Each of us learned strategies as children that help us feel safe and comfortable. I learned to avoid in my family. My role was peacekeeper, soother, distracter, chameleon. I would do anything to keep things from overheating.
Maybe this resonates with you because you do the same thing. Or maybe you think of another family member as you read this. Many families have a peacekeeper. When this is your role, you become adept at sensing heated emotion and have likely developed many strategies to diffuse other people’s high emotion so you’re more comfortable. Peacekeepers like me are struggling these days. Conflict is inescapable. How many of you weeded your social media feeds so you mostly see content that is agreeable to you? This is because conflict is uncomfortable for people like us.
While I thrive in keeping the heat down, others thrive in stoking the coals. They get the same sense of OK-ness from jabbing or challenging I get from calming things down. In their childhoods, these behaviors were reinforced, just as my peacekeeping was reinforced. They are both strategies we use to feel safe.
When I help to reduce people’s tension, the world seems safer for me. For others stirring things up and getting noticed for it makes their world seems safer. It seems kind of crazy that such wildly different behaviors can produce the same outcome, but they do.
Maybe what divides us today is that some of us feel safe with calm and some of us feel safe with turmoil. I am a turmoil avoider. I am a rule follower. Others feel strong when protesting or disregarding the rules. These coping strategies are learned early in our lives in our families. Did following the rules in your family bring you a sense of belonging, or did challenging the rules get you the attention you needed?
The world is a difficult place now. These two very different ways of managing our needs are at war. For me, the world feels dangerous. Some days, my angst feels overwhelming. I work hard to be in the moment, but it is transient, and then I am back to worrying about the future or ruminating about how we got here. I have noticed that my angst is worst when my mind is not engaged in something that demands my attention. I am grateful for my work. It absorbs me, restores me, and provides me with a sense of efficacy. I can help people to feel better. It reminds me that I do matter and that my view of the world is important and helpful.
What soothes you? What lets you know you matter? What distracts you from the contentious chaos of our society? Hopefully, you have cultivated new safe ways during the pandemic to fill the “invisible bucket in your heart,” in the words of my kindergarten-age grandson. Perhaps laughing at a funny meme, or hearing a favorite song deepens your breathing. If you are struggling to access these moments, your body is probably in hyper-alert mode and could use help settling down. Try this: put your right hand in your left armpit with your palm over your heart. Now take your left hand and reach across and hold your right upper arm. It is like you are giving yourself a hug. Now squeeze for few seconds, taking a deep breath, and release. Notice your calmer body. Tell yourself you are okay.
Fill your buckets!! Don’t overlook your needs during these difficult times. Calm your bodies and help yourself feel safe in the moment. It will help you get through these challenging times.