Being knocked back and dealing with it
So when you have arguments there is a tendency for the other person to get angry, shut you off, put you down or otherwise knock you back when you try to share you feelings and needs. What's really happening here, and how can you improve matters? Read on to find out.
There are essentially two styles or 'modes' of conflict: Threat focused, and collaborative.
- Threat focus mode is where you perceive the other party/person as a threat to you or what you value, and overcoming that threat takes priority. It's you against them.
- Collaborative mode is where, even though there are some challenges to meeting your needs, you focus on finding a good solution for everyone by working together and being receptive to the other person as an equal, i.e. collaborating.
Both modes are natural - although threat-focus is really more of an emergency backup mode, best suited for when collaboration fails and things like survival are at stake.
The trouble is, due to cultural conditioning and past experience, many people spend a large part of their life in this emergency back-up mode of threat-focus. When someone is threat-focused, critical remarks or defensive behaviour is much more likely. Luckily, this situation can be changed.
So, the upshot is when you're genuinely trying to share your feelings and the other person is busy shooting you down, there's probably a difference in your conflict modes.
Non-judgemental acceptance and empathy creates the bridge to cross over to a collaborative way of resolving conflicts. (Note, this is not about necessarily agreeing with someone or being a push-over.)
Obviously it can be tough to built a bridge when someone else seems intent on chopping it down. But remember, being in threat-focus mode is typically an unpleasant, high-stress experience. The more you make it obvious to someone that no matter what, you really have no interest in fighting them, taking away their freedom, demanding from them, making them feel guilty, or judging them, then the more likely they are to calm down and become more collaborative - albeit cautiously at first. This can take some work, self-discipline and assertiveness on your part.
The reason why we get in threat-focus mode to begin with is because we have a sense of personal threat and we can't find a more effective way of dealing with it than to fight or to run way (or we never got to practice another way of dealing with it).
So then, when someone attacks us (e.g. by criticising) or seems to put up defensive wall, behind the immediate interpretation that they want to hurt us or reject us, is the understanding that they're trying to protect themselves or what is most dear to them. Also, in that threat-focus mode of thinking they may not even be able to consider how others are being affected by their behaviour.
"Healthy Loving Relationships" looks in detail at how conflict can be transformed from focusing on threat to collaboration and then to peaceful and long-lasting resolution. Various patterns of judging, criticising, blaming and general defensiveness are explored, and ways of effectively addressing them shown. In other sections, related subjects such as assertiveness, manipulation and relationship roles are covered in detail.