I recently worked with a couple recently that was totally stuck. Sleep-deprived with a newborn, they found themselves irritable with each other, having conversations that quickly escalated into conflict. They had a good idea of what the pattern was (A got mad, B tried to placate, A’s anger increased, B got mad, A got scared of B’s anger so withdrew). Their attempts to change the pattern, however, just weren’t working. “A” was clear that “B” was volatile, and that if she could just have a different tone of voice, “A” wouldn’t react. And “B” was sick and tired of not expressing fully.
What I asked them to do was just too weird for them to take seriously. I know that, so after trying it out with them, I relented and went back to what I typically teach couples to do, to speak what is unarguable (sensations, emotions, what they really want). They relaxed with this wonderful language that promotes deep connection with self then other through non-defensive communication.
The weird strategy? I asked them to pretend they had to communicate like dogs. That meant to growl and bark if they were mad, whine and whimper when they were sad or scared. I know, it is weird. And–I recently realized that humans create escalation because we are threatened animals who can speak. The rest of the animal kingdom can simply express their emotional state through yelps, roars, squeals, snorts, screeches, cackles, and the rest. They feel it, they express it, and it’s done. In a few moments. We humans, though, we’re go into Reactive Brain and want to start talking. And talking. We’re mad and we say “How dare you speak to me like that!” and totally trigger those around us into reaction. We’re sad, and we say (or think), “See, I’ll always feel this way! I’m a depressed person. That’s just all there is to it.” We feel scared, and suddenly we feel compelled to speak about all the scary things: “I can’t do that! The world is falling apart! People are so mean!” And what could have just been an experience of a few moments, a wave of emotion passing through, becomes something that must be processed and solved and discussed and resolved.
What do you think? Would you be willing to try a whole new form of communication, one that animals have perfected over a million years? Then the next time you go into Reactive Brain, model yourself after your favorite non-verbal animal. Growl it, squeek it, bark it, whimper it. Move it through in a few seconds. And then enjoy the world from Creative Brain.