First a deep bow to the changing seasons. Here in Hamilton we've gone from jungle steam to crisp mornings within a few weeks. In the garden I'm ready to plant cover crops, collect straw this weekend for mulch and build up my compost pile. I get unreasonably excited about this. I'm developing a bit of an urban farm in my spare time and I love it.
I'm talking about when your partner says "..." or your mom does/says ..., or your child just won't do ... . [Fill in your own gaps]. You harden / snap / or inwardly disappear. You're in it and you don't know how to change it. Uggh.
How do we change habitual defensive (or otherwise unhelpful) reactions? I've been exploring possible approaches in a hands-on fashion. Here I share one of them - the Five A's. Next month I'll share another one that involves chickens. Perhaps all this in preparation for Thanksgiving and other family gatherings coming up?
I found this helpful on a "vacation" with my son and my parents this summer. Yes, despite much inner-work I still manage to get triggered and defensive with one parent particularly. I first read about these in one of David Richo's helpful books, but it wasn't until put it into practice that I realised a deeper value of all this acceptance malarky.
The Five A's
The "Five A's" provide guidance when we want to try something different from our usual frustration/defence/hiding/etc response when things get tough:
For me this meant rather than being annoyed at myself for feeling defensive in relation to my parent's behaviour, I made a point to notice (1) my tight, caved-in chest, my angry-resistance, and (2) accept that it was there for a reason and it was okay that it wasn't different in that moment.
- Attention: notice your experience (i.e. "tight chest", "wobbly tummy", sad, anger, wanting to hide)
- Acceptance: accept that these reactions are there for a reason, and it's okay
- Appreciate: your reactions likely kept you safe and were useful at earlier points in your life.
- Allowance: allow the feelings and reactions to be there. Don't try to make it different.
- Affection: be kind towards the feelings, to your reactions.
This helped me soften a little towards myself, I could breathe deeper. I felt a few inches less reactive: able to realise how familiar this felt. This in turn meant I was able to be less defensive. I'm not sure I got to step 3,4 and 5 in the moment but I practiced the rest after the fact. It was indeed hard to be (5) kind towards those reactions but I like inner-challenges.
For self: for others:
In relation to frustration at another, you might do the 5 A's for your own reactivity to help calm yourself so you can be more present. Ultimately be able to do it towards them. That is, practicing acceptance and affection towards your child or partner or mother as they get upset. Even, technically, if their feelings are about your behaviour.
Allowing their feelings, recognising that there may be some past stuff or unmet needs under there, and "holding space" for them helps us stay open and not defensive. This is obviously easier if the other adult is respectful in how they communicate their feelings vs name-calling etc. I'm not condoning standing and taking abuse here. This could though be a step towards putting up reasonable boundaries.
Exercise: walk yourself through a difficult/triggering situation in your own life using these. How would it apply to you? (This'll make it easier to use in practice).