Winter 2023 Blog Update (Part 6 of 6) ~ Media Recommendations List

If you’re interested in followup resources to explore some of the themes I’ve covered in my Winter 2023 Blog Update project, I invite you to review my media recommendations below.

Throughout my freelance writing work, I’ve contented myself to helping other people with little concern about financial compensation for my time and energy. Nowadays, I’ve grown more appreciative of my boundaries. In respect for the tremendous effort I’ve dedicated to this humble blog offering, I kindly request your consideration. Besides investing in your own wellbeing, any purchase you make would help honor the work I’ve done so far and support more work to come. I also welcome comments of any kind. Feel free to reach out to me through your preferred platform: Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.

Emotional appeal aside, dear visitor, thank you very much for your attention—I don’t take that for granted. Until we meet again, please continue your journey into greater heights (and depths) of your being.

Please note that my list includes affiliate links from Amazon. I may earn a small commission if these items are purchased using the links I have provided. 

Media Referenced in my Blog

I have listed the following media in the order that they appeared in my blog.

The Myth of Normal: Trauma, Illness, and Healing in a Toxic Culture 

Book by Gabor Maté

The Path of the Warrior-Mystic: Being a Man in an Age of Chaos

Book by Angel Millar

The Bhagavad Gita (Translated into English prose with an Introduction by Kashinath Trimbak Telang)

Book by Vyasa, translated by Kashinath Trimbak Telang

Tao Te Ching

Book by Lau Tzu, translated by D. C. Lau

On the Decay of the Art of Lying 

Book by Mark Twain

Man’s Search for Meaning

Book by Viktor Frankl

Musashi’s Book of Five Rings: The Definitive Interpretation of Miyamoto Musashi’s Classic Book of Strategy

Book by Miyamoto Mushashi, translated by Stephen F. Kaufmann

Marcus Aurelius – Meditations: Adapted for the Contemporary Reader (Harris Classics) 

Book by Marcus Aurelius, translated by James Harris

The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings Boxed Set: The Hobbit / The Fellowship of the Ring / The Two Towers / The Return of the King

Book set by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Book of Equanimity: Illuminating Classic Zen Koans

Book by Gerry Shishin Wick

Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself

Book by Kristin Neff, Ph.D

The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself

Book by Michael Singer

King James Version Holy Bible

Sacred religious text

Media Not Referenced in my Blog

Because the following media were not referenced in my Winter 2023 Blog Update project, I have provided some context as to how they relate to the preceding text and why they might matter to you.

Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts – Becoming the Person You Want to Be

Book by Marshall Goldsmith with Mark Reiter

Marshall Goldsmith is an executive coach with a passion for helping individuals and organizations create positive behavior changes. Co-authors Goldsmith and Reiter both acknowledge at the outset of Triggers that living in the world with other people inevitably implies the potential for conflicts. It’s essential, therefore, that we learn to manage our individual triggers so we can cultivate healthier personal relationships in addition to achieving greater business success. For people unfamiliar with the mental health term “trigger,” Healthline defines a trigger as: “something that affects your emotional state, often significantly, by causing extreme overwhelm or distress. A trigger affects your ability to remain present in the moment. It may bring up specific thought patterns or influence your behavior.” Because triggers are deeply rooted in patterns of behavior, changing our triggers implies changing our habits. Changing habits, however, is hard. In order to help us, Goldsmith and Reiter offer a system for tracking our progress towards our goals. Since a trigger, in the authors’ estimation, can be either positive or negative, our challenge is to create triggers in our lives that encourage the changes we want while deterring the changes we don’t want. Goldsmith and Reiter also propose a conceptual model about the lifespan of a behavior cycle that underlies our tracking system: trigger-impulse-awareness-choice-behavior. When we are triggered by a personal belief or something in our environment, awareness acts as the buffer between an impulse and a choice; that kind of awareness functions like an act of mindfulness, creating a spaciousness around our reflexive instincts where our informed, responsible agency can best enact itself. 

Force Majeure

Movie by Ruben Östlund

As the sole movie entry in my media list, Force Majeure earns its company for good reason. With the depths of a psychological character study, filmmaker Ruben Östlund’s Force Majeure tells the story of how a single passing conflict between spouses can disrupt an otherwise perfectly happy marriage. The catalyst for the relational disruption occurs when one spouse’s primal instinct betrays them in a misguided moment of self-preservation, casting doubt, thereafter, upon their integrity. At its core, this is a moral tale: The interaction between spouses tests each other’s convictions, leading them to question their assumptions and beliefs about their relationship. Highlighting ambiguity within morality, even where one spouse has valid reason for criticism and concern, the way their reconciliation is pursued turns into an obsession, betraying the very thing that they cherish the most. The title of the movie carries its own depths of meaning. Merriam Webster defines force majeure as: “1) superior or irresistible force; 2) an event or effect that cannot be reasonably anticipated or controlled—compare act of god.” Sometimes acts of human will can occur as unpredictably as forces of nature. We can be bound to that which we intensely pursue or avoid—either way leads to obsession. It’s our reckless force of will that can trigger a landslide within our lives and within the world at large, causing unforeseen consequences. Fortunately, reconciliation remains possible for people who can approach their truth with an open mind and heart, building their lives in good faith upon the raw earth exposed after a passing avalanche is cleared.

