Coaching Tidbits is a series of posts where I share with you freely from my expertise as a life coach and professional leader of personal development courses and transformational seminars. These tidbits are insights I have gleaned from coaching hundreds of people and are meant to be used as suggestions, not to be taken as truth. They are just possible ways of viewing life. and like a new set of glasses, adjusted for clarity, they might give you a more constructive way to view what is right in front of you. Disclaimer: This post is for general educational and informational purposes only, and is not meant to be a substitute for the advice or counsel of a health professional. If you have specific questions about a health matter, you should consult a doctor or other health professional. *Updated as of December 8, 2021 — previously titled Life Coaching Series*
I don’t know about you but when I’m arguing, I rarely feel as if I’m at my best. Feeling my best is rarely, if ever, an experience I’m having of myself in the moments that I’m raising my voice, feeling annoyed, being combative with my words, and/or trying to force another person – usually someone I care about – to see my way of thinking. What am I feeling? I’ll tell you.
- Out of control
- Like I’m losing control even though I may be “winning” the argument
- Suppressed, even though I am probably suppressing someone else
I could go on. But I won’t. That’s more than enough to make you cry. Really. That’s probably why anger and sadness are so closely linked often in the human experience.
You may have a familiar experience, or you may experience
in conjunction, or on their own. An argument can trigger a melange of emotions and all in a matter of seconds, or at a slow build into a crescendo. This is why most of us avoid confrontation. It brings up moments when we feel ultimately out of control and we struggle to make sense of what went wrong, and/or what caused the turmoil in another, or in us.
So what can we do to end having arguments? Well, I’m not sure we can end having arguments altogether, but I am sure what I share here will create a new path of communication for you to be able to choose something new, maybe some clarity in viewpoint, even when your emotional trigger has you seeing red – and especially, when that trigger is sparked by those who you love best.
First, the #1 reason why arguments begin…
This reason? There are two people with varying points-of-view that both consider their point-of-view to be the right one.
Seems plain, yes? But, funny enough, this is also the foundation of a wonderfully engaging conversation. So then, what lies at the source of this exact recipe doubling as the basis for an argument?
How we react to varying points-of-view can be the cause of wars, especially when both people, parties, countries, nations feel that their point-of-view is the only one that is right. Being right, feeling misunderstood, being squelched can become the reason(s) to fight. But let’s take it even further, because there are other factors that contribute to an argument.
Consider that no longer in the moment is an argument about the difference in thinking from one person to the other, the purpose of the “fight” becomes about saving face. No one is willing to be wrong – to have the “short” end of the stick. No one is willing to be vulnerable – which often equates in our minds to weakness. No one is willing to look stupid. No one is willing to look bad. No one is willing to be hurt – which often equates to feeling weak. No one is willing to be seen as “less” than the other. The conversation – which ceased to be an exchange of ideas – is no longer an opportunity for discourse, discovery, exploration or validating a difference in points-of-view. The argument has become a test of wills. And that’s how all discourse, discovery and exchange ceases and how a conversation devolves into an argument.
How can you head this off at the pass?
Yes, or you may simply be in a great starting place: a) wanting to evolve. This requires, first, a willingness to be wrong – even if you don’t think you are… even if you’re not. This willingness “breaks” the righteousness, creates vulnerability (where all intimacy begins) and allows for a softness that isn’t available when you’re being positional, or taking a side. Look, this shit can be painful. I’ve felt it myself. So don’t think it’s all easy, it’s not. However, if you want to give yourself a great shot at grace, you’ll have to find a way to ease your ego into this one. (Comfort yourself by knowing you’re not alone. And remember, no martyrdom here. Real willingness or none at all.)
Next, it requires the willingness to know that there is room on this earth for multiple points-of-view; that multiple perspectives can exist at once. Wait! What?! Did you get that?
Okay, again… It is important that you be available to the idea that multiple perspectives on any subject, broad or narrow, can exist together. It’s called coexistence.
What?!? This is possible???
Yep. You know this at a very core level, but we all butt heads with this concept if it’s not something that is modeled in the world we live in from a very young age. Folks have been showing us how to fight from the moment we are born, and these ways of dominating each other have become multiple patterns in our nervous systems.
One more time for those in the nose bleed section… There can exist at once in the world multiple points-of-view on the exact same subject. And – hold on to your hat – none of them have to be right over another. If you can truly hold this all at once (and this is one of your superpowers, let it shine), there will not ever be another reason for you to have an argument.
Look, you already are adept at this principle to some extent. There are conversations that you have that will never come anywhere near an argument even though you may have a differing opinion from the person you’re speaking to. Frankly, when this occasion is happening, you hold no stake in your point of view being right. But when you do hold a stake in being right and that stake is high, meaning you have your feet dug in about how right you are and how wrong they are, the possible levity for this conversation is but a dream. In other words, it will take something to bring it into presence.
A really great tool for using in the moment to help you get off the “right” train, before it leaves the station on rails, is Byron Katie’s The Work. Four questions inform her work and you can use them all or just one when you find yourself stuck. They go like this:
- Is it true? What you’re thinking… is it true? Answer yes or no.
- Can you be absolutely sure that it’s true? Answer. (Hint: You cannot know anything absolutely. The answer is “no.”)
