It was back in February 2019, when I wrote about how to avoid family conflict after loss. It wasn’t until a recent live interview on this very subject, I realised that for some people it’s too late. The conflict has already arrived.
So how do we deal with it? I’m going to offer you my secret strategy – but it’s not really a secret.
Start With This.
After loss, the intensity of conflicts at home and within the family, can increase. With emotions heightened, they are the types of conflict that feel the most painful. When you’re grieving, who needs this type of distress on top of what you’re already dealing with?
Responses to grief can take us ‘into’ ourselves and at this time, we can find it very difficult to step out and look at things from different perspectives. These types of conflict can be more challenging than we would usually find because it’s so easy to be held hostage by our emotions.
For me, there is a reframe to be considered. It’s about turning these awful moments into opportunities to improve our relationships with our nearest and dearest. It’s diverting your attention away from thinking about your next response and all the things you feel an injustice about, to actually considering “what can I do in this situation to build a bridge?”.
So the first step is to accept that you need to shift yourself to a more resourceful state. Not only will this prevent the conflict from escalating further, it will help you to take control of those raw emotions because quite frankly, you’re already using enough energy in the grieving process.
In Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), it’s what we call the Meta Mirror Strategy.
Step 1: Explore Your Position.
Identify one communication you had during this conflict that didn’t end as well as you’d hoped. Start with the premise that your conversation felt unsatisfactory but you are curious to learn from the experience. This means you are required to become more self-aware and figure out what really bothered you in this exchange.
Thinking back over this one experience, what did you want to achieve? What were you seeing, hearing, feeling and thinking? What did you hear yourself say? What is it the other person says or does that you felt most strongly about?
Now ask yourself the following (and you could journal about this):
What pain were you avoiding? What were you protecting yourself from? Which of your values weren’t being met? What needs were you satisfying? Were you wanting to feel more secure or significant to the other person? Were you wanting to connect with the other person, or to feel connected with yourself?
Use a non-judgemental and gentle line of enquiry and clarify on a deeper level what the conflict is really about for you. Chances are it’s not the same as the issue that is being presented on the surface. Please remember, this isn’t an exercise to beat yourself up – it’s recognising what was happening for you underneath the conflict.
Once you are clearer, you will be able to identify all the options available to you to get what it is you really want.
Well done on completing this first step – now take a short break before continuing. It’s important you do this. Put the kettle on and make a cuppa.
Step 2: Explore The Other Person’s Position.
This step is important. Think back to the time of the communication again. This time imagine what it was like for the other person. This requires you to have empathy and put aside any of your own judgements from your perspective. Step into the other person’s shoes – even assume their physical position and facial expressions if it helps.
What was the other person seeing, hearing, feeling and thinking? What is it that you said or did that this other person feels most strongly about? Looking at this with empathy will allow you to widen your understanding of what’s really going on for the other person.
Now ask yourself the following (and you could go back to your journal):
What might influence the position taken by the other person? What experiences shape his or her understanding? What’s going on in their grief? What needs is she or he satisfying with a particular behaviour? Is the other person looking for significance, connection or security? What’s the real intention of the other party?
This is about you understanding how might the other person have interpreted your words and behaviour? Therefore, what will you do differently in order to meet the underlying needs of the other person and at the same time satisfy your own?
When you combine these powerful insights from both your own perspective and that of the other person, you have a better understanding of the conflict and what’s really going on. More importantly you can explore ways to resolve it.
Well done on completing the second step – now take a short break before continuing. It’s important you do this. Think about something ordinary, like what you’re going to have for your next meal.
Step 3: Explore The ‘Fly On The Wall’ Position.
This about adopting an outside perspective from where you can observe the communication and conflict between you and the other person. This will help you to look at things from a fresh point of view. This will require you to detach from your own perspective and the other person’s. It may help you to imagine watching the exchange between you and the other person through a window. You can see and hear everything that’s happening but they cannot see you.
Notice how you and the other person seem to be playing a game and how you sense you understand the rules of that game. Accept all these insights as just information, like scientist watching ants at work. What’s it all about?
Now ask yourself the following (once again, you could journal about this):
What does the observer notice about your own behaviour and judgments? What is he or she seeing? What advice does the observer offer you? What would she or he tell you about the other’s real intention?
Well done on completing the final step – now take another break. It’s important you do this to create yourself some space from the work you have just done. Go watch a movie or go for a walk.
Providing three different mirrors or positions, means you get to detach yourself from the emotion surrounding your conflict and gain valuable insights that result in a broader and deeper understanding of the situation. It allows you to shift from a victim position to an empowered position.
If you truly want to change this situation, then this begins with you – regardless of what the other person has said or done. You can always see conflict as an opportunity to improve communication and the relationship as a whole. During times of grief, conflict happens. The ideal is to avoid it in the first place, but if the shit has already hit the fan then it’s about transforming the experience to a life lesson and moving on. You don’t need to stay stuck in it. Contact me.