Mastering Confrontation: Become an Expert at Effective Communication. Master the Art of Dealing with Conflict

Book by Robert Hunt

The theme of conflict management is at the beating heart of this Winter 2023 Update blog project. Short of people who have gained spiritual mastery of themselves, navigating personal conflicts remains an unavoidable part of most people’s daily lives. Studies show that people spend nearly 3 hours per week engaged in some form of workplace-related conflicts. And that’s not even accounting for conflicts we engage in with families and friends in our free time! Even if the statistics are exaggerated, it’s still startling to consider that we are so poorly equipped by default to advocate for our personal needs. Robert Hunt’s Mastering Confrontation: Become an Expert at Effective Communication. Master the Art of Dealing with Conflict makes a convincing case that we waste precious energy fighting with people with whom we should be communicating in more meaningful—i.e., both more effective and peaceful—ways. The premise behind Mastering Confrontation is that our view of confrontation influences our approach to it. Instead of confrontation being something best avoided, ostensibly because it necessitates subjecting ourselves and other people to criticism that may lead to embarrassment and hurt feelings, we can view confrontation as a catalyst for positive growth. When the value of confrontation is disentangled from our hang ups with it, we can approach confrontations as an opportunity to learn more about others, fuel innovative new ideas, and develop solidarity through collaboration. Of course, not all issues can be resolved fairly, so Hunt also details how to discern when it’s time to quit. But before we call it quits, we can all empower ourselves through developing a greater appreciation for patience and active listening that will make us not only more effective communicators but also more peaceful human beings.

The Art of Everyday Assertiveness: Speak Up. Say No. Set Boundaries. Take Back Control.

Book by Patrick King

Patrick King’s The Art of Everyday Assertiveness: Speak Up. Say No. Set Boundaries. Take Back Control. serves as a fitting counterpart—in spirit—to Robert Hunt’s Mastering Confrontation: Become an Expert at Effective Communication. Master the Art of Dealing with Conflict. To be clear, both books address the issues inherent in navigating interpersonal relationships. Furthermore, both books advocate for healthier modes of communication in our human affairs. But whereas a conflict often implies a differing opinion or belief held by multiple parties regarding a mutually agreed upon issue, the issue of personal boundaries is often more encompassing in its applications, less overt in its manifestations, and doesn’t necessitate the awareness or buy-in of multiple parties. Boundaries, simply put, are something we create by and for ourselves for reasons that are entirely our own. King explores a variety of strategies that people can use to manage healthier boundaries in their lives, including cognitive behavior therapy and exposure therapy. At the most basic level, however, the main tool for implementing boundaries in our lives, after we are clear about the underlying issue, is assertiveness. In a brilliantly simple way, King places assertiveness as the ideal mode of communication along a spectrum ranging from aggression on one end and passiveness and passive aggressiveness on the other end. For people inclined to overcorrection, we are cautioned that being assertive is not incompatible with being accommodating and agreeable. Rather, being assertive is about appreciating that nobody else is entitled to our precious time and energy. It’s never too late to ask for what you really want and gain respect, from yourself and others, in the process. In an effort to make his teachings actionable, King offers a 28-day assertiveness action plan to jumpstart both the chronically overwhelmed people pleasers along with those who just need a little tune-up. If saying no to people is often a challenge for you, like it has long been for me, then The Art of Everyday Assertiveness may be the text that inspires a much-needed life transformation. 

The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom (A Toltec Wisdom Book)

Book by Don Miguel Ruiz

Those who don’t like to read, or don’t have time to do so, will find a sympathetic author with Don Miguel Ruiz. Don Miguel Ruiz has dedicated his life to sharing the wisdom of the ancient Toltecs, an ancient people of southern Mexico who were known for their great knowledge. Avoiding the pitfalls of both New Ageism and academia, Don Miguel Ruiz writes without pith or pretense, trusting that the wisdom he shares is intuitive enough to resonate with readers viscerally, striking simultaneously in the brain, heart, and stomach. The main argument underlining The Four Agreements is that our lives are governed by the agreements that we make. An agreement is an arrangement that we make with ourselves, and for ourselves, about how we live in accordance with the roles we adopt in the world. The four agreements include: 1) Be impeccable with your word; 2) Don’t take anything personally; 3) Don’t make assumptions; and 4) Always do your best. These agreements also imply stories we craft about ourselves and the world. Oftentimes, we don’t reflect upon where our stories come from and what purpose they serve us. Furthermore, our stories lead to self-perpetuating narratives that can limit our growth potential. But we always have the right and responsibility to question the stories we hold to be true. We have a choice to make between choosing a path of suffering or liberation. 

The Perfectionism Workbook: Proven Strategies to End Procrastination, Accept Yourself, and Achieve Your Goals

Book by Taylor Newendorp, MA, LCPC

Perfectionism isn’t a theme I addressed explicitly in this Winter 2023 blog project. Yet it complicates the relationships I have shared with many people in addition to my professional and creative projects—including this blog project with its laborious two-year conception. For me, perfectionism is most likely a habit I picked up from my upbringing, finding myself under the influence of demanding figures in my life. Whether I was chronically struggling with my math homework or improperly attending to my house errands, I seemingly chronically fell well short of other people’s rigid standards. Eventually I grew up and realized that it was my responsibility to question the narrative voices from my past that I had been choosing to believe and continue carrying with me—like luggage with someone else’s name on it. But before I can accept myself as I am now, someone whose self-worth is independent of my egoic strivings, I have learned the necessity of accepting the damage caused by my counterproductive narratives, recognizing the signs of their toxic influence, and then taking steps to change my thinking patterns and behaviors. Although I tend to avoid workbooks, because it’s easier to read theories than it is to reflect upon how certain concepts apply within my life, Newendorp succeeds in creating purposeful exercises that inspire actionable steps for creating changes within one’s life. It helps that Newendorp has a background as a clinical therapist and offers grounding approaches to implementing mindfulness and cognitive behavioral therapy practices. It’s never too late to get off the perfectionist treadmill and find peace that isn’t conditioned upon one’s accomplishments. 

