At times, the most powerful action you can take is to do or say nothing. Take a moment to think about the last unfavourable exchange you’ve had with your partner or children. Now, take the content out and look at the pattern of behaviour. Don’t think about what you were arguing about; how were you arguing? Did a family member criticize you? How did you respond? Did you defend yourself? Emotional systems run in families and are kept going with our participation in unconscious reactions. We don’t see these patterns, but they play out, especially during times of stress. Understanding this and working for personal change within the system creates a powerful shift for you and your family.
So how could this look? Imagine your child asks to do something, and you tell them they can’t do it. They criticize you, “You are the worst parent in the world.” If you react, you might say, “How dare you talk to me that way after all the things I do for you!” Therein lies the pattern; criticism and defence. It keeps the system reactions at play. Try this instead, “I know; I’m the worst parent on the planet.” You respond with less seriousness and avoid arguing to defend yourself. If you think that this is letting your child get away with something, you are right. They are left hearing what they said. When you argue, they are left hearing you argue. They don’t have to face their own behaviour.
These hard-wired emotional patterns are typical in all relationships, but strangely, they damage and even destroy relationships. When we go into a defensive position, we move to the fight or flight position. In that defensive state of mind, we don’t care about how the other person feels or consider their needs. Emotional reactivity is like throwing a hot potato between family members. The problems don’t get resolved, but the intensity of emotion pings back and forth.
Next time you find yourself in a power struggle or reacting to a criticism, take five seconds to notice what is happening. Seek calmness by taking a breath. Do something different and break the pattern. What would doing something different look like? Shrugging your shoulders? Being less serious? Finding some truth in what the person is saying? Seeing their point of view? Doing nothing but standing there?