Chapter 17 by Linda Dobson | Posted 8/14/22
"In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer. And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there's something stronger — something better, pushing right back." —Albert Camus
I am writing this chapter during the second year of a global pandemic, for many of us a time of unprecedented personal and professional upheaval. During change, whether a pandemic or other challenging life events such as sickness or divorce, we can find ourselves more reactive and susceptible to large and small conflicts.
Many of my clients report a "brain freeze," finding themselves incapable of understanding the entire picture, not knowing how to respond to perceived "attacks" and feeling so emotionally charged that they feel frozen. I designed the Conflict Resolution Journal (CRJ) for just such challenging times. Its simple process helps you write into your conflict experience and ask important questions about yourself to create better, more productive resolutions.
Before we begin, let's take just a moment for a brief biology lesson on why we experience "brain freeze," then move on to learn how to "defrost" so that you can understand and proactively respond to conflict. It all starts in your brain, which houses the amygdala, two cell groups in charge of recognizing threats and keeping us safe. Usually, the amygdala is our friend. Unfortunately, in times of stress — pandemic, illness, economic threat, etc. — it can get a little overactive, exaggerating risks and making everyday challenges appear bigger or more threatening. Situations that would normally merit a raised eyebrow or shrug of the shoulders become damaging conflict events. The CRJ incorporates the best of brain science, mindfulness, and conflict coaching theory, ensuring that our brains perform optimally.
CRJ springs out of my decades-long fascination with how to create comprehensive conflict resolutions. As a mediator and professional conflict coach, I help clients identify, understand, and create practical solutions to deal with their conflicts.
Conflict Resolution Journaling harnesses the power of journaling as a practical, therapeutic, and clarifying tool, using the writing process and coaching questions that help you move through conflict when you find yourself distraught, discouraged, or dismayed. If you are ready to find authentic, values-based solutions to the conflicts in your life, I trust you will find the Conflict Resolution Journal an effective tool.
CRJ is an invitation to go to the page and allow your words to illuminate the inner workings of your mind and heart. The following steps will help you get the most from your journaling.
All you need to do is think about your conflict, and the amygdala leaps into action, reliving emotions and thoughts attached to your conflict. Research suggests that breathing helps calm the amygdala response, allowing access to your logical, thoughtful brain. To initiate a calm state, breathe in for four counts (you can mentally or verbally count 1, 2, 3, 4) and out for six. Repeat until you can feel yourself decompressing (this may be a body response, like your shoulders loosening, or a mental response, like less harried thoughts).
I like one with nice paper, and I like using my fountain pen. It is an act of self-nurturing to surround yourself with the nicest things that are available to you, but a stick and a mud puddle will work in a pinch.
"What three 'value words' illustrate how I want to 'be' in this conflict?" Write two or three words that come to mind (e.g., openness? Honesty? Curiosity? Creativity?) at the top of the page. Don't worry about getting the language perfect; simply listen to the words that surface.
"What do I want/need to understand about this conflict?" This question guides your exploration of the conflict and sets a positive intention for your journal. For example: "I want to know what to do with my conflict with Leslie." Write your goal statement beneath your value words.
How to begin your writing? All conflict is composed of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and we tend to focus on one of the three when encountering conflict. If you touch your emotions most easily, begin with a feeling prompt such as "I feel …" or "I am really sad." If you are more a "thinker" than "feeler," try beginning with "I think" or "I believe" when recording your thoughts. Perhaps you focus more on the behaviors that contributed to the dispute, and it will be easy for you to write down actions such as "When this happened …" or "I saw." Try to expand your understanding by including all three aspects of conflict, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. The goal is to keep writing and recording your experiences as genuinely as possible.
This is where CRJ becomes delightful, illuminating, and bold. As you write, metaphorically ascend to the 1,000-foot level, reviewing and reflecting on your written words. Without any judgments, become curious about your writing, almost like a detective trying to solve a puzzle. When you see a word that is unusual for you or strikes you as slightly out of context, stop and unpack your word choice. Some sample questions include, "What prompted me to use that particular word?" or "Oh, that word is interesting; what else do I need to understand about x?" Begin to simply notice the mental shifts as you observe your writing. What are the shifts in your emotions and thoughts? As you read, observe your body and breath and explore whatever evokes different feelings or thoughts.
Stop, leave your journal, make a cup of tea, sip a coffee, walk around your home, or look at something that brings you joy. Return to your writing, paying attention to the "values" words at the top of your page. How are your insights reflective of your values? Is there anything more your heart wants to say? Your intelligence? Your body?
Based on your journaling, what avenues do you see for moving forward? You do not need to resolve everything — baby steps are great. What is one thing you can do to think differently about the situation? What is the one small action you can take to move toward resolution? Now, set a timeline, and write down the current date and time, followed by the date and time you will begin to act on your new inspiration.
Acknowledge the tremendous courage and integrity you demonstrated to be real with yourself about this conflict. Breathe into your heart, mind, and body, and sit for a moment with gratitude for yourself and for this exercise ("Thank you for guiding me on this journey toward finding a resolution").
During Step 6 of your exploration, when you are blending your subjective self (the words are all about you, after all) and your self-coaching question (stay curious and away from judgments), flag any words that are or evoke any of the following:
I want to acknowledge that the CRJ is neither a silver bullet nor an easy process. Working through conflict is hard. When we deal with tough feelings and thoughts, it feels like slowly peeling away a Band-Aid protecting our hearts.
Harder still is moving from a "blame game" victim stance to a "creator of my own life" stance. Yet, and this is surprising and somewhat amazing, as you use CRJ and put pen to paper, something close to miraculous happens. You notice (as I do) that you view your conflict with less judgment and more curiosity. As you write, your brain begins to "thaw," and answers to your questions prompt important new insights providing you with a deeper awareness of how to respond to those deeply ingrained, evolutionary-driven fight, flight, or freeze responses. You find a are stronger, clearer, and more confident you. I send you peace.
About the Author
Linda Dobson is a mediator, conflict resolution specialist, and leadership and conflict coach. She has taught resolution strategies for almost three decades in face-to-face and virtual spaces. She is the author of Coach the Conflict, due in 2022, has presented at conferences (Bangkok, Victoria, Vancouver), and taught peacekeeping in Uganda and conflict coaching at the University in Mumbai, India. She is a speaker, writer, and educator who loves her work! Linda divides her time between Vancouver and Salt Spring Island, BC, where she tends her weedy garden and meditates on the tides. She loves laughing, playing, and great conversation. Linda hopes you will contact her with questions or comments at: lindadobson1[at]gmail[dotcom].
This chapter is from The Great Book of Journaling: How Journal Writing Can Support a Life of Wellness, Creativity, Meaning and Purpose by Eric Maisel PhD (Editor), Lynda Monk MSW RSW CPCC (Editor) Conari Press (June 14, 2022).