Wholeheartedness: Busyness, Exhaustion, and Healing the Divided Self

Book by Chuck DeGroat

So many people around the world are experiencing burnout these days, and often unnecessarily. Therapist and pastor Chuck DeGroat makes a moving case in Wholeheartedness: Busyness, Exhaustion, and Healing the Divided Self that the drive for busyness so common in contemporary cultures has been misunderstood and misdiagnosed. The kind of busyness DeGroat examines can’t be medicated or alleviated by an occasional vacation. The kind of busyness DeGroat refers to is deeply existential: It is born of a divided self and begets yet more division. Readers who are open to the Judaeo-Christian tradition will find a gentle voice grounded in a Biblical worldview supplemented by a background in psychotherapy and psychology. Implicit within DeGroat’s position is that we all struggle in the aftermath of our disunion with God, misidentifying ourselves with our own vain labors. One person prides themselves in their worldly knowledge; another in their stock portfolio; and yet someone else in their acts of philanthropy. But try as we might, we are fighting with fire—our acts of production won’t redeem us; lasting peace of mind and being can’t be gained through our own devices. Only rooting our identities in wholeheartedness, in alignment with our higher being, or, in DeGroat’s belief system, in alignment with God’s Word and Spirit, will bring us a lasting grounding that can’t be counterfeited. Because good ideas and inspiration aren’t always enough, Wholeheartedness includes chapter exercises to work through for those who like a little homework. Readers who are agnostic or secular will still find much that is compelling in DeGroat’s work. Ultimately, since we all inevitably fall short of ideals, including the ones we set for ourselves, the concept of wholeness is relevant enough to apply to human nature as a whole. 

Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation

Book by Parker J. Palmer

At 115 pages, Parker J. Palmer’s Let Your Life Speak is the slimmest book in this media list, making it the perfect leaflet to be read in a gently bustling park one warm spring day. But Palmer’s lived wisdom shouldn’t be downed in one casual sitting; it speaks all the more clearly and profoundly when it is slowly savored. With a career spanning a doctoral education in sociology, community organizing in Washington, D.C., and long-term residency in a Quaker commune, Parker has lived with curiosity and compassion in response to personal failures, setbacks, and battles with depression. Key to letting our life speak is first separating the difference between a profession and a vocation. While the former is often motivated by a paycheck, to the end of supporting one’s primal survival drives, Parker outlines the latter quite poetically as the alignment of one’s greater being with the greater good of humanity, “True vocation joins self and service.” A vocation is really an expression of one’s life calling. Presbyterian minister Frederick Buechner deepens the definition, suggesting that true vocation belongs “where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep needs.” The titular phrase in the book ,”Let your life speak”, is a traditional Quaker instruction about living in witness to the deep truths that are particular to each individual. For Parker, finding the right calling involves finding companionship—a kind of union which is neither romantic nor religious. In our own way, we are called to rise to the type of service that we can’t help doing for ourselves in addition to others. Although our individual journeys all differ, the drive towards a common end binds us all together.

The Enneagram of Discernment: The Way of Vocation, Wisdom, and Practice

Book by Drew Moser, Ph.D, with Chuck DeGroat (Foreword)

The Enneagram of Personality Types is an ancient conceptual model for assessing the nature of human personality. I find the Enneagram to be more humanizing than the more clinical psychology standard of the Big Five personality test. In contrast to the Big Five’s data-driven approach, the Enneagram envisions a more subtle perspective of human behavior that is equally deep yet more fluid and hopeful. Of course, a human being is far more complicated than any test can fully account for. But it still helps to orient one’s understanding around objective insights. What makes Dr. Drew’s book unique, within an ever-expanding forest of Enneagram literature, is its focus on the implications that personality has for decision making. Sometimes embracing our strengths involves appreciating our weaknesses. Through introducing nine questions designed to illuminate one’s vocation, calling, and passions, The Enneagram of Discernment balances an intriguing mixture of fields ranging beyond psychology into neuroscience, theology, and spirituality, providing practical wisdom that can help us cultivate greater awareness and meaning in our lives. Better yet, when we are grounded in a fulfilling vocation, our increased wellbeing also pay dividends in our personal relationships. The more we gain through self-love, the more we have to offer other people.

Transitions (40th Anniversary Edition): Making Sense of Life’s Changes

Book by William Bridges with Susan Bridges

I am certainly not immune to the allure of prestige. Yet in the era of the Information Age, when reactionary consumerism seems to drive so much of our palette preferences, it’s easy for me to become cynical at the accolades fawned upon cultural classics old and new—especially the best-sellers. Considered one of the all-time top 50 best self-help and personal development books, William Bridges’ Transitions (40th Anniversary Edition): Making Sense of Life’s Changes transcends my cynicism, proving itself to be a timeless treasure with universal appeal. Every culture throughout humanity seems to have its heroes and bards who comment upon change as the essential matter of life. Try as we might, encountering change in one’s life is unavoidable. However, like the theme of conflict, change often suffers from bad optics requiring a deeper appreciation. Changes, as the promotional copy for Transitions reads, can bring both opportunities and turmoil. In Transitions Bridges reframes changes as portals between dynamic stages in our lives that are full of activity: The Ending, and The New Beginning. And in between these two stages lies another transition: The Neutral Zone. We have the right to feel lost, lonely, and confused in The Neutral Zone. That’s normal. But without the dual curse and blessing of this overlooked desert territory, without taking time to wander through the twilight wasteland where coyotes and cicadas thrive, we can’t emerge with a new vision, new goals, new dreams with which to guide us next. Seen from this vantage, transitions, whether personal or professional, serve as memorial celebrations of the valuable, and unavoidable, changing seasons that make up our colorful lives.

