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Archive for August, 2014

Responding to Relationship Stress

The “F” words: Fight, Flight/Fantasy, Faint/Fold, Freak/Flail, Freeze, Fix, Fun, Feel and Fuck

Our teachers in school told us that humans essentially only have two main responses to stress (that being fight or flight). But, I consider that there are actually many other responses! I’ll list what I think they are below and then I’ll elaborate on just the last one (my favorite, of course).

To “Fight” would be meeting opposition with opposition. For example, yelling back / lashing out at someone when you are surprised or offended. (“I think you’re a bleeping jerk!”) Sometimes it can take the form of “building a case” verbally against another person.

A “Flight” is to run away, to abandon the field or to emotionally “bail”. The acronym “FEAR” relates to the phrase “Fuck Everything And Run”. Or “FEAR” can refer to the opposite choice of “Face Everything And Recover”, which would closely relate to the choice of “Fuck” in this article. Often, we are operating out of a “Fantasy” story / old belief we are running. We’ll run a story around in our mind about what a given event means. In this case, we’re not recognizing the difference between what happened and what it means.

To “Faint” (or “Fold”) is to collapse into self-pity or apologizing/ whining. We’ve all seen the person who blames others or external circumstances to validate why they can’t take action for themselves. They may simply isolate and withdraw from conflict as well.

To “Freak” (or “Flail”) would be to act outrageously and let your emotions and words go out of control. We’ve all seen (or done) it. It’s not pretty. Need I say more?

To “Freeze” is to become emotionally paralyzed. As in, not knowing what to do next and so doing nothing. This can occur when we have too many choices to sort out easily and so become “stuck” in indecision. It can also occur when we’re re-traumatized by an event. *This is a good time to reach out for additional resources.

I apply the term “Fix” for the response of immediately trying to make you and/or others feel better. This person views the situation or emotion as a problem quickly helped by reasoning or an immediate offering of some type. This person is often an “advice-giver”. It can be helpful to ask yourself which person is more uncomfortable (you or they). “Am I really trying to make myself feel better?”

What I mean by “Fun” is to respond to interpersonal stress by joking, distraction or otherwise making light of something that is worthy of honest attention and dignity. This type of relationship avoidance can feel very dishonoring. Distraction of this type is an ego-protection strategy and the solution is to “Feel”.

To “Feel” is the antidote to “Fun” or distraction, meaning to simply be present for the consequences / pain of what occurred. This involves a commitment to vulnerability and truth. This is also what lowers the emotional wall between two people. When we can identify and communicate our beautiful needs the connection is strengthened and everyone wins. In the Spanish language, the term for “I’m sorry” is “lo siento”, which actually means “I feel”. How beautiful and connecting is that?

Lastly, to “Fuck” (for the purpose of this article) is to engage life on life’s terms, to dive in and “go for it”. This is an attitude of “let’s wrestle with our difficulty and engage what’s real and penetrate the center of what is happening”. “Let’s play in possibility and embrace what is” is another way of saying it.

When strong emotions arise there is a purity of need under the outward expression. In compassionate communication we try and identify the need of the other person in order to reach a place of empathy within ourselves. We are connected to other people by our needs and that engagement fosters understanding. Feeling our own needs and reaching for connection is an evolved way of living a hero’s journey.

The first seven responses are symptomatic of being “off” or not connected with my own center. Ideally, I would rather center myself (connect inwardly) first because I want to act in congruence with my core values, my essence who I really am and I want to show up for my partner and myself integrated with my values. As I gain in skill this connecting happens more automatically.

I want my woman bring me her pain so I can feel her. Her feeling “less than happy” is need-to-know information for me. I can then reach down into myself and feel her beautiful need and connect with her / dance with her struggle. We learn about our power and our own essence by doing this.

So next time there is relationship tension observe your response and see if you can shift into a willingness to engage and embrace what is up. Be fearless and honest with yourself. Perhaps you’ll end up sexualizing the issue? As long as it is making love with the texture of what’s real and “up” rather than a palliative or distracting effort. Surprise your partner and go for it!

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