This blog post is part two of a series about internal resolution--releasing the need for words or actions from somebody else to feel at peace. See part one for pretext.
When interpersonal conflict triggers emotional distress, you can arrive at internal resolution by drawing from the resources within yourself. What does that mean? What does it look like? How do you make it really count?
Seeking any kind of validation from another person in order to quell emotional distress is like asking somebody else to sleep for you. In accordance with the "quick-fix" mentality that pervades the 21st century, we're inclined to look to external solutions for our internal problems. What isn't common sense, but perhaps one day could be, is that we have resources for inner transformation built right into our bodies.
Non-reaction and reaching within
For interpersonal conflict, engaging the other person can be constructive and transformational. Dialogue can nurture understandings and subdue tensions between people. But when dialogue is not an option, not constructive, not safe, or not appropriate, we need a different way to feel at peace again. As I mentioned in the first post, it is important to recognize that internal resolution does not mean disregarding the role or opinions of the other person in the matter. Internal resolution is meant to interrupt cycles of suffering and restore peace and clarity.
We already have everything we need inside of us to feel at peace. So, how do we do it?
1. Make space for your distress
So let's say the situation you find yourself in has triggered emotional distress, which has come along with cyclic suffering an urge to engage the other person. The first thing to know is that you do not need to respond immediately to that impulse by reaching outward to others. You can, however, respond immediately with actions that reach yourself. As you get to know yourself, you figure out what works well for you. I'll offer some recommendations that you can use as a guide or reference point as much or as little as you like.
There is a way to hold space for what you feel without aggravating it. This is a skill you can develop over time, and meditation provides a really good foundation for this kind of self-listening. To hold space for what you feel without nursing negative feelings, I would recommend going to a quiet, secluded, comfortable space if you can. Perhaps that's in your home, out in a natural open space, or, if you have one, even in your car in a place you enjoy if being home is not an option and the weather isn't comfortable.
Once you make get to a safe place, open awareness through your body. Be quiet and still. Notice where in your body you feel the discomfort of the situation taking place.
Often, distress comes along with a dose of adrenaline, and it may be tempting to feed that adrenaline by indulging negative or self-righteous thoughts. Practice non-reaction as you let your thoughts and feelings unfold. Encourage calm in your body by slowing and steadying your breathing. This may feel unnatural or aggravating at first. Try it anyway. If your lungs feel resistant, acknowledge that your lungs feel resistant and that this is completely understandable considering what you are going through. Moving into breath may lead you to break down into tears, and if it does, then that is exactly what needed to happen. Crying is an important way of letting yourself feel what you feel, which is the first step to internal resolution. Plus, crying literally changes your body chemistry in a way that reduces tension and helps you feel better. I would recommend 5-20 minutes of holding compassionate space for what you feel.
2. Verbalize it
Say or write what you want to say to the other person, and don't censor yourself. You might even consider speaking in front of a mirror. Putting your perspective into concrete words, whether spoken or written, helps you organize your thoughts and transcend the cycle of suffering that comes from unacknowledged thoughts. In this context, it's okay to say inappropriate things in order to get them out of your system. There is value in this--thoughts that you have not adequately addressed will come up over and over. Respect them. Make space for them. Remain unattached to them--you can say them without truly, deeply believing them. Realize that everybody has reactive thoughts and ideas. You have to go through these first before you can reach the more mature, insightful, compassionate thoughts underlying your surface reaction. The reactions are just an initial stage in a longer process of transformation--respect these but don't take them at face value.
3. Make space for their perspective
Take five to twenty minutes (decide for yourself what length of time feels appropriate) to step outside of what you feel and imagine the situation from the other person's perspective. Acknowledge the complexity of their heart and mind, and acknowledge that you don't know everything about their life or what they are going through at this time. If you have a feeling that this person did you harm and you are a victim, contemplate the ways you participated in the dynamic. This exercise is not meant to excuse any kind of abusive language or behavior, if that fits into your context; it is meant to open up a broader perspective to help you see things for what they are, which stands to liberate you from a narrow view of the situation and avoid repeating the cycle. Do not make an effort to draw any conclusions. Just hold space for the fact of that person's unique life and perspective. This kind of practice nurtures compassion while helping you subdue the anxiety that makes you feel like you need to react or engage them.
4. Call upon a creative outlet
You'll have to listen to yourself to get a sense of how much attention to devote to this issue. If you still feel unresolved, a creative outlet can help you sort out, honor, and express everything you feel. In my own life, emotional distress unexpectedly connected me back with poetry after a long absence. For me, the most challenging emotional experiences give rise to the most gratifying writing sessions, and of course, stimulate personal growth. Following months and months of engaging with one particular ache of the heart, I look back at the rich emotional experience and find the process to be so beautiful, even though at the time it was brutal, filled with pain and frustration. Now I see these as human experiences, and having had the patience to be with all of the emotions in that process, my capacity for compassion, emotional intelligence, and body awareness have significantly deepened. If I hadn't been honest with myself about everything I felt, and if I hadn't had the patience to see the process through, I imagine I would feel heavy, uninspired, and powerless.
Internal resolution is a process, not a one-off. There is not a 5-minute fix for these complex matters of the heart, body, and mind. The passing of time, events, and the fluctuations of your body chemistry may bring this issue back to the surface. This doesn't mean you have failed at internal resolution. It means you are still in the process. Honor yourself at every stage, make space, and realize that everybody goes through variations on variations of this.
What makes this process powerful is that it serves to neutralize the emotional distress. That's meaningful, true resolution, unlike actions that only temporarily cover up difficult feelings. You may be able to imagine that going through the process, in all its nuances and turbulence, builds strength, restores peace, inspires gratitude, and heightens appreciation for and connection with yourself.
Once you've moved through this process one time, you have a foundation of experience for the next round, and the skill of inner inquiry develops steadily. We have so much to gain from drawing inward, and from then on, so much more to offer, not only to ourselves, but to everyone around us. In the words of musician Lia Rose, "There's no need to be frightened, you have so much power."
To develop skills in body awareness and emotional intelligence, sign up for the Body Connect 14-day online meditation program.