Mindful Conflict Resolution: Techniques for Calming Your Brain and Promoting Peace
Conflict: The lurking monster that wreaks havoc on our brains. From the depths of evolution, we’ve inherited an innate need to protect ourselves at all costs. But don’t picture yourself fighting a coyote like a badger or fleeing from a fox like a rabbit. Instead, imagine an automatic, unconscious impulse to safeguard your very existence in the face of danger.
Meet the brain’s “smoke detector” – the amygdala, a pair of vigilant guardians stationed behind your eyes and optical nerves. Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk fittingly dubbed them this in his compelling book, “The Body Keeps the Score.” Whenever danger looms, these little warriors sound the alarm, unleashing a torrent of chemicals into our bodies. Adrenaline and cortisol course through our veins, preparing us for a fight-or-flight response. This instinctive mechanism, known as “amygdala hijack,” coined by Daniel Goleman in his work on Emotional Intelligence, can throw us off balance in the blink of an eye. Our heart races, palms sweat, breath quickens – the body primed for action.
In the grip of this ancient physiological dance, our brain shifts focus, cutting off access to the prefrontal cortex. In other words, our rational thinking flies out the window, leaving us disoriented and locked into a narrow perspective. “I’m right, and you’re wrong” becomes our unwavering mantra, even if we usually possess a broader outlook on things.
But that’s not all – our memory becomes an unreliable ally. Have you ever found yourself in a heated argument, unable to recall a single positive thing about your partner or friend? It’s as if your brain turns traitor, erasing any memory that could soothe the raging flames of conflict. Instead, it floods you with the warning signals of the amygdala: “Danger, react. Danger, protect. Danger, attack.”
In this state of amygdala hijack, we lose our ability to choose how we respond – the protective nervous system takes over without giving us a chance to think twice. It’s absurd!
The Path to Peace: Embracing Mindfulness in Conflict
So, how do we wrestle back control from the emotional beast within? Enter mindfulness – the ultimate weapon to wield when conflict rears its head, whether it’s at work or home. This powerful awareness technique allows us to override our automatic responses with conscious awareness. Instead of lashing out or retreating, we can learn to remain present, regulate our own nervous system, and ultimately develop more constructive ways of engaging with others.
Embracing mindfulness amidst conflict requires a willingness to stay in the moment, to embrace intense emotions, and to silence our negative thoughts. Like any skill, it takes practice, but the rewards are invaluable.
Here are four simple steps to follow (as described in “Everything is Workable”) when you find yourself entangled in an overloaded nervous system and the urge to fight or flee consumes you:
Step 1: Stay Grounded
The first crucial step in mindfulness during conflict is to recognize that you’re triggered. Notice the changes in your body – the shift in tone of voice, the gripping sensation in your belly, or the sudden desire to withdraw. These are the cues that tell you the beast within has been awakened, and you’re on autopilot. Choose to stay put, be curious, and explore your experience.
Step 2: Release the Story
This may be the toughest part of the practice – letting go of the incessant chatter of the thinking and judging mind. When we feel threatened, our minds swarm with negative thoughts and stories about the situation. But for a moment, release the narrative. There’s a feedback loop between our thoughts and our body; the more negative thoughts persist, the more stress hormones flood our system. By letting go of the story, we clear the path for a calmer mind and body.
Step 3: Connect with Your Body
Direct your focus to the sensations arising in your body. Be an attentive observer, allowing the feelings to be just as they are without trying to control or change them. Open your mind to the various places in your body where these sensations manifest – the tightness, the trembles, the rushes, and the pains. Observe them with an unbiased eye, exploring the different qualities and textures of these sensations. Notice any bias you have against unpleasant or intense feelings.
Step 4: Breathe and Reclaim Equilibrium
Breath – a powerful ally in restoring balance. Pay attention to the rhythm and smoothness of your breath. By maintaining a consistent rhythm, inhaling and exhaling at the same intervals, and ensuring smoothness, you can halt the production of cortisol and adrenaline. A few minutes of focused breathing can anchor you in the present, enabling you to navigate intense sensations with clarity.
Mindful Warriors: Embracing the Journey
Mindfulness isn’t a quick fix; it’s a journey of self-discovery and growth. There will be moments when you stumble, and that’s okay. Becoming intimate with your body’s response to a hijacked nervous system is challenging – the discomfort is real, emotions are raw, and unsupportive thoughts flood your mind.
Yet, with each mindful victory, you strengthen your capacity to respond rather than react. Anger transforms into clarity, sadness blooms into compassion, and jealousy ignites change.
So, brave the battleground of conflict armed with mindfulness. Embrace the dance with your inner beast, knowing that as you master this art, you reshape your reactions and make the world a safer place – for yourself and those around you.
Conflict is a natural part of life, but it doesn’t have to be destructive. By learning to embrace mindfulness in conflict, we can regain control of our responses and transform our interactions into something more positive and productive.