It seems our interactions have one of two goals: protect ourselves, or proceed toward sharing and growth.

Two examples of self-protection:

  1. She clenched her hands and quickly dropped her eyes as soon as the partners facing each other in my office opened their eyes to look at the other. What was happening inside this woman, for whom just seeing her partner brought tension? Why drop the gaze quickly?

  2. The moment she stated vehemently she did not want to go to the dance, he jumped forward in defense. Questions and accusations pounded out. Why didn't she want to be with him? What was wrong with his friends? Didn't she like the way he danced? Didn't she enjoy their last outing?

Protect! Danger ahead! Survival at stake.

Closing down is often the first recourse when we feel danger. Freeze. Quit. Leave. In communication strategies we call it stone-walling. Alone must be safer than this!

When we feel endangered, taking care of ourselves until we feel safe is essential. This may involve taking time away alone. Take time. Breathe. Notice the tension inside and in specific muscles. Feel the tension in our gut. Focus on deep breaths that bring in fresh air, oxygen for the blood, rest for the anxious thoughts. Breathe out tension and toxins.

The alternative is words spoken in defense or offense. We all have experience with emotional dysregulation and anger mis-management. And we know we don't want to go there.

Pause.Placate.Peruse....Poised. And then we can proceed.