In the same week of White Ribbon Day commemorating the victims of domestic violence, I watched a confronting documentary on the issue. This documentary made me think about so many things. Firstly, it confirmed my true admiration for the many Rosie Batty’s of the world for making such a difference in leading a conversation that we all need to have. Secondly, the documentary combined with other thoughts I have had for some time now and got me thinking deeply about two key questions – Why? How?
Why? Why would people do this? Why do these people think that hitting, controlling or worse still, killing people, is a resolution to anything? I consider myself a typical bloke and I (and I’m sure 99.9% of people reading this article would) think that the whole idea of hitting someone is just beyond all comprehension.
But if you have a look at the figures – not only in “traditional areas” of domestic violence, but in elder abuse, interpersonal conflict, road rage, late night/early morning bashings and “coward punches” – it happens more than many of us would like to think and accept.
How? How does it get to this stage where the rage is so overwhelming? I, as I suppose others may, have experienced rage – a full-on, uncontrollable, ugly, despicable rage. It wasn’t pretty and is still not one of those things that I am proud of. But my rage never got to the stage of wanting to harm, maim, control or do even worse things to any other human being.
So, given this questioning, what advice can I give to help prevent violence in the home, family, relationships, workplace and community.
I have no statistics to support my view but my sense is that those people who get so angry that they lose their emotions and demonstrate such terrible behaviour in relationships, probably demonstrate those same behaviours in the workplace, in our streets and in our communities.
If we can’t deal with the little things, we can’t deal with the big things.
In my view, it all comes back to our ability to regulate our emotions. Regulating our emotions is all about applying strategies to inhibit, initiate and modify emotional and behavioural reactions to a circumstance. Of course, my emotional and behavioural reactions are based on my values and my beliefs. Regulating emotions requires us to take a different approach to what I call my “choice – consequence continuum”.
It is all about our reactions to circumstances – for every action, there is a reaction.
If I am resilient and can regulate my emotions, I am more likely to display problem-solving behaviour to that circumstance. This problem-solving behaviour will provide strategies in terms of how to handle this issue, what support I need, what timeline should I be working to etcetera.
It’s a “choice taken” action to move towards the resolution of a situation in a positive and healthy manner.
However, if I lacked resilience and have an inability to regulate my emotions, I will most probably display flight and/or flight behaviour. Flight behaviour is trying to avoid or deny a situation or not taking responsibility for its occurrence. For example, I will go into “victim mode” where I blame other people – “It’s not my fault, they made me do it” or “They made me so angry, I did that because they did this.” The fight response is where I would aggressively respond to the deliverer of the message as opposed to the message.
Either option does not encourage me to take responsibility for my behaviour.
So, it’s about choice and consequence. I believe it’s about asking ourselves the “workability” question which is simply: “Is what I’m doing now, is my response to this situation or how I’m feeling about this circumstance, working for me?’
If yes, (honestly – and honesty also includes considering the effect of your choices on other people in your world), then continue to do it.
If no, take a different option.
So what different strategies can we embrace to move towards problem-solving behaviour as opposed to flight or fight? Here are a few:
- Know yourself, take responsibility for yourself and critically have the courage to change. I often hear people use the expression “I lost control!” I strongly disagree with that statement as I don’t think you ever “lose control”. Rather, we “give up control”. Have the courage to take responsibility and not “give up control”.
- Love yourself – love and respect yourself deeply and completely. I believe if you love yourself, then you will love other people in your environment. If you love yourself, you won’t hurt yourself, you won’t hurt other people around you and you won’t hurt your environment.
- Understand your values and beliefs. What you stand for? What do you believe in? Are these values and beliefs limiting or liberating? Honouring or dishonouring? In the recent Prime Minister’s statement on domestic violence, he outlined a pledge that was, rightfully, a values-based pledge. If you don’t share those values, please don’t make the pledge – but be open about it and don’t just rattle it off!
- Understand what situations triggers a negative response and why those situations challenge you. How do you respond? What are your thoughts, beliefs and values in that situation? Understanding these thoughts and values also allows us to understand the “shoulds” of our life – ‘this is the way the world should be”, “they should do it this way”, “I should be respected”, “they should listen to me.” The next time you hear you hear someone say a “should”, ask yourself the question, “says who?” We all have our “shoulds”. To be more emotionally aware and to be able to emotionally regulate ourselves, we need to keep challenging our shoulds – are they still relevant? Are they still appropriate?
- Take positive action. It is no good to just simply recognise that the way you react to a situation is not appropriate. The hard part is taking action to change your response. That action might be immediate i.e. you may elect to stop a conversation or to remove yourself in a situation for a short period of time. You may decide to totally review the way you see the situation or reframe the situation that was once threatening to not do so. You may elect to ask for help through professional counsellors and psychologists to help you change your thinking patterns.
- Shift your attentional focus. Start to use the marvellous capacities of our brain and focus on things that we may be able to control and will be more comfortable with. You may elect to completely change your focus from a situation that is negative, to an environment that is positive, supportive and joyful. Focus on things you can control and that validate yourself. It may also help if you can reframe your current situation.
- Learn to fight fair. Conflict and differences of opinion are actually a healthy part of life. But they can become negative when we don’t fight fair. What are some of the rules of fighting fair?
- no abuse
- no yelling
- no talking over each other
- no threatening to walk away.
- agree when to walk away (using the 100 heartbeats per minute rule) but then commit to reconnect
- allow each other to talk
- listen to understand
- agree to action and follow up
- celebrate a change of approach
- Surround yourself with good people. Be amongst those that have shared values, understand the journey you are on and are there for you when you are under stress and pressure. They are the ones who make you reflect on your behaviour and perhaps redirect your behaviour and shift your attentional focus.
My values allows me to believe that this world is designed to be a peaceful world. I believe we can also just get on. However, I am not blind to all the aggression and conflict in this world. I believe it is about managing the little things – if you can’t manage the little things, you can’t manage the big things. Emotional regulation will allow you to manage those little things before they become those big things.
Dennis J. Hoiberg is the founder of the niche consulting group Lessons Learnt Consulting. His recently published book “The White Knuckled Ride” has become a popular guide for bouncing forward and thriving through the challenges and opportunities of life.
The company assists individuals, families, organisations and communities thrive through change. Lessons Learnt Consulting conducts free monthly webinars that are available to be downloaded from www.lessonslearntconsulting.com/resources. The company provides coaching services, training programs, community presentations and personal development retreats throughout Australia and overseas. Follow him on twitter @dennishoiberg and facebook.com/dennishoiberg.