As helpful as the above media resources have been for me, and may also be for you, a list can never encapsulate the dynamic needs of a single living person. For a deeper voyage into the realm of transformative life resources, I highly advocate for a holy trinity that has been especially beneficial for me: cats, counseling, and yoga and meditation.

Cats. Love them or hate them, the world is obsessed with the domesticated feline. In a way, the fandom rivalry between The Rolling Stones and The Beatles reminds me of the modern clash between dog and cat lovers. Excusing some studies demonstrating the possible link between IQs and pet preferences, we can obviously be fans of both types of furry companions; our tastes certainly don’t need defending—check out a more humanizing study about the demographic differences between dog and cat owners as expressed in character traits like extroversion and creativity. Pet preferences aside, adopting a cat is like inviting an agent from an alien civilization into your house to shock and seduce you into awe and submission. They come to you, and leave you, solely on their terms and, throughout their stay, remain largely resistant to your influence. Caring for a cat is a meaningful lesson in unconditional love and acceptance inspiring equal parts humor and grace. For those who have minor feline allergies, there’s always air filters and medication.

If you value personal interactions with other human beings that meet you as you are currently, I highly advocate consulting with a professional therapist. Unlike turning to close friends and family who are biased in their relationship with us, a therapist can offer objective feedback and emotional confirmation in a way that is both compassionate and dispassionate. There is no shame in asking for guidance and talking through issues in real time. Quite the opposite. Reaching out for support takes humility and courage, and, when we do so, sends ourselves the message that we are worthy of the time and attention. For general purpose counseling, consider getting started with BetterHelp. BetterHelp offers a range of counselors from a variety of backgrounds along with scholarships for people who have financial hardships. For an intimate experience combining insights from neuroscience through ancient wisdom, I highly recommend life coaching by Jade, the 5D coach. Encouraging wellbeing for all, Jade offers a complimentary coaching session along with an ever-growing catalog of inspirational knowledge videos.

The market is flooded with free meditation apps and Spandex-clad yoga videos. While I believe that any kind of deep breathing and mindful movement of one’s body is a net gain, there are some tools and techniques that are worth learning more formally. The Isha Foundation, founded by spiritual leader and humanitarian Sadhguru, offers a wide range of yoga and meditation workshops. The Inner Engineering course is a good starting place. And The Art of Living Foundation, founded by spiritual leader and humanitarian Gurudev, also offers courses. The SKY Meditation course is their signature entry-level course and is backed by clinical studies confirming its effectiveness in reducing stress, anxiety, and depression. For people who are religious but skeptical of spiritual traditions or practices that are foreign to their own, Gurudev makes a delineation that is especially relevant for orthodox Judao-Christian believers: “Prayer is asking or thanking God for something. Meditation is listening to God.” These tools are not mutually exclusive. While Gurudev’s observation reflects my own practices, people who are more humanistic and prefer to avoid anything with a whiff of spirituality can still benefit from yoga and meditation even if these practices are approached as purely mechanical tools for the mind and body. Take what you wish from the experience.

Lastly, if you are looking for an alternative or supplement to the above resources, consider taking an online character assessment test to receive some insight into who you are as a person. The Big 5 Personality Test is an industry standard within the field of psychology. It’s a good place to start for people who have more data-driven minds or like having an abstract subject quantified in a visual way. Consider taking the Big 5 test here. However, the Enneagram is my personal favorite. It takes a more wholistic view of human nature as an integration of emotional drives, defense mechanisms, and communication styles that conceives of every person as a combination of strengths and weaknesses. Consider taking the Enneagram test here. As American historian and philosopher Will Durrant puts it, “Knowledge is the eye of desire and can become the pilot of the soul.” Everyone benefits when we pilot our soul with deeper (and higher) awareness. Imagine what the world would look like if we looked ourselves in the face and said with real conviction, The sky is the limit!

(The featured image is used by courtesy of Janko Ferlič on Pexels.)

Winter 2023 Blog Update (Part 3 of 6) ~ Lessons Learned: Conflict Management

If we live long enough, it happens to us all: The world, full of cold indifference to our golden-calf agendas, infiltrates our beating heart with its ragged claws—and pulls. With a single gesture, the ego is uprooted, leaving our bare awareness of self throbbing in monolog: “Feel! CONNECT!! Change! GROW!!”

Eventually, we all stumble into conflicts that trigger us, challenging our self-awareness and self-control. It’s inevitable. For the sake of clarification, my use of the term conflict encompasses a spectrum of adversity ranging from simple stress to complex trauma, including any degree of pain, discord, or loss of peace in our lives. Regardless of the context that inspires conflict, the essence of conflict management involves addressing the friction or tension between ourselves and our environment arising from an unmet need, desire, or expectation that we possess. 

There is no end to the ways we can be challenged at work or home, personally or professionally, through words or actions, rightfully or wrongly, intentionally or otherwise. Conflicts are not exclusive to high-stakes scenarios: being mugged in a street; contesting legal custody of one’s kids; struggling with a terminal health condition. There are no conflicts too ordinary to challenge us: slow service at a restaurant; a flat tire on the way to work; an unreciprocated gift we’ve given someone. Ultimately, any event—or non-event—can be experienced as conflict. 

Encounters with our fellow human beings can be uniquely problematic. There are many situational factors to consider when evaluating interpersonal conflicts: people’s motives, communication styles, temperaments, backgrounds, etc. It’s complicated. Although far from comprehensive, I’ve explored a handful of conflict resolution methods below that we more commonly encounter in daily life. Relevant to my recent adventure abroad, the examples used to model each method are inspired by experiences I had with roommates and neighbors while living in Spain. 

