shifting the power dynamic

Note: This is the second part of a three-part series. To see the entry before this, click here.

 

So. How to shift from the old power dynamic in a family to one of co-creation?

I’ll be honest: It’s tricky. And challenging. And a far lengthier blog post.

But in short, it works something like this: drop your own judgements first, and start (respectfully) speaking into what you need, and then drop your judgements again, and invite others to (respectfully) speak into their needs, too.

It’s a dance. You notice where mom says something that pisses you off, and instead of running the old pattern of people-pleasing or arguing or resenting, you notice that you want to judge mom for the way she spoke to you, and make her the problem, when in fact no one is a problem, here. People are just doing the best they can with what they’ve got, doing their thing, and their thing might be control or arrogance or whatever.

It’s not personal. You deserve to be spoken to with respect, so ask for it, but don’t make it into the Story about how mom doesn’t love you and never loved you and if she loved you then she would… you know what I mean? Officially, Mom is just choosing to act how she wants to act in that moment. Nothing more.

 

Stop. Breathe. Reboot.

So–you stop. You breathe. And then you speak into what you need--perhaps it’s respectful communication. Or five minutes to think. Or you’re willing to take care of that chore, just not right now. Or you acknowledge that you could be running a Story, but it seems like there might be some bad mojo in the room–anything she wants to talk about?

Someone has to start being willing to gently and lovingly speak up rather than sweep it under the rug, and it needs to happen in the moment, because no one likes hearing that they did something five years ago that pissed everyone off.

In those moments of speaking up, you are risking annihilation (of the old self, and the dynamic).

You might be told that you are “too sensitive” (very common response!), you might be shouted down, or–and this is pulling out the big guns–there might even be some manipulative tears. But at the end of the day, you gotta keep asserting that the conversation about co-creation and respect, as imperfectly as you might express it, is centered around trying to be closer. Then you’d need to keep actually being behind that statement, and keeping focused on your own energy, tone of voice, and word choices (in that order).

Then, if the other party is willing, you start co-creating by defining what connection looks like for your family. That might mean that you choose to bend, too, because co-creating is not about, “She who speaks the most evolved argument, wins.” Using the language of co-creation to force your own power dynamic is manipulative and uncool.

Instead, think: “How can we co-create a win-win in service to this larger goal of being connected?” You might talk for awhile and realize that while it annoys you that ESPN is on 24/7 for the holidays, you can live with going into another room. Go with what feels lighter, and notice how not attaching to a result always feels lighter.

Also, co-creating is not necessarily “exact equality.” If ESPN is on 24/7, co-creating might not be that the ESPN is downgraded to being on 12/7, and that’s what you should “fight” for. Co-creating might be that in service to connection, you find a way to not care if it’s on. You decide–only you know what’s essential to you in your personal value system, and where your deal-breakers lie.

My only suggestion would be this: don’t back down, at any point, on the commitment to respectful communication. Yelling, cursing–those have no place in co-creation, love, connection. I’ve had more than one discussion with someone where it was asserted that to speak respectfully was too “scripted” (I used to say this to Andy when we first started working on communication tools and I wanted a “right” to my anger).

Now I realize that that’s a cop-out, an excuse to keep the old pattern going because the conversation is lined with tension and at any moment, someone can get in a zinger under the guise of “just being honest.”

Last, commit to remembering that every time you get frustrated, dropping judgment starts with you. You’re not undertaking this to change anyone else’s behavior. You’re undertaking it because if the choice is between feeling like shit because you’re not connected to your family, and feeling like shit because you’re trying something new/scary while trying to be connected to your family, you’d rather choose the latter.

 

Compassion

Also, understand that when generations have been raised under a “my house, my rules” dynamic, there’s a fear that comes with the “loss” of that “power”, even if it’s bogus power that only superficially existed in the first place–especially when the authority figure in question hasn’t yet experienced the awesomeness of powerful co-creation.

It’s your basic, every day comfort zone stuff–people are afraid of being different when they don’t know how, especially when there’s a long-standing, life-defining role (like “mom” or “dad”) associated with how they’ve been behaving, and they’re afraid of losing the only connection they’ve ever known with the people they love.

It’s strange, but true–we can feel as if we have lost ourselves when we are doing something different than the way we’ve done it for decades. Compassion is in order, yes?

Note: this isn’t about having different value systems. This is about energy. It’s the energy of “My way, or else I’m mad!” where co-creation shuts down. Of course, we all have our different value systems. I would not, for instance, allow someone to do drugs in my home. There are boundaries that I put in place that support my personal values and living in integrity.

However, if someone has a different idea about what’s for dinner, our plans for the day, or something of that nature, it’s more helpful to co-create, even when what they want is different than what I want. This involves compromise–which, speaking for myself if not for you, is freaking hard. It’s likely to also take two steps forward and two steps back, requiring much patience.

Realistically, it requires some kind of attempt from at least one party to commit to respectful communication and repeatedly dropping judgement, no matter how many times those divisive, polarizing, “You’re wrong/I’m right” judgements crop up.

 

Today

Even after time practicing these concepts, when someone else is upset with me, my first thought is still to start making a case for how they’re wrong (aka, judging them for judging me). Getting present to that is essential–that’s how I stop it before it goes too far.

I have seen a shift in my own family. I speak into what I need and ask for respectful communication. Around that same time, I noticed that people stopped putting expectations on me to be a certain way–or else. This was nice. There was room to breathe, and then a funny thing happened: this person I’d been who’d resented needing to get up at a certain time by someone else’s order was suddenly someone new, someone more interested in asking: What were our plans for tomorrow, and what time was everyone in the house getting up for those plans? And if a parent or family member noticed that I was quieter, she started asking what was up rather than assuming that I was sulking or disconnected–which gave me the opportunity to share that hey, I was just tired…which saved a whole lot of headaches, later.

That’s the real beauty of respecting one another as autonomous individuals and co-creating something: everyone starts to win. I stopped white-knuckling my way through the holidays, and even looked forward to visits.

So make no mistake about it:

this is your work, not your family’s work, and you’re losing out if you do it to “make them change.” Nonetheless, redefining yourself as an adult and then actually acting like one (even if others choose not to) is a game changer.

 

This is Part Two of a three part series. Part One explores the family dynamic.   Part Three is about how to take this idea out of the family context and into the larger world.