However, habitual deflection of responsibility intensifies feelings of helplessness and anxiety. It leads to overwhelming feelings of fear and loss of control which preys upon our primal instincts (fight, flight, freeze, collapse). Consequently, these experiences may trigger us to react or default to behaviors that we later regret; actions or words that we cannot take back. Inevitably, conflict will continue to fester.
The undisputable truth is change starts with us. We have the power to influence the outcome, and it depends on us being accountable and making changes.
Accountability in relationships promotes balance, understanding, reason, and achievable solutions. It builds a foundation of trust, honesty, openness, and fosters an interaction of change. Life isn’t easy and change isn’t easy. We can always feel how we feel, but we have an obligation to recognize it, be accountable for our feelings, and do something about it. At the very least, we need to take a time-out in order to process and reflect on the series of events.
Times-outs give our brains an opportunity to catch up. We go from feeling overwhelmed and unmanageable to feeling centered and in control of ourselves. Time-outs give us the chance to think and let our voice of reason calm us and engage in a therapeutic technique called thought stopping. Thought stopping involves a series of self-reflective thoughts and/or questions such as: “Do I need to say this?” “Does it need to come from me?” “Is now the right time to say this?” Thought stopping allows us the opportunity to examine our motives and determine the underlying cause of our intense emotions, which may be irrelevant to the presenting problem.
Bottom line: Communication is key. We need to communicate our struggles. We need to communicate our expectations and goals openly. We all have different backgrounds and life experiences. That’s why we think and behave differently. Our differences expand our abilities to grow. We are offered the opportunities to see life from a new perspective and begin each day anew.
Nik Lovaas is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist at The Village’s St. Cloud office. Nik is a Nationally Certified Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavior Therapist who provides individual, family, and couples counseling to serve the community. He specializes in treating kids and adults with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.