- What happens when I think this thought? Think of everything that happens within you. Maybe even think of what happens outside of you, like how do you act on this thought, do you act out on others when you think this, what reactions do others have, how do they respond to you emotionally?
- Who would I be without this thought? Discover who you might be or how you might act without that thought. This is a chance to use both your imagination and your logical mind.
- Bonus… Turnaround: Turn the thought around to its opposite and see how you might be if you thought that the opposing thought instead. (Click “O” magazine article link, if you need clarity and further explanation.)
There are other tools you can use to broaden your immediate thoughts in a moment of presence as you can see an argument begin to build between you and someone else. Seek out the ones that are right for you, or create them.
Second, being right is a huge emotional trigger…
If you consider yourself “right” on a subject, you may fight for your position. Again, this could be the source of a fabulous conversation and exchange of ideas, but in an argument your position is linked to your intense feelings built up over time. These intense feelings can be about the subject at hand, or they can be triggered by past events that remind you of what’s happening now, the person you’re with or the way in which they relate to you or you relate to them. Your brain has uniquely linked these things together, and so the emotional trigger does not always make sense or is logical or can be rationalized in any way. Emotions are not of the mind, remember. All of your past experiences inform what and how you think and feel. The part of your brain that is being “triggered” by your feelings is your Amygdala – this part of your brain engages when there is a perceived threat at hand. The Amygdala is responsible for your fight, flight or freeze response.
But more than those responses of which we hear so much about, there are also emotions linked to the way in which the amygdala activates and takes over the brain in these moments. Feeling stuck (or frozen) in an argument, having the experience of being blindsided, at a “loss for words,” seeing red in a moment, your temperature rising are all experiences that you have once the amygdala is triggered, but what comes before that?
And what presents those thoughts that carry with them emotions? Parts of your brain that have been imprinted when you had a negative response to an event in your past. Said in other words? When something hurt you deeply, or left you feeling like you weren’t enough to handle a situation, or hurt you deeply (must be said again as we don’t often like hearing this in particular) by someone who you loved at a young age. The imprint happened when your brain was still forming, while it was in the beginning stages of development. Mostly before your brain was complete enough to have the ability to analyze that there could be more meanings than the one it decided on.
After all, when we’re children our brains and psyches function fully on the premise that we are the center of our worlds. Our worlds are incredibly intimate, as we get older and our brains form more fully, we discover more and more beyond the intimate world we inhabit with our family.
This imprint on our brains and nervous systems can create immediate reactions that we have no clue of how they happen or where they come from. We’re just along for the ride.
It’s not a bad thing. It is human. No robots here. The life of a human being is dynamic and meant for variety in our experiences. These experiences can lead to exploration and discovery. What greater adventure than to be able to observe yourself and discover something new that you’ve never known before about yourself? Literally being aware, and acknowledging (through self-awareness and observation) that you have a real physical reaction in your body that can literally taken you over in a moment can actually inhibit the automatic nature of your nervous system’s response. Thereby giving you the opportunity of a new response.
Then, in understanding your body, and your brain’s functions in particular, you can begin to be self-aware in ways you haven’t been before. You can begin to trust that you are not crazy when you “fly off the handle,” or that “you don’t have a screw loose,” or that you aren’t all the labels you’ve given yourself so liberally, (and generously, you must admit) or referenced your behavior with that don’t actually even apply to you. You can let yourself off the hook for your bad behavior. And recognize fully your humanity called a brain, a nervous system and a life.
Let this be a jumping off point to some real forgiveness and the possibility of peace and grace where there’s been none. For you. For them.
Finally, how you end having arguments is to embrace this principle, “communication is a function of love.”
An excerpt from another article on the (r)evolution of bliss, 3 Ways to Listen More Fully In Any Conversation ” is,
When you argue, you feel dead. If you insist on denying that statement, simply refer to the first list compiled above at the top of this article. If that isn’t a list of deadness / numbness, I don’t know what is.
Arguing kills off aliveness and, well just think of it, the whole point in “winning” is by subduing someone else’s aliveness – aka killing it off. Someone has to be the victor. Figuratively, of course. (But it can feel literal too, if you can truly allow yourself to feel the impact of that.)
And once the “wrong view” has been shut down, stamped out, killed off, ended, then all has been won and life can go on. This is not love. No matter how you cut that. There is no love in shutting someone down. There is no love for them. There is no love for you.
When you leave room for the perspective – or life experience – of others, that is an expression of love. Love is present when you don’t make someone wrong for their view, which honors that they have lived a life worth sharing. Love is present when you put yourself in their shoes, and try to see the world the way that they do, even if you will never agree. Love is present when you are willing (ahhhh, there’s that word again) to listen to their point of view even when you know you’re right. Consider you are right for you, but maybe not for them.
Love is present when you’re willing to learn something from every conversation you participate in, even when you have an unyielding opinion about the subject. Love is definitely present when you’re willing to be amazed by something you hear from the other person, or people.
Allow yourself to be amazed. Allow yourself to be malleable. Allow yourself to be in the flow of the conversation. Allow yourself to be willing.
Willingness goes a long way for this brand of adventure we call life. Live it like it’s golden.
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