As much as the people I encountered in southern Spain excelled at appreciating the immediate carnal pleasures of life, they sometimes fell short of appreciating the potential consequences of their actions. I found this to be true in my engagements with larger bureaucratic systems as well as my engagements with individuals in my daily life.

Pushing into my zone of vulnerability, the examples of conflict encounters that I’ve listed below typify a recurring challenge that I had in Spain while living with people who did not share my same level of conscientiousness. Because certain regions of Spain still observe the siesta tradition—in which people enjoy napping in hot, humid afternoons—they tend to stay up much later. It was common, therefore, for me to struggle with neighbors who were quite restless (read: disruptive) throughout the night. 

After reflecting upon my experiences, I should acknowledge a proverbial truism that applies here: If we can’t change our environment—which is even less likely when living as an outsider in a foreign country—then we must change how we respond to it. This doesn’t mean that we should ignore our environment or dispense with having preferences for how we’d like to shape it; rather that we should be mindful about how we manage our interactions with it.

Within that relational framework, I offer up my life as an illustrative model meant to inform as much as entertain. As trivial as the following examples of my domestic life in Spain may be, hopefully they serve their purpose, demonstrating the underlying conflict resolution principles in question.

  1. DEFEND / ATTACK. In this mode, when we perceive that we are under attack, and a reaction is warranted, we take direct actions to defend ourselves, which is, by definition, another form of attack. The difference between an attack and defense can be ambiguous, often hinging upon the subjective experience of our motive for engagement and method of delivery. Either way, this mode involves rising to a level of formal engagement with someone over an issue that we experience that is compelling us to respond. Considering the cutting nature of the defend-and-attack method, its ethicality and efficacy is highly dependent upon the integrity of the people engaged in the conflict. 

My third apartment was conveniently located within walking distance of the high school where I worked. However, it was inconveniently located between an underground parking garage and a restless upstairs neighbor. Because the apartment floors were marble, the sound of footfall was amplified dramatically at night. I eventually wrote a letter to the neighbors above me, perhaps unreasonably, complaining about the hard-heeled shoes that one of the tenants seemingly used exclusively when inside their apartment. The letter resulted in an awkward confrontation with my two neighbors at our doorstep: a middle-aged man and woman indignantly defended the accusation of their disturbing the neighborly peace. After heated negotiation led by my roommate, who assisted me with my faulty Spanish, the neighbors maintained that nobody in their house owns any formal footwear or stays up late at night. They then marched away proudly, the female neighbor’s hard-heeled shoes clicking with every step. My problem never improved.

  1. IGNORE. In this mode, we pretend like the catalyst for conflict never happened. Ignoring is like the ground force militia of conflict styles. This method benefits from being easy, or at least simple because it requires little energy investment. For a while, it can give us the illusion that the issue doesn’t even exist. It can also be a statement that the issue is your problem, not mine. Ignoring can be an ideal response in some cases requiring self-awareness and self-control to disengage from an encounter that may be more consequential if we confront it. 

My fourth apartment was right in the heart of a lively downtown neighborhood. The centralized location was an exciting change of pace. Everything I wanted was within easy reach: grocery stores, bakeries, a bustling row of restaurants, even a trolly. Although I adapted fairly well to living in a bedroom beside my doctor roommate who worked night shifts, I struggled (again) with my upstairs neighbors. I eventually delivered a noise letter plea to my upstairs neighbors about their late-night routine involving TV binges and group socializing activities. I understood that they had a right to their fun and festivities, but need it be so uproarious and so frequent? I never heard back from them. My problem never improved.

  1. EVADE. Evasions are tricky, elusive modes of conflict resolution. They can involve sleight of hand deceptions that seem pulled out of a magician’s top hat—watch your wallet, guard your back, and stay vigilant. Sometimes we can leave an encounter with someone feeling like we’ve won, or at least feeling like we’ve been heard and our position considered, but later discover that we’ve been misled into turning our heads away from our issue and settling for some slick non-resolution. When our attention is redirected, we can become subjects of someone’s performance. At its best, an evasion can be used as a preventative measure, anticipating a conflict that might arise in a way that motivates a thoughtful response through an action or non-action. Like the conflict resolution mode of ignoring, the legitimacy of the evasion mode is dependent upon context and intention. 

For my fifth living arrangement, desperate for a simpler living arrangement, I found a one-bedroom apartment on the top floor of an apartment complex. As usual, there were surprises. My landlord didn’t inform me that the building had an attic floor above my own with two apartment units on the rooftop. During my first weekend, I discovered that my roof-dwelling neighbors were twenty-year-old boys who, not surprisingly, loved to party. Over the first few weeks, I approached the upstairs neighbors twice with noise complaints. When I spoke with one of the young men about my issue, he invited me, both times, to sit down and join in their festivities. He was always friendly; he was also quick to evade the discussion about his party-loving nights, redirecting me to their food and fun. Although he eventually promised to be more mindful of my quiet time request, ultimately, my problem never improved.

  1. DEFLECT / PROJECT. In this conflict resolution mode, we turn one issue into fuel for another issue. This mode pairing is particularly devoted to re-directing criticism from ourselves to someone else. Although I’m pairing together the methods of deflection and projection, they are subtly different. As Berkley Well-Being Institute explains via the insight of psychologist Sigmund Freud, “Deflection is similar to projection, in that it involves putting a negative focus on somebody other than ourselves. But when a person deflects, they are consciously aware of the negative characteristic in themselves, whereas in projection, this awareness is not present.” To the extent that these defense mechanisms both fail to accept accountability for legitimate criticism, they tend to be underhanded.

