Mindfulness and Improving Family Communication
Mindfulness is a means for improving family communication. When we can slow down enough to really listen to someone, it is amazing what changes can occur. If we can listen in an open-minded, nonjudgmental manner, it enables us to begin to see where the other person is coming from, even if we don’t agree with their position. It creates an opening for calmer and more honest dialogue. Mindful listening creates an atmosphere of unconditional love; even if we are upset with someone’s actions or are hoping for a different outcome than they are, we can disagree without threatening the core of the relationship.
The opposite of mindful listening is reactivity. Reactivity occurs when we are so upset that our fight-flight-freeze response kicks in. The fight-flight-freeze response is activated when we feel attacked, and it sets us up to attack, defend, run or play dead. Our frontal lobe shuts down, and we can no longer respond thoughtfully. We can no longer listen or communicate effectively. Reacting is a trigger response, which often exacerbates conflict.
Signals that you have flipped into reactive mode include: your heart rate and pulse rate have increased; you can feel your blood pressure increase; you can’t let the other person finish their sentences; rather than listening you are thinking only of what you will say next; you are “awfulizing” (taking things to the extreme and worst conclusion); or your mind has gone blank and you feel completely shut down.
If you can begin to recognize when you have flipped into reactive mode, you can take some conscious steps to calm yourself down. Deep breaths stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, which relaxes us. It can also help to consciously tell yourself that you are not in physical danger, and your body does not need to be reacting as if it is. Sometimes it can help to tell the person you are arguing with that you have gone into a fight-flight-freeze response, and that you need a time-out for 10 minutes (this is better than storming away, as this can activate people’s abandonment fears). If you notice that the person you are arguing with has gone into fight-flight-freeze mode, it is best to acknowledge your own reaction, rather than point theirs out to them.
One reason to calm your own reactive response is to allow yourself to be heard. If you are speaking from your fight-flight-freeze response, it is unlikely that the person you are speaking with will be able to hear anything other than the reactivity. Our wiring dictates that we hear and react to the “old brain” communications of another with our own “old” brain.