In 2013, Catherine Hodes, director of the Safe Homes Project (a domestic-violence program), started a workshop called “Is it Conflict or Abuse?” An abusive dynamic, she argues, requires one person to have power over the other, whereas conflict involves two people struggling for power. The distinction can be confusing, and in some cases “both people feel like they’re being abused, because they’re not getting their needs met or they’re not getting their way.”
From the Atlantic Monthly article: That’s it, you’re dead to me. September 2022 p. 14.
I think this is a fascinating idea, in the article that questions the internet wisdom of getting rid of “toxic people” in one’s life. When we cut off someone we consider “toxic”, we aren’t peaceing them, are we? Peace me, peace you, how do we actively peace people instead of being afraid, on guard, at war. I think everyone is more afraid after the two years of Covid 19 pandemic and all of the deaths and the Long Haul Covid and war. Everyone has a shorter fuse, everyone is stressed.
Remember that stress activates the sympathetic nervous system, the fight or flight system. The body makes less thyroid and less sex hormones and makes more adrenaline and cortisol. Cortisol is a steroid and great for short term, but bad for long term. If we are continually stressed, cortisol messes up the immune system and we get auto-immune disorders, the body attacking its’ own cells. The adrenaline raises our heart rate and blood pressure, neither of which are good for the heart long term. When the thyroid hormone is on the low side, we feel tired. The adrenaline makes us feel wired and we have trouble sleeping. The cortisol makes us more likely to get sick and raises blood sugar too. The low sex hormones, well, women can stop menses and men start asking for viagra.
So we as a world, need to learn to downregulate the sympathetic nervous system and go back to parasympathetic. The relaxed one. The one where we have less adrenaline and less high cortisol and more thyroid and our gut works and sex works again. How do we get there?
Breathing is one way. Slow breathing: 5 seconds in and 5 seconds out. Work up to 20 minutes. One of my veterans said he was not used to feeling relaxed, it felt weird. Ok, it may feel weird, but maybe we need to practice it. He did. There is circular breathing too, 5 seconds in, 5 hold, 5 out, 5 hold. Zen meditation, facing a wall for 40 minutes, works too. We try not to follow the thoughts. The thoughts pop up anyhow, but not following them down the rabbit hole is interesting and challenging. Mindful mediation and Jon Kabat Zinn’s books and tapes work as well. It takes practice. Practice peace, practice relaxing. Doesn’t that sound like a lovely practice?
Stupid cat videos work for me too. Laughter works. What makes you laugh? I like the silly animal videos, the moose playing with the wind chimes, three baby bears rescued (with care) from a dumpster, with the truck driving off to avoid momma bear. Rocking, knitting, sewing, fishing, walking the beach, cuddling a baby, dancing, listening to music, playing music. Which works for you? Silly movies. I don’t like horror movies, and I love cartoons and animation. Engage the child at heart for the parasympathetic nervous system.
In high school my daughter said that most fights were stupid. “One person says something without thinking. The other person goes off and gets upset. She stops talking to person one, who has no idea what is going on, and they often talk to their friends. So there is this big fight over some dumb comment.”
I don’t think it ends with high school, sadly enough. And before we label someone “toxic”, maybe we need to wander off and breathe, or watch a silly cat video. Whatever works for you that doesn’t hurt others.
We need more parasympathy in the world. Yep, I just made that word up. Relax and if you can’t or won’t, consider practicing.
Peace you and please peace me.
August 19, 2022
[…] in pain, exhausted. I have written about the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems here and here. Start with slow breathing, four seconds in and four seconds out. It takes […]