Ever get hurt by what someone said or did so badly that you close down and stop communicating? It’s a bit like touching a hot stove and then quickly withdrawing your hand because, as we all know, only crazy people would leave their hand on a hot stove, right?
That’s exactly what I’m going to propose you do.
Of course, I’m not talking about a hot stove – I am talking about the courage to find insight when you’re emotionally triggered. For many of us, our “knee-jerk” reaction to being hurt is to pull away and become silent. This causes the other person to either press for a response or withdraw wondering, “what just happened here?”.
The bottom line is that nothing gets better when we choose the tactic of; "talk to the hand 'cause the face ain't listening". The argument may blow over and the status quo return but the next time you touch the “hot stove” the pain returns and this time it brings with it the accumulated unresolved hurt from past injuries.
John Gottman, the founder of the renown Gottman Marriage Therapy, calls this stonewalling and lists this approach to conflict as one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and a major factor in failing relationships.
But like most relational patterns it is difficult to break because it feels like we’re preserving our life but in actuality we are draining the life out of our relationships. Getting hurt is inevitable. Relationships always trigger emotional wounds and the closer the relationship the deeper the hurt. But relationships also provide us the greatest opportunity for finding healing for these wounds, if we don't run away from the conflict.
You want me to do what? Can’t you see that everything inside of me says to run?
It is exactly for that reason we must stay in the relationship and find healing. That pain you are feeling is a giant neon sign pointing to the place of your brokenness. Relationships have a way of pointing us to these places – what we do with this pain will determine whether we find wholeness or remain broken.
Stonewalling keeps us stuck in our unresolved, and unhealed wounds
Next time you experience a painful encounter in your relationship, instead of pulling away try creating a new healing pattern. Here are some steps that may help.
- Don’t engage when you’re emotionally distraught. This condition is called being “flooded” and it is impossible for you to have a rational conversation because your brain is “flooded” with chemicals from your sympathetic nervous system. Check your heartbeat, if it is racing over 100 beats per minute (80 if you are athletic) then take 20 minutes and breathe until you can return to a calm emotional state.
- When you do speak about your hurt, start gently and use only I statements. Talk about how you feel not about how they “made you feel”.
- Avoid criticism at all costs. When we criticize we are giving up responsibility for your own feelings and blame the other person for our reaction. This will only create defensiveness in the other person and dis-empower you.
- Look for deeper causes for your pain. Ask yourself some probing questions:
- Why am I so disturbed by this?
- Does this feel similar to something from my past?
- How does it affect the way I see myself?
If the knot is too tight for you to untie consider getting professional help - don't stay stuck in your unresolved pain. Life is too short for that!