addicts

The Art of Conflict Resolution—Every Addicts Challenge

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Peace is not the absence of conflict but the presence of creative alternatives for responding to conflict -alternatives to passive or aggressive responses, alternatives to violence.” —Dorothy Thompson

Most people try to avoid conflict at all costs. It is a dreaded predicament in human relationships.  Thinking about what you said has kept many people awake at night. Couples whom I work with in therapy play games, lots of different types of games, in order to avoid conflict. It is common for one or both to be passive, passive-avoidant, or passive-aggressive to avoid addressing conflict.  

In every organization, there are unspoken rules that govern the way to deal with conflict.  It is important to know the rules, unspoken and unwritten, within the organization in order to navigate conflict. You will need to know who has the power and what is expected within the organization when there is disagreement. Unspoken assumptions usually result in hurt feelings. People who don’t know the cryptic rules in the game of conflict often find themselves scrambling for a light switch in a dark room, trying to figure out the blueprint for conflict resolution.  It can be frustrating and humiliating. 

Conflict requires direct communication.  Contrary to common consensus, fighting is an important component in the cultivation of healthy connections through communication. The operative understanding is a focus on fair, not unfair, fighting.  Agree on the subject, share concrete observations, thoughts, and interpretations, clarify feelings, emphasize wants, needs, expectations, listen, summarize, and you have a great start toward conflict resolution. The more direct you are the better the possibility of resolution.

Conflict requires rules for fair fighting. You create them with the person you want to communicate.  You can make the rules with one or many, depending on the context. The governing principle is preserving an “I care about you” environment.  If you don’t care about the other person don’t have the conversation. Fight fair rules include avoiding name-calling, voice tones, body language, words that connote condescension, domination, interruption, finishing sentences, grand exits, anger/rage explosions, threat talk, etc. Each entity can determine its own rules to guide the communication about conflict. The idea is simple. Not if, but when a rule is broken, the conversation is stopped until the offending party makes amends for the infraction and then you continue. With highly contested issues, the conversation may go slow. However, it often results in a shortcut, given the prospects of unfair fighting.

Once each party has been heard, mutual understanding is the common result. Then, two parties can brainstorm separately, then together, a collaboration or compromise that resolves the conflict. It is simple, not easy.

Codependency is a common flaw that disrupts the process of conflict resolution.  Essentially, trying to control what other people think or feel usually accelerates the conflict without resolution. Fearing rejection, desperately wanting approval, and trying to avoid facing difficult emotions are often like pouring gasoline on the fires of stress and tension in a relationship conflict.

Here are a few considerations to prepare you to successfully address conflict:

1. Cultivate a proper attitude toward relationship conflict. If your position is to avoid relationship conflict at all costs, you will most likely be plagued with some degree of intimacy disability throughout your life. If you are charismatic, progressive in thought and manner, and articulate with those thoughts but overwhelmingly concerned with what other people think and can’t stand disapproval, please avoid positions of leadership. Positions of influence require that you stand for principle in the presence of disapproval. It requires that you cultivate acceptance that conflict resolution is a significant responsibility at every level of leadership. Conflict resolution requires that you let go of control of others, places, and things. No small task.

2. Surrender willfulness and embrace willingness.  Addicts are not the only people who want what they want when they want it. Willfulness expresses my way or the highway.  Some people use nice agreeable language to hide their willfulness. It just doesn’t solve a conflict.  An attitude of willingness lessens the grip of control and opens one’s heart to understanding and the desire to brainstorm collaboration and possibility.

3. Let go of power over and incorporate power within and power with.  Power-over uses coercion, force, and domination to accomplish its end. It’s like throwing a 5-gallon bucket of dirt on one small weed, thinking that you have solved your weed problem. Sooner or later, not one but many weeds poke their head to the surface of the dirt. Power-over dynamics creates “haves” and “have-nots” and fuels resentment and discord.  Power within involves people having a sense of their own capacity and self-worth.  Power-with is energy when faced with conflict. It is a concept that sustains community and cultivates conflict resolution. It is a shared power that grows out of collaboration and relationships. It is built on respect, mutual support, shared power, solidarity, influence, empowerment, and collaborative decision-making. It helps to resolve conflict and build bridges within families, organizations, and social change movements across differences (e.g., gender, culture, class). It cultivates the concept of power within.

Conflict is a necessary reality in the community of human relationships. Rather than ignore, avoid, or minimize its presence, may we learn to embrace it and direct its energy toward healing connection in relationships in families, organizations, and communities around the world.

