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Conflict and

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For Those Who "Hate Confrontation"

by Ken Silvestri, Ed.D. Frederic Luskin, Ph.D. and Jed Rosen, LCSW

Forgiveness is the word we use when part of life. The Greeks described the on god but row away from the rocks."
one chooses to let go of a particular process of nature or "Gaia," as a process Doing nothing is being a victim; its
grievance or hurt. It is a means to attain where the whole is more than the sum opposite is being a hero.
peace by not dwelling on the pain of the parts. There is plenty that we
which keeps your body in that revved could call bad or good, in nature; pretty We position forgiveness, which, in its
up "fight or flight" mode. Few of us baby cubs being eaten by larger preda- true sense is not minimizing nor con-
have been taught how to forgive and tors, or the yin/yang of life where there doning the pain that may come from
one of the reasons is a cultural misinter- are choices between focusing on the conflicts as a central healing metaphor
pretation about "conflict." Most of us glass half full or empty. The up shoot for conflict. It addresses the problem
see conflict as negative or bad which is often conflict is simply grist for cre- that many of us have and that is letting
too often creates anger and aggression. ativity or change. Take the shell fish go of our "tale of woe." Recently a
that gets some muck into its shell and woman (Megan) came for psychothera-
In her book "Anger the Misunderstood resists it with its own mucous like liq- py. She said that what she was not get-
Emotion, " by Carol Tavris, she shares a uid, eventually producing a valued ting in life was empathy from her hus-
story about the Buddha coming to his pearl. Which part was good and which band. She narrated many instances
temple and seeing his congregation out- part was bad? Mountains, canyons and where he dismissed or devalued her
side fearful of entering. He asked why much of human beings works of art are feelings. When asked if she had dis-
and was told that a large snake was in some way products of conflict. cussed that with him, Megan said, "no
stopping them. The Buddha apparently way, he would only get mad at me. " Her
being like Harry Potter was able to talk Carl Jung once described conflict as family background was full of stories of
to the snake, and asked him to not bite resulting from the formation of para- authoritarian discipline. She could
any member of his congregation. The doxes (something good in one context never dialogue with her parents. In this
following week, his temple was full, but not in another wider context; but instance Megan's brain was very "state
and he had a great sermon, yet upon that can be seen as something that if dependent," meaning it recognized pat-
leaving he heard a sound of anguish in worked through, creates resolution and terns of emotions rather than content
the bushes. There he found the snake all happiness. In her book "The and so she got stuck in her story and her
beat up and bloody. The Buddha asked Unthinkable: Who Survives When bad content. She could not let go, for-
what had happened, and the snake Disaster Strikes and Why," Amanda give or deal successfully with her expe-
replied that he did not bite anyone as Ripley describes how catastrophe (or a rience or her husband until she learned
the Buddha suggested and he was beat grievance) is not the end, but the begin- how to forgive.
up for his kindness. The Buddha stared ning. It is part of history which has no
at him and replied that he had suggest- end and opens up possibilities. Being in Following are nine steps to help Megan
ed that the snake not bite, but he did not the present according to Ripley is more deal with her real and imagined con-
tell him not to hiss. interesting since it is reality. flict:
Understanding conflict is a vehicle for
It is our sense that conflict is neither not blaming. This is what Hunter S. 1. Megan was asked to express what
bad nor good; it just is an inescapable Thompson meant when he said, "Call she felt so she could allow openness to