For my sixth and final living arrangement, I found an artists’ community on the outskirts of the city. Our backyard bordered a lemon field, and a nearby bike trail ran for miles alongside a meandering creek. All of the roommates generally got along together well; however, one roommate didn’t quite fit in our harmonious community. The misfit roommate was mostly unemployed, isolating herself in her bedroom where she talked for hours on the phone every day, often late at night. More problematically for me, she defied the house rules regarding indoor smoking. When I confronted her, informing her that her second hand smoke was traveling through the ceiling and into my room, she immediately denied the accusations. Then, perceiving herself as a victim of environmental circumstances, she countered with the argument that I’m not a perfect roommate myself. Despite her critiques, her deflections sidestepped my issue and my problem never improved. She was eventually kicked out of the apartment by my landlord due to a variety of reasons besides my own issues.

  1. ACCEPT. By far the rarest method of conflict resolution, acceptance isn’t for the meek or faint-hearted. Acceptance isn’t a matter of merely nodding one’s head in agreement; it can’t be evidenced by verbal approval or lack of resistance. It is demonstrated directly by someone’s changed behavior. Acceptance requires a fundamental humbling of one’s being: the surrendering of one’s ego, with a degree of grace. This method involves equal parts strength and flexibility, adapting oneself to a world that challenges and prompts us to change. Acceptance, as noble as it appears, requires one caveat of caution: sometimes people can accept something too easily, quickly, and submissively without fighting to represent the truth that they believe in. Considering that human nature is more complicated than textbook generalizations can encapsulate, even acceptance requires moderation based upon context.

I had only one confrontation with a neighbor in Spain that ended positively—or, at least, that was received sympathetically. In my fifth living arrangement, in the one-bedroom apartment, my next-door neighbor coughed compulsively in his apartment, on the other side of my bedroom wall, without end. At night, it was easier for me to sleep on my living room sofa. Desperate for relief, I wrote a letter to my neighbor explaining my predicament. A couple of days later, my neighbor surprised me by knocking on my door to introduce himself. He was also an English teacher: a British expat who had been living in Spain for many years. He was sincerely apologetic about the disturbance, explaining that the hacking was due to an autoimmune disorder; he apparently couldn’t afford the proper medicine required to treat his condition. He promised to be more mindful of the coughing. Additionally, he loaned me a floor heater to use for the upcoming cold snap in southern Spain. Although I continued to hear him at night, I could tell that he was doing his best to keep it quieter. And his best was an improvement which I greatly appreciated.

The above list of conflict resolution methods is hardly comprehensive. For those who prefer a little more substance, Healthline offers a list of the top 10 defense mechanisms along with a helpful overview of how they work. As Kentucky Counseling Center puts it, “Defense mechanisms are a normal part of our psychological development. Whether they are used to avoid unwanted thoughts or deal with anxiety, defense mechanisms will always be a part of our everyday life.” Some of the ways we regulate our emotional balance in moments of conflict may involve subtle acts of manipulation of one’s self and other people. Then there are other ways we rarely think of as defensive; humor, for instance, can be a very dynamic defense mechanism.

As trifling as my case examples with my neighbors may seem—trust me, I still cringe when I review them—it’s vital to accept our truths with genuine compassion. In the West, displays of vulnerability, even in cases where displayed in a way that is respectful and respectable, tend to be associated with weakness. While we appreciate the complexity of flawed characters in literature and cinema, we don’t tend to have the same interest or tolerance for character complexity in real life. 

I get it. It can feel risky to share our gems of vulnerability with people. We know so because we’ve been hurt by doing so before. It’s also revealing. Vulnerability requires letting one’s guard down in order to be present, as we are, owning our authenticity, with a world that cannot ensure our safety or security. When we toss our gems to the world, we never know how they’ll be used. Sometimes we find them later on in unlikely places. Sometimes they appear in the mouths of serpents we confront, wielded with the intent to harm us. Who among us hasn’t been caught with a belly full of gems that don’t belong to us? We have all been that serpent before. 

Regardless of the issues we cough up—or choke down—we often associate conflicts as problematic times in our lives. This association seems logical when our experiences with conflicts often involve the triggering of primal emotions such as anger, disgust, fear, or sadness. However, our emotions cannot be simply labeled as either good or bad and then categorically dismissed. As Mark Bracket puts it on Brené Brown’s Unlocking Us podcast, emotions are “signals to approach or avoid” something in the world. As such, every signal has a message to send us.

Anger is a particularly urgent, energy-intensive response commonly evoked when we feel the need to react to a challenging, or possibly threatening, situation. The emotional drive that underlies anger may be embodied with some degree of displeasure or annoyance. Though often misunderstood in strictly hostile terms, every shade of anger points the same way: towards action. 

Hungarian physician Gabor Maté has spent much of his career studying how the brain’s biological programming occurs in a lifelong interaction with the environment. Drawing from the research detailed in his book The Myth of Normal: Trauma, Illness, and Healing in a Toxic Culture, Dr. Maté explains the nature of this interaction on a variety of popular podcasts: The Joe Rogan Experience, The Tim Ferris Show, Impact Theory, and Rich Roll—choose your favored host, or listen to them all; we neglect this subject at our peril. Dr. Maté explains that our immune and nervous systems are entwined with our emotional command system: the integrated network negotiates responses to our environment for the sake of our safety and wellbeing. The process involves an endless balancing of boundaries between our individual selves and the world. In each case, the role of boundaries remains the same: “to let in what is nurturing and healthy and to keep out what is dangerous and toxic.”