Your Feelings and Thoughts Do Make a Difference

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Addicts are vulnerable. They don’t know how to recognize or manage feelings, particularly strong and powerful ones. What they do know is to split off from their feelings and pretend they are just fine. Once I was sitting at a wedding reception and a clergy colleague who sat next to me began talking.   He had a close friend who was also clergy and was allegedly run out of his church because of a trouble-making family who accused him of sexual abuse. What he didn’t know is that the accusatory family was mine, and I was one of the family members that was abused. I wanted to kill him on the spot. But, I didn’t. What I did was smile and become quiet. I think I excused myself to go to the bathroom. 

Addicts are pretty good with these splits. When they are hurt, numbed with shame, seething with resentment, or dominated with anger or hate, they know how to compartmentalize their feelings and pretend they are not there. They use this ability to manage and control their environment that is unsafe. The problem is that inwardly they lose themselves by failing to recognize their effect. They drown in the feelings that were triggered or go to great lengths through maladaptive behavior to avoid their emotions. Addicts learn to avoid the obvious and embrace the improbable.

They live in a constant state of vulnerability not knowing how to recognize or manage the feelings that have been buried. They are unable to draw from their own internal resources because there aren’t any. They remain in constant need of self-regulation resources. They think the resources are external.  It’s a fantasy that is never realized. Since painful, rejecting, and shaming relationships are the cause of their deficits in self, they cannot turn to others to get what they need or have never received. With few other options addicts turn to their drug of choice. Why, because the dopamine rush delivers what it promises. To get away from the hell of the pain that slaps them around. Any reason is a good reason to use. 

Drugs of choice migrate.  Addicts might find a way to shut down their use of heroin, booze, crystal, molly, or blow.  They just migrate to the next fix. It can be anything including workaholism, exercise, food disorder, rage, and even caretaking. It is common for recovering addicts to create a new cocktail for their choice of drug. It will always be that way until they get to the root cause of needing a fix. Here are a few things to consider.

1. Understand your pain. Slow your life to a pace that you go inward and embrace what hurts. Dare to embrace average. Go inside to the common places of your life and face what you feel. None of us got through our childhood unscathed. There you will find the wounds that need to be scrubbed. It hurts but you are already in pain. Why not make your hurt a healing hurt rather than wallowing in pain that never stops looking for a fix that is never enough.  You must resolve the pain and stop pretending.

2. Learn to regulate your emotions. Practice recognizing what you feel, particularly the powerful feelings of shame, resentment, anger, and hate. Learn to sit with them and experience embracing unwanted emotions and notice that you can get through them without having to numb out. You will need help. Step outside yourself and ask for that help even though it feels awkward.

3. Utilize others for support. Finding your tribe for support is important. This is a long-term problem for addicts in recovery. When in crisis, addicts surrender to a 12-step fellowship. Often, they don’t go deep in a consistent manner to live in consultation with accountability about their feelings. You will need help holding your feet to the fire about relationship issues. Addicts often focus on the fundamentals of 12-step work in order to address their drug of choice. But many miss out by not using that same support to regulate their feelings in other aspects of living. It is important to utilize your community of support around the feelings that come up in your everyday relationship life.

4. Become an observer of what you think about your own thinking and learn how to reflect on the mind of another. Learning to manage your emotions is necessary to understand your thoughts about yourself and the world around you. People tend to be insular. Life becomes a mind-numbing hamster wheel in that we just do what we do. Take time to pause and observe what you feel. Utilize contemplation. Think about your thoughts. Learn to identify and give voice to the different parts of your mind that are contradictory to other parts. Learn to sift and sort by listening and recognizing the truth that is in each thought. Then practice integrating your thought discrepancies with your own wise mind. It is necessary to transform behavior. Emotional maturity and secure attachment are capacities to reflect on your own internal emotional experience and to make sense of it. It includes being able to observe and reflect on the mind of others and connect with them. The way you read others is important. It begins with learning to manage and make sense of your own affect and thoughts.  

Managing your feelings and thoughts creates self-agency. Developing emotional management is necessary in cultivating a true sense of self. When you don’t you foster a false sense of self which blinds your awareness of feelings and thoughts. It further darkens your understanding of ways in which your behavior hurts yourself and others. 

Oh! By the way, I did circle back with the insensitive clergy colleague and insist that he listen to the gory details of sexual molestation by his clergy friend toward me and my family. Though he was stunned with silence, he heard the other side of the story. I have since wondered if that did not change the way he shared the narrative with others.

