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2 Questions to Transform Conflict into Empowerment

“Living with integrity means: Not settling for less than what you know you deserve in your relationships. Asking for what you want and need from others. Speaking your truth, even though it might create conflict or tension. Behaving in ways that are in harmony with your personal values. Making choices based on what you believe, and not what others believe.” ~ Barbara De Angelis

In any relationship system (romance, family, friends, teams, communities), it is inevitable that buttons are pushed, and conflicts arise. Perhaps we are triggered by how someone speaks to us, or we withhold from sharing our feelings and ideas due to fear of rejection. Relationship systems are bound to make us feel unsettled. But that is exactly their purpose. They serve to rattle the unconscious so that we make conscious those parts of ourselves held in the shadows; so that we become more aware of old wounds and limiting beliefs that keep us living reactively in victim mode, and disconnected from our power.

There are two questions that serve to move us from reactivity and victim consciousness to personal responsibility and empowerment.

1.  What is my role in the situation?

The moment we ask ourselves this question, we are willing to take 50% responsibility for the conflict. Instead of blaming, gossiping or complaining, we take time to examine how we have contributed to the situation.

It may not be easy to be clear on what our role is because so much of what we attract in our lives is done so unconsciously. In the same way an abused child grows up attracting abusive relationships, we all unwittingly enter our own familiar patterns of relationship as dictated by our history and social conditioning. The shadows of our past shroud our perception of reality, and keep us from realizing the true underpinnings of any situation, including our role in it. The the darker the shadow, the stronger the reactivity and victim consciousness.

Victims will see their counterparts in conflict as adversaries who must be blamed, changed or avoided altogether. They will project their unresolved past onto the situation or other person, and allow it to veil the truth and keep them entrenched in their victim role. Those who take personal responsibility, however, will see these people as teachers who mirror back their internal state of consciousness; teachers disguised as bully bosses, aloof friends, messy spouses, and arrogant co-workers; teachers who unwittingly offer an opportunity to reveal old wounds and limiting beliefs, and the patterns or roles we take on.

Examples of roles include being a chronic pleaser, enabler, challenger, controller and saviour. These roles will continue to play out in our lives so long as they are left in the shadow. They will continue to lead us into relationships systems that both feed the role and offer opportunity for transformation.

It is vital to understand that these old roles have served a very important purpose in our lives. They have kept us safe and secure for a very long time. At an early age, keeping our mouth shut, avoiding feeling vulnerable, and dumbing down our greatness may have been an act of self-preservation – a choice that enabled us to cope or survive. But now, many years later, we are still governed by the same survival strategy even though the situation is long gone, and at the cost of our authentic Self and empowerment.

2.  What is my learning?

Once we know what our role is in a conflict, we are ready to learn. Learning is the growth and empowerment gained when we make new choices that serve ourselves and the relationship system. It is the opportunity that the conflict affords us.

Learning can come about on many different levels. For instance, if we are holding back from saying how we feel, then our learning comes from speaking our truth, claiming our worth, and feeling the feelings that comes with this. If we are aware that we are bullying others, then our learning comes from grieving our old pain, apologizing to others, and offering kindness. In both situations, we gain new insights about ourselves, relationships and life as a whole. We birth a new level compassion, and an ability to better serve others who are in similar situations,.

A particular avenue of learning that we all will need to travel down is the understanding of where our judgment originates from, and the reintegration of our shadow. If you judge someone for being a “wimp”, for example, you do so because it represents a part of yourself you have come to judge. Perhaps as a child you needed to be strong; it was not safe to be weak or vulnerable. You therefore made the choice that it was bad to be weak, and you made a judgment about this part of yourself – “wimp”. By doing so, you disowned weakness and it became hidden in the shadows of your consciousness.

But what you resist within, you project outwardly. What you disown, you project onto others through judgment.

Learning happens when we reintegrate these shadow parts of ourselves, and stop projecting them onto others through judgment. Instead of pointing the finger at others, we point it at ourselves. We use those people we are judging simply as a mirror for our own self-judgment. This is personal responsibility and ownership.

When we understand that each part of our self has a gift to offer, reintegration is easier. A bit of weakness or wimpiness may in fact be good for us. It may support us to act with greater discretion. It may allow us to be less hard on ourselves and others. And we might just be less averse to feeling our own vulnerability, and welcoming in the vulnerability of others.

More than anything, by reintegrating the energy of weakness or wimpiness, we learn to love that part of ourselves again. That is what all learning is about ultimately. We reclaim our power through self-love. We love ourselves enough to speak our truth. We love ourselves enough to say No. We love ourselves enough to be kind to others and ourselves. We love ourselves enough to be vulnerable, and to feel the full spectrum of feelings we felt when we were children.

Conflict is simply the vehicle for empowerment. It is the fire that illuminates, boils and burns away impediments to love; the fire we must all walk through over and over again if we are to fulfill the deeper purpose of relationships and live to our fullest potential.

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Afterthought: 5 Principles to Remember

Asking these two questions will be easier if we remember the following five principles:

  1. Relationship systems thrive to the degree that each person commits to ongoing self-care and inner work.
  2. Our outer world is but a reflection of our inner world.
  3. We cannot change others. The change must happen from within.
  4. Relationship systems serve a greater purpose – to heal, empower, and move us closer to love.
  5. We can only love others to the degree that we love our Self.

I wish you the best as you travel down the many roads of relationships!

For more of Vince’s writing, subscribe to his free e-newsletter.

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Related Training:
Leadership from the Inside Out

Related Reading:
Empowered Leadership Mini E-Book ~ 20 Attributes and Practices for Leading in the New World
It’s Time to Be the Leader You Are Waiting For
5 Steps to Creating Healthy Workplace Relationships

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