One of the interesting aspects of working as a minister and witch full time is the view: I see clients and interact in community enough to see patterns unfold. And, as if a December with a Mercury Retrograde smack in the middle of it wasn’t enough of a challenge, there’s a pattern unfolding right now that I can only best describe as a Miscommunication Snarl. I’ve watched this one hit both my personal and professional worlds over the last couple weeks and hooooo boy is it a doozy.
Somehow, over the years, I’ve become known for being gentle and patient with people, even in the face of a lot of conflict, drama, or charged environments. I get asked about it a lot – how I do it, what helps me stay so calm, etc. I figured I’d give you the internal tool set today that helps me stay even keeled. And, I also want you to know that this tool set is not infallible. I do still have a temper, and the right trigger can still wake it. It’s just a lot harder to do than when I was younger, and I suspect my perspectives about people and communication may be why.
So, here are my top six tools for staying grounded during the Miscommunication Snarl:
1) Assumption of good intent is the single best internal shift you can make, both in terms of preserving your peace AND in terms of meeting people where they really are. There are a small percentage of folks out there who really are malicious. Estimates of sociopathic behaviors put that number at 8 – 10% of the population. And that sounds alarming until you realize that it means roughly NINETY PERCENT of the people you interact with…the overwhelming majority of folks…aren’t trying to hurt you.
We all have our own histories as examples of this, as well. You are the villain in someone’s story somewhere. And, your own recollection of that same situation most likely places you squarely *not* in the villain role. Yet this other person, who may not be a villain either, perceived your actions as malicious.
Which brings me to…
2) It is almost never about you. Every single human you meet has a pretty impressive collection of coping mechanisms. Some of them work great except in certain situations. Some of them were developed for a situation that no longer exists, but the person displaying the behavior is still living under a shadow from their past. Some of them work to your advantage until they don’t, or until they’re turned on you.
Those of us who’ve done a fair bit of introspective work (in therapy, Shadow Work, or otherwise) tend to know a little about our own coping mechanisms and communication needs. And, although we can be good about articulating our own needs, we need to remember to extend the patience we’re requesting from others *to* others as well. If you expect someone you’re interacting with to create space for your own communication needs, that creation of space must be matched on your side with their needs and communication styles in mind. Meeting people halfway is how we all move forward.
When someone reacts strongly or out-of-proportion to something you do not think of as charged, shift your perspective. Be curious rather than defensive. You’re most likely seeing a coping mechanism that *saved* them in the past showing up in the wrong situation.
Which brings me to…
3) STAND DOWN. Put down the club, or the angry accusations, or the email diatribe you’ve spent the last few hours composing. Take a deep breath and walk away for a while. Make some art, read a funny article, dance around the kitchen, whatever it takes to fully disengage. When you come back, *think*. What is actually happening here? Is someone reacting from a place of fear or scarcity? That’s one of the most common ones, imho. Is someone having a fight with a person who isn’t in the situation? Shadow behaviors often emerge when the person on the other end of the equation bears a similarity (in behavior, context, or appearance) to an abuser.
Which brings me to….
4) What is realistically possible in this situation? Given the backgrounds, coping mechanisms, and shadows of everyone present, what can actually happen? If what you need is for someone to suddenly overcome 20 years of trauma in order to meet you where you are…well, sorry kiddo…that’s the ball game. What are *realistic* accommodations or actions that can be taken? What bridges can you build? What structures can you set up that help both of you feel safe? What is actually a situation that could occur here in consensus reality? Scale your expectations and plans accordingly.
Which brings me to….
5) The only person you control is you. Boundaries are not directives to another person. They are what you will do in response to certain situations. For example:
~ If you raise your voice to me, I will leave the room/house/office/hang up the phone.
~ If I feel unsafe, I will end the interaction and go somewhere I do feel safe.
~ If you waste or disrespect my time, I will no longer hold space in my schedule for you.
This is a big sovereignty piece to work on, and to hold close to your heart. You only control your own actions. That’s it. But, once you *know* that and are prepared to follow through on protecting your peace, everything gets a lot easier. Including enforcing the boundaries. At this point, when I have to enforce a boundary or cut off contact after boundary violations, I don’t feel anger. I feel sadness more than anything. I feel bad for folks who are flailing from a place of shadow, but it is also *not my responsibility to fix them*. It’s not your responsibility to fix everyone, either. This is where knowing what’s realistically possible is so important. I have a pretty good handle on what I can help with and what issues are beyond my skill set.
And, most people are “trainable” to firm boundaries. They’ll react poorly the first 3 to 5 times, but when they realize that wall is impervious to guilt trips or pleading, they stop trying to knock it down.
6) Allow time. If you receive an email/text/message that causes a sudden raise in spikes and blood pressure, put the device down and go do something else for a while. Take deep breaths. My therapist often says that one of their biggest single goals is just to get people to take a deep breath before responding, and it’s a huge uphill fight. I know we live in a culture that prioritizes the instant response, but instant responses are where shadows really thrive. Giving a situation space, deep breaths, and consideration allows you to respond in a way that is consistent with your own needs and priorities.
I don’t know if any of this will help. I suspect my own ability to maintain assumption of good intent is rooted into my background, which was pretty damn lucky other than the abusive marriage part. But, 10% better is still better.
So. Spikes down. Deep breath. Listen more. What’s actually happening? What’s actually possible? See the human inside the behavior, and remember that there’s a 90% chance they’re not trying to hurt you, they’re just flailing. Then proceed accordingly, gentle but firm.
What’s your favorite technique or perspective for managing communication/people issues from a centered place? You never know when your idea is exactly what another witch needs to read.
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