Although we have an individual responsibility for our wellbeing, Dr. Maté rebukes our social environments for interfering with the healthy development of our minds and bodies. Unfortunately, life is full of conflicts that not everyone is currently prepared or willing to face. The trouble is that unreconciled wounds fester into trauma. And the traumas we inherit during our upbringing—from our families, communities, and nations—influence our health and wellbeing later in our lives. Unless the underlying traumas are addressed and integrated into our psyches, then they will persist, disconnecting us from our authentic selves. Warning: This is not woo-woo psychobabble that we can afford to dismiss with cynicism. The chronic suppression of our emotions will, eventually, manifest as bodily pain, distress, and disease. To raise the stakes, since traumas are contagious, they can be transmitted to other people. In conclusion, Dr. Mate advocates that we cannot, and should not, separate our emotional life from our physiological life.  

Within humanity’s evolutionary history, our emotions have been programmed into our physiological systems for a purpose. Although our primal emotions sometimes get branded as immoral scapegoats, they have historically assisted us in adapting to unpredictable environments. 

Even in the 21st century, we have good reasons to consult our emotions for guidance. Our emotions, along with our intellect and instincts, are a fundamental part of who we are as human beings; they can either aid or hinder us in our development. Likewise, the conflicts we engage in reveal to us the nature of our psyches—including how we relate to what we hold dear in our life—exposing us to forces of resistance that can help us better understand ourselves and each other. 

As informative as our emotions can be, they should not be followed blindly. We are wise to pause during moments of conflict before giving our emotions free rein; however, sometimes we experience lucidity only after a conflict has ended. Apart from the guidance of various self-reflection methods—such as meditation, prayer, and journaling—it can be helpful to seek additional support by consulting with an objective third party. In the court of law of human nature, we are not inclined to act fairly and effectively as a simultaneous judge and jury, lawyer and witness. 

When we turn to the counsel of other people, we should be honest about what we truly desire. Are we seeking validation of our feelings or objective feedback? Although validations and feedback are not mutually exclusive, they have different natures. It may be difficult, therefore, to find counsel that is equipped to satisfy these two desires in an effective way simultaneously. 

Regardless of our contribution to a conflict, the validation of our emotions nurtures a basic need for human connections. In times of need, it can feel like no small miracle to be simply seen and heard as we are. In contrast, invalidating words and actions dismiss our emotions as inherently wrong or neglect to acknowledge them at all. Unfortunately, chronic invalidations of our emotions may be linked to mental health issues. At its foundation, relating to our emotions in a healthy way requires mindful awareness of how we conduct our interactions with ourselves and other people. 

Besides seeking a compassionate witness for our emotional wellbeing, receiving objective feedback from other people can help us untangle the wider context of a conflict from our individual role in it. Good feedback considers all sides of an issue and prioritizes the situational truth from an impartial position with dispassion. The focus should be on revealing to us what we can’t see or appreciate on our own because it’s obscured by our individual bias. As a consequence, while feedback can expose us to valuable new insights that may be beneficial for our growth, some feedback may be contrary to our own will or understanding, making it difficult, therefore, for us to accept. 

To complicate matters, not all feedback is equally true and beneficial. The type of counsel we seek influences the type of feedback we receive. As John Lencioni cautions in Emotional Intelligence 2.0: Learn to Master and Improve your Social Skills and Emotional Agility, for a Better Life, Success at Work and Happier Relationships, “Choose your third party wisely. The people you invite to help you shouldn’t have a vested interest in the situation.” We often turn to friends and family in times of need, relying on them to comfort us. However, our dearest familiars may be biased by their affection for us, preferring to spare us the potential pain caused from sharing their hard-to-hear truths. 

Additionally, it’s natural for us to seek confirmation from people who share our background, value system, or worldview. By doing so, we can sway the response we receive in accordance with our subconscious bias. Keen to the corruptive power of human motive, Lencioni continues his cautionary appeal, “You should also avoid someone you know will simply agree with you. While their support feels good, it keeps you from seeing the entire picture. Sitting down with a potential devil’s advocate may irk you in the moment, but you’ll fare far better having seen things from a unique perspective.” It’s good to have some variance in the feedback we receive. If the majority of people agree with us, or with each other, then it may be a sign that we’re either trafficking in mathematical proofs or front-loading our inquiry for our self-serving benefit. 

Besides the type of people we seek feedback from, the way we narrate our side of an issue also influences the type of response we receive. In How to Decide: Simple Tools for Making Better Choices, former professional poker player Anne Duke explores the tools and techniques of better decision making. Poker is a game that is all about risk, where decision making carries immediate consequences. Good feedback, Duke concludes, begins with good questions, “You want to be careful about the way you frame the question, because the frame you choose can signal whether you have a positive or negative view about what you’re trying to get feedback on. Try to stay in a neutral frame as much as possible.” 

Regardless of who we’ve sought counsel from and the way we’ve framed the question for consideration, we must still turn inward within ourselves to reflect upon our contributions to the issue in question. Finding a healthy perspective involves balancing responsibility for our role in a conflict (nothing more nor less) with compassion for ourselves and others. 

Human nature is complicated. Sometimes we judge what we hold most dear to us the harshest. One moment we’re turning to our beloved family and friends for comfort. The next moment we’re tearing them apart. If we’re not careful, when our conflicts escalate, it can feel like we’re leading a battle between nations that are defying the U.N.’s protocols for ethical warfare. Our engagements on these domestic battlefields can be especially conniving and ferocious. 

Occasionally we’re lured by dirty tactics to get our way. We’ve all been there before. Sometimes angry outbursts result in childish name-calling. Other times resentments drag up sideline issues from the past. It’s never dignifying or productive. We deceive ourselves if we justify such tactics as acts of “tough love.” The problem is, when we retaliate with psychological nerve gas, we allow our headless emotions and heartless logic to take us hostage. In the process, we compromise our moral integrity. 

