What's Up With That? ~ Katy Byrne

Katy Byrne Katy Byrne, MFT is a Psychotherapist in Sonoma, editor and animal lover. Her private practice specializes in: life transitions, couples communication, eating issues, moving forward, conflict resolution and the kitchen sink.


Why can’t we all just get along?

Posted on June 21, 2024 by Katy Byrne

What’s the big talk of the town, besides fires, vacations, ailments, sex, death and housing? Dictatorships and political polarization terrifying us.

Everybody’s asking, how did we get here? I ask myself too, how can we shift from conflict to reparative conversations – personally and politically? If we can’t talk to each other, work things out and resolve differences, where does that leave us? Fractured, fighting and at war everywhere, even in our homes and communities. What to do about it before we blow ourselves up?

Forty years of being a psychotherapist shows me repair of conflict is completely possible. The contrast between what I see in my office and what I watch in the news makes me tear my hair out. So, how do you heal a cut? By airing it. The rub is, we need scaffolding, tools for argument that make difficult dialogues safe. That’s the cure. 

One of my clients calls them “rules for war.” When clients repair relationships, it’s because they get to the heart of conflict. They really, really listen to each other, get away from blame and identify their fears, hurt and needs. They experience dialogue with dignity, not debate. 

As long as I carefully guard the space so that it remains respectful, it’s half the battle. It’s not always easy. It feels like lifting weights at the gym when you’re out of shape. Learning to have a voice while staying respectful is a new way of life. You feel better, stronger once you’re in the new habit of communicating skillfully and managing your flight and fight instincts. But, it’s not as easy as it sounds. 

Still, if it happens in my office, why not elsewhere? Could countries, politicians, far right and left thinkers or enraged people stop hating and harming each other and, instead, experience the power of dialogue? When Wendell Berry, the famous environmental activist, was interviewed in the New Yorker by Amanda Petrusish, she said, “The idea of conversation seems important to you.” He responded, “It’s either that or kill each other.” 

Locked fences, high gated walls, rage, killing, combat of all kinds, borders and boundaries aren’t bringing cooperation either. In “A New Republic of the Heart,” Terry Patten wrote, “we’re in a race between consciousness and catastrophe.” 

Good communications occur when we get to the roots of problems. Weed killer isn’t working. Thistle and ivy poke back every spring, even through the cement. History repeats itself. Our amygdala’s fight or flight instinct has to shift. What to do about it before we blow ourselves up? 

Dutch psychiatrist Bessel Van Der Kolk says, “The critical issue is reciprocity: being truly heard and seen by the people around us, feeling that we are held in someone else’s mind and heart.” A good working example of this is the citizen movement Braver Angels which brings together “red and blue Americans” to find common humanity and listen respectfully to each other. The mission is building a “house united, igniting civil renewal.” Films on the movement will be screened June 25 at Bodega Bay Church, and on July 11 at Heartwood Church in Rohnert Park. Group discussions will follow the films. More information is at BraverAngels.org)  

With a safe infrastructure, people can unwind the ball of yarn that has gotten tangled, inside or between themselves, and discover cooperation. 

Katy Byrne, MA, LMFT, is a Psychotherapist and writer in Sonoma. Conversationswithkaty.com

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