A friend was sitting at her desk, her beloved lab at her feet. Suddenly, the dog yelped and looked up at her. This happened several more times, the dog’s gaze becoming increasingly more accusatory. Finally, he got up and left the room.
Later, she learned the dog had a pinched nerve in his neck. She wondered aloud to the vet about the dog repeatedly looking up at her each time he felt a jolt of pain. Was he asking for help? No, thought the vet, he was looking for the source of the pain and you were the only thing close enough to be hurting him. He didn’t understand the pain was from within.
We do this in conflict, too: We experience the pain of conflict and associate the other person with the discomfort we’re experiencing. They did, after all, say or do something right at the moment we felt the jolt. They were the only thing close enough to be hurting us. There’s even a term for this experience: The misattribution of arousal.
But we forget there’s someone even closer: Ourselves.
Our conflict pain, discomfort, and anger are powerful hints. Our conflict triggers tell us something. What a gift to take the time to explore the message waiting to be uncovered.