Can you hear your compassion? It's time to crank it up.
One of the most difficult challenges we face in our quest to be compassionate is dealing with conflict. Those we love most tend to be the ones most likely to engage us in sparring that cuts the deepest.
Why do we allow ourselves to use our harshest words and most acid tone of voice with the people we love most?
Precisely because we love them most. We're counting on unconditional love. We know we are likely to be forgiven. We feel close enough to let our true ugliness shine.
We wouldn't dream of lashing out at our colleagues at work in this way. That would be way too risky. Instead, we bottle our daily frustration and dump it all over our loved ones when we get home.
Many of my clients struggle with showing compassion for their partners, children and parents when they are feeling stressed. Instead of relaxing into affection, they respond to requests or confrontation with anger.
Most frustrating of all is the fact that, while they are lashing out, they recognize that they are alienating those with whom they most want to feel a connection and find comfort. It's as though they are watching themselves lob grenades but are powerless to stop.
One of the best--and easiest to remember--triggers for changing behavior is thinking of a particular song phrase. I teach clients to use the "ch-ch-chain" part of Aretha Franklin's "Chain of Fools" to kick off a remarkably simple visualization exercise that is very effective in diffusing escalating conflict. It's based on a traditional loving-kindness meditation, but it's a lot more fun!
Visualize a chain of hearts--an extended valentine, if you will--connecting your heart to theirs. Remember that you are linked by this shared affection.
In our best moments, we do whatever we can to protect our loved ones from pain. If this person had an injury or illness, you would be gentle, soothing and kind, right? You've probably spent hours caring for this individual with great tenderness.
Tap into that.
Look at the chain of hearts. Your sharp words slash through that chain like a machete. STOP. Let the words drop away as you focus on that connection. Feel your anger and frustration being replaced by compassion.
"Ch-ch-chay-ay-ay-ay-ain...." It's hard to stay cranky while mentally chanting the "ch-ch-chain" mantra and visualizing that valentine.
Can't feel the love? Try another Aretha Franklin song. Instead of focusing on that ch-ch-chain of hearts, dive into "R-E-S-P-E-C-T" and replace that poison in your words with civility.
Not into Aretha? Pick your own song. Let your mental radio play, and use it to crank up your compassion.
[Bah-oomp] Makes me feel like A Natural Woman...
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