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Selection from “The Five Keys”: the No Trespassing Sign

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 From page 122 of The Five Keys to Mindful Communication:

Book Cover“To transform the roots of aggression—fear and self-doubt—we need to know the difference between the primary, green-light emotion of sadness, and the secondary, red-light emotions created by the racing thoughts and stories of an angry mind. In between, the fear-based vulnerable feelings of the yellow light react to another person’s barrier by feeling hurt and misunderstood. To sort through these feelings, we sometimes need to retreat from the situation and create space. The time to do this is right when we realize that a friend now seems like our worst enemy. Being able to hold steady at that point gives us the freedom to try something new.

Lucas’s partner, Julie, had a hard time dealing with the pain of being the object of her husband’s contempt. All her training in mindful communication was directed toward preventing her own communication light from switching to red. When this happened, she knew that she’d be closed off from her own inner resources, the emotional intelligence of her pain.

Julie heard herself think, Why is this happening? I didn’t do anything wrong. A neutral observer could have reassured Julie: Lucas’s decision to cut you off has nothing to do with you. But without that reassurance, Julie’s habit, like most of us, will be to take it personally.

When someone else’s red-light signal goes on, we face a double challenge. First we need to be careful not to get triggered into our own red-light reactions. Then we need to simply stay present, knowing that communication is closed for now. The key is this reminder not to take it personally, which is hard to remember.

[cc_blockquote_right]When someone closes the door and puts up a No Trespassing sign, two-way communication has ended.[/cc_blockquote_right]When someone closes the door and puts up a No Trespassing sign, two-way communication has ended. As long as Lucas is in his red zone, the only reality he is listening to is the story in his mind. Nothing that is said or done after that point has anything to do with Julie. The person on the other side of the door has been turned into an object, scripted into a role in the red-light story.

Because we human beings are so sensitive to the experience of being cut off, it isn’t easy to accept this. But it is true. Our friend in the red zone no longer sees or hears us for who we are. So we have to hold steady with the sadness of disconnection and keep an eye on the yellow-light fear What is wrong with me? This is when the inner solitude of mindful presence can sustain us. Using our meditation practice or the support of green-zone friends, we can stay connected to our sense of basic goodness as we wait patiently for our friend’s communication signal to turn from red to green again. And this may not happen. Julie’s task was to rearrange the boundaries in her life to adjust to the reality that Lucas was no longer within the intimate circle of her life. For her, the “For Sale” sign outside their home was symbolic. Without resorting to hatred or aggression, she needed to envision her former lover moving from her inner space to an outer, distant circle. This visualization enabled her to grieve the end of her marriage and to adjust to the new reality that her lover was now someone who wished her harm.

Julie was mindful that the chain reactions that lead to aggression happen very quickly when communication shuts down. When someone directs negative projections onto us, it’s hard not to take it personally. When the red light goes on in the middle of a conversation, we usually either freeze up or see it like a red cape in front of a bull. For some of us, there is nothing we want more than to push toward it, trying to break through the barrier in our relationship. Having an enemy is almost as passionate an experience as having a lover. We lose sleep thinking about him or her, our heart pounds at the thought of bumping into this person in the hall. The momentum is like a powerful undercurrent in a river. We want the last word—and then more.”