Lately I have been linking three concepts I have learned over the years when dealing with people locked in conflict. It doesn’t matter whether the conflict is internal, a struggle within oneself, or external, involving another person. The result is often discouragement and hopelessness. In simple terms: we feel powerless and stuck.
Dr. John Gottman has given us the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. He says that when these enter a relationship we are on shaky ground. They are presented in order of destructiveness.
- Criticism – an attack on our behavior (we can add to the problem by being negatively self-critical)
- Defensiveness – the response to feeling attacked, but the other person feels unheard (the self rationalizes to protect)
- Contempt – words or body language (rolling of the eyes or heavy sigh) that demeans the character of a person – labeling or name-calling (we can negatively self label)
- Stonewalling – emotional withdrawal (“I am a stone wall, you can’t hurt me. You are not getting through to me.”) (The self gives up)
Sometimes a person (usually male) will stonewall (keep quiet) in order to not make the situation worse (he believes), but the shutdown actually makes the conflict worse.
When we repeat the above pattern often we will eventually judge the relationship or situation as severely damaged and hopeless.
Enter Dr. Henry Cloud – concept number two.
Cloud says there are Three P’s that happen when there’s a downward spiral not handled well (as Gottman has described)
- Personal (the brain begins to interpret the situation in a personal way. (“This is because I’m not good enough, they don’t like me….”)
- Pervasive (It extrapolates into all areas of life and everything seems bad)
- Permanent (We think it will always be the same. It will never change) Psychologists refer to this as “Learned Helplessness”
Our challenge, according to Cloud, is to reverse the three P’s. (Gottman suggests grabbing onto your distress producing internal conversation and replace it with self-soothing language instead. Very similar concept)
- Log the personal and pervasive thoughts and dispute them. Write down the terrible things you’re thinking about yourself and dispute it with Scripture and facts. It’s not pervasive. Look at the whole picture.
- Make two columns – what you can control and what you can’t control. Make a list of what you can do. Everyone has control of something. Matthew 6 says “Don’t worry about tomorrow. Every day has its own problems.”
- Connect. Our brain lives on oxygen, glucose, and relationships. The opposite of bad isn’t good, it’s love in relationship. Scientists did a test with monkeys in cages, making them crazy with noise and lights. When they put the monkey’s buddy in the cage with them their stress level was reduced by 50%. The moral? Get a good monkey buddy (or maybe a real person).
The third concept really is a condensing of Cloud’s reversal point #2:
Instead of saying “I can’t” when feeling stuck, tell yourself “I could if……” It is a statement that opens up possibilities rather than shutting them down. The Bible tells us:
Ephesians 2:10 (NLT) For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.
In other words there is a path, a trajectory for our life that includes good things that God has already determined for us to do. Yes, there are always obstacles, but with His help we can prevail against the opposition. As the old hymn goes “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way.”