Self-Regulation During Conflict: Why It’s Important and How to Do It
When it comes to conflict I think it is safe to say that no one enjoys it. While some may find it easier to navigate, it is an uncomfortable interaction no matter what way you spin it. In my therapeutic work, as well as personal life, I’ve noticed two types of reactions to conflict: activators and deactivators.
For activators, conflict will trigger the need to explode, become defensive and sometimes even aggressive. Deactivators tend to withdraw, shut down and freeze. What often happens next is a cycle of activators and deactivators (also known as pursuers and withdrawers) triggering one another and finding great difficulty in resolving the conflict.
The activator is attempting to seek safety through talking through the conflict, the deactivator is seeking safety through turning inward. Each partner’s reactions can feel unsafe and dysregulating to the other.
One way to navigate conflict in a healthy way is through the powerful tool of self-regulation. Self-regulation is the ability to manage your emotions and feelings in a way that is appropriate to the situation.
Whether in activation or deactivation mode there are things you can do to help yourself when feeling dysregulated. Here are three tools to try out:
The Gift of Space; The Power of the Pause.
This tool may in fact be the hardest to implement but it is also extremely effective. Physically remove yourself from the conflict environment. Take a few deep belly breaths or use this timeout as an opportunity to engage in a mindfulness exercise. A favorite of mine is the 5-4-3-2-1 grounding technique: name 5 things you see, focus on 4 things you feel, name 3 things you hear, notice 2 things you smell, identify 1 thing you taste. It does not take long to execute and is helpful in focusing your mind on the present. It also has a physically calming effect on the body.
Acknowledge and Label Your Feelings; Remind Yourself that Feelings Are Temporary.
Take a few moments to notice how you feel. Next, name those feelings.
'I feel scared.'
'I feel unsure.'
'I feel alone.'
'I feel afraid.'
'I feel worried.'
'I feel disheartened.'
'I feel frustrated.'
'I feel hopeless.'
Sometimes just the act of allowing yourself to acknowledge how you feel can be liberating in itself. Followed up by the important reminder that this is how you feel now. These feelings will not last forever. Give them space to come but also give them space to go.
Practice Self-Compassion and Positive Self-Talk.
It is easy in a moment of conflict for your mind to go to a fearful, negative place. Conflict often triggers a fight or flight response internally and it is natural to feel afraid and insecure. Take a moment to speak kindly to yourself. Remind yourself that this is a difficult moment, not that you are difficult. How you speak to yourself truly matters.
Do you struggle with self-regulation during conflict? Are you willing to try some of these tools out?
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