Few feuds have been as famous as that between Elizabeth I and her cousin, Mary Queen of Scots. The two royal heirs both felt entitled to the English throne, which would ultimately be granted to the England-born Elizabeth. After a tumultuous relationship and Mary’s failed plea for consolation, she was executed by Elizabeth, quelling a plot against her Protestant reign.
If you have ever felt caught between two fires, be thankful the conflict did not reach these heights. Nonetheless, dramas can be hard to navigate, even if they don’t involve warring political disputes, imprisonment and beheading. Sometimes we find ourselves trying to be cross-party negotiators, pacifists torn between opposing factions on battlefields of a far more interior nature.
At the heart of every feud between family, friends or colleagues is a delicate nerve that if provoked, has the potential for volcanic consequences. Those who are not already heavily embroiled in it have little reason to get involved, for their own sake at least. Yet not doing anything risks becoming its own sort of betrayal. In this way dramas can be catch-22, hard to resolve yet not allowing us to be passive. How, then, can we deal with them?
Being a good role-model
While we may not always be able to directly put the issue to rest, we can help foster an environment for good behaviour and amicable relations by addressing our own actions.
It is not enough to be overly nice to all aggrieved parties. We should avoid pleasing people indiscriminately, while equally not taking the role of a arbiter of justice. Being a good role-model means acting sincerely and openly, bearing in mind that conflict is not something to be avoided at all costs.
If the drama stems from somebody treating another unfairly, then you should emphasise fairness in your actions. You should speak up when witnessing something that isn’t okay, whether it’s a passive comment, an action afflicted on another or a self-affliction. Though you may not be the object of mistreatment in a situation, it does not mean you cannot have a say in it. In speaking up you enable others to follow suite, creating a spirit of cooperation and openness.
Creating a healthy dialogue
Do not expect to solve disputes instantaneously, or ask ‘for everyone to please stop arguing’. Though well-intentioned, this is very unlikely to work. Instead, try to change the nature of the dispute by facilitating a less vitriolic discussion. Allow for everybody’s voice to be heard, and make sure people are talking to each other rather than opting out.
Arguments are often very circular. Try to make the discussion move forward in a productive way by letting people explain themselves, and letting concerns be voiced. Clarify misunderstandings. Let people talk about how the issue has effected them, and how they want to move forward.
We can also set the record straight: holding others accountable, without needlessly provoking them. We might put things in perspective for them, asking how they would feel if the situation was reversed. We might provide them the tools to break out of their rut, to look past their biases and see the bigger picture. In any case, there needs to be a balance between fairness and firmness.
If a person is stubbornly unwilling to listen, or lashes out, then consider removing yourself (and others) from the drama.
You should allow yourself to disengage with a person, group or situation when things are getting a bit heated. Though we would love to enact justice, to show we are right or simply to tie a bow on an argument, there is liberation to be found in the idea that we can take five.
Though conflicts gnaw at us, not letting us be, we often have the inexplicably tendency of encouraging them. Whether we acknowledge it or not, they can be a form of enjoyment and source of energy to us, albeit a slightly prurient one. There can even be a comfort in dramas: on the one hand they remind us that we are not alone in being chaotic, and on the other, that others are even more chaotic than ourselves.
There is nothing healthy about this mindset though, for as long as we are willing to waste energy on dramas we leave our most essential needs neglected. The need for space, quiet and repose (not the same as rest) is among the most integral to our wellbeing. In helping ourselves in this way, we can come back to the situation with a fresh perspective, and more moderate temperament.
This is can also help us to recognise the part we play in the drama. Are we being unfair and misguided? Have we mistakenly made a judgement, or lashed out? Are we at the crux at the issue? If this is the case, then taking a break may just deescalate the tensions.
Those who behave in a way that is detrimental to others are almost certainly damaged themselves. While it may be tricky uncovering their wounds, we can offer empathy, the willingness to listen, and, crucially, our own vulnerabilities. In doing so we may be able to lower their guard, and communicate to them that we are not trying to persecute them as others appear to be doing.
Admitting vulnerability can feel like surrendering, especially against somebody who is on the offensive. On the contrary, it is a appeal to their own vulnerable self, a reminder that others don’t take pleasure in disagreeing with them, that the barriers they have put up have needlessly protected themselves against those who want to help them, while doing nothing for the conflict bubbling away internally.
Knowing when to quit
The hard truth of relationships of any sort is that they and not always fixable. Whether it’s a close friend, partner or relative we may think we have the ability to influence how they behave, that they can be persuaded, coerced or convinced to see things our way, but this is sadly not always the case. While we may achieve the appearance of a resolution, a sober look at the situation will show us we have merely addressed a raindrop in a storm of problems.
Dramas often give us the impression we have been sucked into them. They are a vortex: our only choice is to fight and flail. While we might be driven to argue, to challenge and to defend, it is important to realise who we are talking to and if we can realistically expect to achieve anything with them. If this is the only the latest in a series of perpetually regurgitated problems then we may be better off in taking the painful, but necessary decision to step away.