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Monday, February 8, 2016

The Dance of...


It is not fear that keeps you from doing the brave and true thing in your daily life. Rather, the problem is avoidance. You want to feel comfortable so you avoid doing or saying the thing that will evoke fear and other difficult emotions. Avoidance will make you feel less vulnerable in the short run but, it will never make you feel less afraid.”
Harriet Lerner (The Dance of Fear)

I've known very few people in my life who did not use avoidance as one of their many coping strategies. “It's not worth the fight,” we say. “Nothing will change.” So we bite our tongues and avoid the situation and hope it will miraculously transform of its own accord. It rarely does.

Avoidance has its perks. Not pointing out every single annoying thing your friend or partner does, and making it “an issue” is probably a good thing. Pick your battles, I say. But if there is something that is exceedingly annoying and vexing to you that goes unaddressed it will erode the relationship over time. What we typically do is avoid speaking our mind until the erosion is too great to repair.

Avoidance is something we do habitually. It is part of civility, and it is useful when the behaviors are trivial and impersonal. For example, when someone in our workplace has a loud and obnoxious (in our eyes) personality, we have opportunities to practice tolerance, acceptance and anger control. We deal with difficult behavior more easily when we can go home at the end of the day, and not see the person again until tomorrow. But, in intimate relationships avoidance is less effective, and it results in an accumulation of negativity in the belly. When we've finally had “a belly full” we explode in destructive ways.

We can avoid that explosion of vitriol by addressing things with they happen in a manner that is respectful of the humanity of the other person. We can speak of it in such terms as, “When you do that, I feel.....” which allows us to claim our feelings as our own. Then we can listen with patience to their response. We may not sidestep an uncomfortable situation, but we may actually resolve something that will only grow more stressful with time. When we love someone, discomfort is worth the price for gaining understanding. Authenticity in our intimate relationships, which includes saying what's on your heart, strengthens them. Avoidance does not.

                                            In the Spirit,


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