Compassion: A Healing Salve For Objectification

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“Our human compassion binds us the one to the other – not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who have learned how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future.” 
— Nelson Mandela

Addicts struggle with objectification. They objectify people, substances, and every kind of experience. Some entrepreneurs struggle with the same. Other people become a utility. The environment is reduced to an opportunity to collect bounty; profit is the only thing that matters. Those who live this way have succumbed to the disease of objectification. When we treat each other as objects we care less about human beings and more about how to use others as a vehicle for profit and consumption. 

When people treat each other with indifference they lose sight of the brilliance that exists within the soul of every human being. They fail to see each other as an unrepeatable miracle of the universe.  Compassion is an antibiotic to objectification. It serves as a healing salve.  Albert Schweitzer said, “The purpose of human life is to serve and to show compassion and the will to help others”.  Everyone is challenged to cultivate compassion in relationship with others. There is no one path toward cultivating compassion. However, putting yourself in the shoes of another’s experience can help cultivate understanding which is grist for the mill that cultivates a compassionate heart. Here is one example of cultivating a compassionate heart. 

On June 21, 1964, Mickey Schwerner, James Chaney, and Andrew Goodman were killed on a lonely intersection on a country road outside of Philadelphia, MS. They were members of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and were killed for promoting voting registration among African Americans by members of the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.  Schwerner was shot in the heart at close range, Chaney (African American) was tortured, castrated then shot. There was evidence that Goodman was buried alive after being shot. The bodies were discovered 44 days later.  Alton Wayne Roberts, and other Klan members were convicted in 2005. However, the crime sparked national outrage that helped spur the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. 

I decided to travel to Philadelphia, Mississippi, and I researched the exact intersection the killings took place almost 60 years previous.  My wife and I arrived at the intersection at 10 pm in pitch dark.  I calculated where Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman stood facing the Klan. I tried to embrace what Mickey Schwerner thought and felt when Alton Wayne Roberts reportedly pulled Schwerner out of the car and pointed a gun at his chest before pulling the trigger at close range and killing him instantly.  He must have been afraid with much adrenaline pumping through his body. Surely he knew he was going to die? Did he have thoughts of his wife Rita? Were there regrets? And on it goes! I felt the rush of feelings and despair that each of these murdered men must have felt, which made it a hundred times more real!

I then turned my thoughts to Alton Wayne Roberts and the Klan members that accompanied him. I tried to understand the hatred that consumed their thoughts. I thought of times when I believed I had reason to hate and how it felt to remain stuck in hatred. I touched the strong rationale, the intense inward anger, and the stubborn will to insist on doing harm to those I thought deserving of the punishment. There was no stopping. I simply tried to understand what it was like for men, overwhelmed with hatred, as they acted in  committing such a horrendous act of murder. 

The next day I sat with a cup of coffee contemplating the anguish that these three men’s families must have felt for over 40 years without Roberts and others not being brought to justice. I thought of the agony of those years of turmoil and unbelievable struggle that existed in our nation. I felt it. I was alive during those times. When I left Philadelphia MS.  somehow I felt more connected to what it must be like to be African American in our country. I thought the experience cultivated understanding and compassion for both the men who were murdered and the men whose souls were murdered with hatred and criminal behavior. 

Today, it is important to walk a mile in the moccasins of another. It will give you a great understanding.  It will help you to cultivate deeper compassion for those whose struggles you previously did not understand. Try to put yourself in the shoes of a Democrat if you are Republican or vice versa. Put yourself in the mindset of a minority, being in your place of privilege. Put yourself in the quandary of being a teacher who doesn’t have the resources to do his/her job. Listen to the heart of a trans person.  Consider the passion of one who advocates for abortion rights or listen to the heart of one who is passionately anti-abortion. Maybe you don’t believe in human-caused climate change. Take time to listen and put yourself in the shoes of those who do. Maybe you don’t think we have a fossil fuel problem and that too much is made about green energy. Simply embrace the task of listening to those who do!

Then, reverse every example of putting yourself in someone else’s thought pattern that I just illustrated. The goal is not to sway you or your opinions but to cultivate compassion and tolerance.  To overcome objectivity and to create an understanding of the other in the presence of disagreement. When we see each other as unrepeatable miracles of the universe, we create space for others who look, think, act, and do things differently. We overcome objectification by stopping the treatment of another person as a utility.  We cultivate a sense of compassion that preserves the dignity and respect of all people that make up our world.

