A Vaccine for the Virus of Division
During this pandemic of Covid-19 and sheltering in for four months, I have had a lot of time to reflect on what has been happening in our country. Without my usual distractions I cannot escape the reality of much division in our country. I have observed so much reactivity and bitterness both on the streets, and the media and in our political system.
Being a psychotherapist and in private practice for 30 years, and working a lot with couples struggling to keep their marriage afloat, I see parallels in those dysfunctional relationships and in what is happening between many segments of our society.
The couples I worked with lacked skills to navigate waters of conflict. Over time they developed patterns of defensiveness that kept them in a negative cycle. We all have areas that are vulnerable to getting triggered. What is important is to learn to cope with the trigger versus reacting to it. Without coping tools, individuals tend to become defensive, raise voices, blame and assume a guarded demeanor. To work through these barriers, we have to identify how their buttons got installed. We often find that in their childhood there was a critical or controlling or abusive parent.
Once that is identified one partner can learn how certain tones or messages can negatively impact their spouse. And the impacted spouse can learn to respond versus react. This information helps a couple work as a team when there is conflict rather than acting as adversaries. If we could use this kind of lens to look at our societal issues right now, we might become more united as a country.
When the couple identifies and works on their buttons that get triggered and learn how to use tools that help them pause before reacting and listen versus arguing back, they can begin to work as a team. The hardest thing for most people to do when a button gets pushed is to take a deep breath, pause and listen.
In this process it is vital to pay attention to tone and words used in dialogue. If we had a “basket” of unity, our basket would hold words like respect, kindness, compassion, compromise and listening. During this time, I see our country’s “basket” containing words that come from anger, attacking, blaming, disrespect.
When couples look below the triggers and come to a greater understanding of them, that information serves them well to deal with conflict in a productive way. They learn they can disagree and yet not be so adversarial with one another. Less reacting, less arguing and blaming results in more dialogue and a greater understanding of one another.
I wonder if we could utilize these concepts with the issues that are predominant in our country today and take a moment to look at people’s anger and ask ourselves to put on the lens of their lives. How might this help us better understand how bias and racism has impacted so many people in our country? Moving from the people to the politicians, I would love to give a set of Coping Cards to many of our leaders in both political parties. I don’t see a lot of kind words in their “baskets”.
Sometimes I think we get so caught up in being right we miss a whole lot. Most sides of difference could use some adjustments and improvements. Disagreements handled effectively can enhance life rather than detract from it.
Baskets bearing fruits of division will not bring us a greater quality of life!
So, what’s in your basket today?