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produce a "non-denial" of her feelings. what was offered to Megan. Megan
I did this to help widen her lens to view
5. Visualizing loving images and feel-
learned to express her desires and wish-
ing of gratitude supports positive
the "wrong" that was hurting her. Our es in a compassionate manner.
emotions that manage stress and
good side is constantly overtaken by
increase your confidence. Megan was
our shadow side when we lose perspec-
instructed, at the moment she felt upset,
8. As Meganexperienced the freedom
tive and Megan was putting herself of genuinely and kindly expressing her
to practice the Positive Emotion
down. She said she felt "stifled and wishes, she felt that she was living a
Refocusing Technique (PERT) to
fearful to express herself." life well lived. Instead of focusing
soothe her body's flight or fight
on her wounded feelings, and thereby
response. PERT consists of relaxing the
2. We then discussed what forgive- body, softening the belly as you breathe
giving her husband and parents dispro-
ness was for her and I explained portionate power over her, she had
and visualizing something you are
that it is a process and commit- grateful and compassionate about. This
more opportunity to look for the love,
ment to make peace with what is. This beauty, and kindness around her. Megan
helped her see, similar to being able to
was accepted by her when we discussed saw that she need not define herself by
choose the TV channel that she might
the negative effects her pattern of con- those who had hurt her.
wish to see, that she could also choose
flict avoidance had on her life. Her
the life view that she wanted to live
"aha" moment came when she articulat-
within.
9. Megan was able to amend her
ed how she would get sick and nervous grievance story by reminding herself
after she refused to express her truth.
6. Megan admitted that she was, if
of her heroic choice to forgive and
release herself from the stress and anxi-
only in her head, making many
3. Megan needed reassurance that
demands of her husband regarding him
ety of fearing confrontation. She also
forgiveness is not about minimiz- began the long and arduous process of
being empathic. She had to "confront"
ing her hurt it is about changing her creating a relationship with her husband
the reality that she had to give up
grievance story. Forgiveness does not less focused on mind reading and regret
expecting things from those who
necessarily mean reconciling with the and more on communication and shar-
will not give them to you. There
person who upset you or condoning ing. ill
are certain unenforceable rules that
their action. It is to set a goal to let her,
strengthen the grievance story such as
in this case go to a healed place that
my husband has to be empathic to me
does not blame or live in fear.
when I want him to. She began to Dr. Fred Luskin, Director, is an
accept that by letting herself make author and senior consultant with the _
4. Next we discussed how choosing
peace with who he actually is a relation- Health Promotion Project at Stanford i
to forgive is choosing health and not g University. He developed the Forgive
ship could begin with a real human For Good methodology and has
being a victim. Megan now worked on
being. John Welshons writes in his been featured on major media out-
getting the right perspective on what is
recent book "When Prayers Aren't , lets, journals and PBS
happening. By sharing with her how , (www.learningtoforgive.com).
Answered," that " ...the acceptance of
our brain and nervous system works she
things as they are in this context does Jed Rosen, M.S.w., L.C.S.w.,
began to recognize that her primary dis-
not imply complacency ... the accept- Clinical Director, has been practicing
tress was coming from the hurt feelings,
ance of things as they are is intended to ~and supervising, family, marital, and
thoughts, and physical upset that she , individual and 'group psychotherapy
alleviate suffering we habitually create
was suffering now, not what offended for over twenty five years. He is an
in our minds with the desire to change
or hurt her two minutes or even ten instructor for continuing education at
years ago. Megan's tale of woe kept on
things we simply cannot change." !The Graduate School of Social Work I
~for Rutgers University, Bryn Mawr !
getting bigger and bigger from practice
and kept her captive. This is not to min-
7 . Megannow had to learn to put her , University and Adelphi University j'

energy in a positive direction. (jed. rosen @verizoI1:net). ~


imize hurt but to realize that the griev- .. ~
Embracing positive intention does not g Dr. Ken Silvestri, Educational ~
ance story is likely not the most skillful
way to construct our reality. I suggest-
entail writing off the one who hurt us. It IDirector, has published over fifty arti- "
may have just not worked out or the cles and conducted numerous work-
ed that she think of the grievance, take shops on family therapy, homeopa-
other person had different desires or the
a deep breath and create a loving image thy, and alternative education and
communication was poor. if the other is it communication skills. He has been
of her positive possibilities. She also
willing to join you in an honest win-win . in practice for thirty years and is an
participated in some visualizations (see
volley. Wonderful. Acceptance of who • AAMFT clinical member, approved
below), which further helped gain a , supervisor and an active black belt
you are and your desires and wishes is
wider perspective on what was happen- . student of Aikido
one way to exhibit self love and that is
ing. (www.drkennethsilvestri.com).

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