Polarization

Polarization is a problem in the world. Us versus them is a mentality that has always existed.  The criteria for who is in and who is out are determined by those who have the power.  Historically, the criteria for acceptance has been tragic. Jewish people were rejected by the Third Reich in Germany, who determined that the entire race should be exterminated. African Americans were once considered only 3/5th human in America simply because of the color of their skin. Racism, sexism, patriarchy, ageism, etc exclude some and include others because of someone’s definition about who is acceptable and who is not.

When I was a kid I tried to hang out with only Cub fans. If you liked the St. Louis Cardinals, there was something wrong with you. My dad was a blue-collar worker and we were Democrats. We prayed for those who were Republicans and wondered why! We thought that the Pope was the antichrist. There were 3 areas of our town: Elm Ridge, where the rich people lived; Grant Park, where the poorest lived, and then the rest of us. We learned to categorize people by their address. We looked up to the folk in Elm Ridge as successful. They were the “haves.” We fought to keep our address out of Grant Park where the “have nots” lived.

Judgmentalism has separated people throughout my life. There was the Red Scare and McCarthyism in the 1950’s. Famous people like Paul Robeson, who was a great black athlete and actor, was ostracized and accused of being Communist because he refused to bend to popular opinion. There were Christians who thought the world was going to end in a ball of fire in the early 1960’s. They were scoffed at by scientists and ostracized as Holy Rollers. Now, scientists push the alarm of a catastrophic global warming, and many of those same Christians scoff and ostracize the scientists.

Polarization is a challenge to recovery. Healing requires integrating both the best and the beast within each person. In community, us versus them undermines the healing process. Judging others’ social status or recovery progress paralyzes the potential for transformation. It requires each person to recognize their own dark behavior in order to have compassion for other people’s struggle. It is by recognizing compassion and identification that transformation occurs. 

No one escapes childhood unscathed. I have learned that working through abuse requires the acceptance of a victim/victimizer dynamic that exists in those who have suffered abuse. When you have been victimized it is important to face ways that you have victimized others, perhaps not in like kind but in like principle. 

It is critical to confront behavior where you selfishly wanted what you wanted when you wanted it. It is important to face the impact of feelings and consequences that your behavior created for others and experience the gravity of their plight  because of your actions. Then, you focus on forgiving yourself which simply means to let go and not hold the behavior against yourself. It also means to stop the hurtful behavior. When you do this, you become less polarized from those who have victimized you. By accepting your own dark behavior you can create compassion for the dark behavior of others who hurt you with perpetrating abuse. Through common shared brokenness you can experience healing and forgiveness which can produce freedom from the abuse. 

Essentially, this controversial process can be framed as a way of getting out of an emotional prison that an abuser’s behavior created. Some have described it as a healthy selfish way of forgiving the son of a b**** who perpetrated pain and devastation in your life. You don’t have to be friends with someone who has hurt you. However, polarization is less likely because you have addressed in principle the victimizer dynamic in yourself that also exists in the perpetrator who has hurt you.

When this does not occur, communities remain fractured and polarized. Perpetrators, like sex offenders, are excluded from their communities. Some people think that if we segregate, isolate, or polarize people, then somehow we become a safer community. I don’t see evidence that this is true. 

Through my work at Psychological Counseling Services, we have witnessed transformation and healing by bringing victims and victimizers together. When sexual abuse is the issue, careful consideration of healing factors are assessed for both victim and victimizer before such integration takes place. Through 25+ years of engaging this process, I have observed and facilitated healing and transformation for both victim and victimizer. Regarding betrayed partners, we have integrated them with addict betrayers for many years. I have listened to partners who have shared that listening to the heart of an addict who is not their partner has been helpful to cultivate compassion and healing toward their own addict partner. On the other side of the coin, I have listened to addicts state that hearing the heartache of a different betrayed partner helped them to deepen empathy toward their own betrayed partner.  

When we face each other’s pain we promote healing and transformation and eliminate polarization. This makes far more sense to me. 

I do not think there is just one way to heal trauma from abuse. There are many alternatives. I do believe that polarization has splintered communities throughout our country. Judgmentalism through categorizing and labeling people has been detrimental to healing in our country. I suggest that we overcome judgmentalism and polarization toward others through identification of common-shared brokenness with shared accountability and consequences.  

Take time to be curious of someone who is unlike you or represents a position you vehemently disagree with.  Notice how judgment comes up and simply sit with gaining an understanding of another person’s plight and position about life. You don’t have to change your mind about how you think. But, you can find a way to connect with someone who sees things different than you do. A way to overcome polarization is to integrate common-shared brokenness through listening to a different perspective.