If we care to contribute to the positive growth of someone or something, instead of plotting for our egoic benefit, we must first confirm that we love our subject whole-heartedly. Our love, like our truth, need not be unsoiled or uncomplicated to reach for higher peaks (or deeper valleys) of our inner being. Our love does benefit, however, from being hospitable. When navigating conflicts, I’ve coined a term to describe a conceptual model for relating to each other in a way that merges clarity with solidarity: rounding up

In rounding up, we respond to an issue by building bridges to other lives that differ from our own, spanning the gap between individual selves. Rounding up takes a bird’s-eye view of a subject that cultivates harmony through highlighting our shared connections. As a type of mindfulness practice, this large-scale perspective requires discipline to implement without blind idealism; if taken to an extreme, it can gloss over valuable differences in our identities that contribute to our collective diversity. However, at its heart, bridge building is the basis of redemptive human abilities such as empathy, compassion, and altruism. 

Neel Burton clarifies the emotional basis of this noble triad in Heaven and Hell: The Psychology of the Emotions, “Compassion, or ‘suffering alongside’ someone, is more engaged than simple empathy, and is associated with an active desire to alleviate the suffering of its object. With empathy, I share your emotions, with compassion I not only share your emotions but also elevate them into a universal and transcending experience. Compassion, which builds upon empathy, is one of the main motivations of altruism.”

In contrast, rounding down burrows away from our universal grounding and into the diverging particularities of our individual selves. Rounding down takes a worm’s-eye view of an issue that highlights differences of our identity including demographic criteria such as education, nationality, religion, gender, etc. This inward-scoping perspective is especially helpful in alarming us to righteous indignation about glaring inequalities in the use and abuse of collective resources and opportunities. However, if taken to an extreme, rounding down can accentuate the divide between ourselves in a way that generates alienation and ill-will.

To be clear, both our similarities and differences are worthy of consideration, providing equal sources of concern and celebration. Balancing bird’s-eye and worm’s-eye views is an ambiguous judgment call. The human psyche relies upon both perspectives in order to stay well-grounded and well-rounded. Neither view is right or wrong; the connection between them is deeply complex, perhaps even contradictory. The challenge is discerning where to place our weight when we are traversing uneven grounds. 

With that said, during times when the world is experiencing intense polarization, surges in cultural extremism signify that we may be off balance collectively. As malaise and outrage have become chronic symptoms of global disharmony, it’s tempting to ignore or fester in our differences and wounds. Instead of reacting compulsively, invalidating people with whom we don’t agree, or seeking comfort in siloed groups, we can adopt a less visible—or, at least, less visibly appealing—sensibility: the middle path. The middle path skirts prevailing moral extremes, inviting us to confront an issue with clear-eyed candor while still celebrating faith in open-hearted renewal.

We are all magnetized by a past and future on a path that is unique to each one of us. So, in moments when we find ourselves disconnected from other people, or from ourselves, it can be helpful to reflect upon what we all still have in common: Our shared humanity. 

Obviously, life isn’t always easy and conflicts are never one-sided. We may have valid reasons for feeling hurt or wronged within our circumstances. Sometimes the time and energy we’ve invested into our relationships can create the illusion that we’re entitled to compensation. We’re not entitled. We never are. That doesn’t mean that we should settle for anything less than basic respect in our relations with the world. We should not condone acts of deceit, betrayal, and aggression.

When considering the reciprocity of our relationships, our hearts attune to frequency and intention. It’s unnatural to keep count with a spreadsheet. Outside of legal courts of law, expecting a return in a particular way or timeframe will lead only to frustration and disappointment. 

Boundaries are foundations for our health and wellbeing. But healthy boundaries require healthy narratives. And our narratives can be easily misled by a web of self-defense mechanisms known as cognitive biases. These biases are systematic errors in thinking that occur when we are processing information in the world. These errors can be influenced by a variety of factors: limits on the mind’s attention, individual motivations, mental shortcuts (called “heuristics”), social pressure, and emotions. SimplyPscyhology explains the role of these ingrained error systems, “Cognitive biases have direct implications on our safety, our interactions with others, and the way we make judgments and decisions in our daily lives.” (Consulting a visual list of our biases can help us appreciate just how impressionable, if not error-prone, our default nature can be.) While we may be alert to some of our biases, many more linger beyond our awareness.

Cognitive biases can interfere in harmful ways with our relationships, undermining our agency. Biases become even more subversive when we rationalize them, building a narrative framework around self-limiting beliefs. For example, when we interpret our role in interpersonal conflicts, our ego tends to reinforce default narratives that label ourselves as victims or heroes, and other people as saviors or villains. Discerning our true role involves discerning our true intention, a slippery task requiring vigilant attention. Even after we uncover our errors, we’ll need humility to accept the truth as we encounter it.

As usual, when it comes to implementing our life principles, it’s often easier to indulge in extreme beliefs and behaviors than to maintain balance in the middle. To reason through an answer abstractly on the sidelines of life can be done at our comfort and convenience; it’s much harder to disengage from reigning passions or mindsets when we’re tangled in their grip.

Engaging with life deeply will inevitably expose us to challenges, especially in the realm of human relationships. Fortunately, many of the challenges we encounter can be effectively addressed by managing our individual expectations and boundaries. Executive and organizational coach Anne-Marie Marron defines the terms of boundary management and delineates between internal and external boundaries. Elizabeth Earnshaw, licensed marriage and family therapist, examines examples of boundary needs and offers guidelines for accessing our inner voice to create the changes we want. And Tom Karl, founder and CEO of the evidence-based self-help site R1 Learning—an organization inspired by personal Tom’s background with addiction—addresses our underlying belief about our self-worth and the role of boundaries in our relationships. Regardless of the authors’ differing backgrounds, the varied resource agree in union that boundaries begin with self-awareness and are the rightful expression of self-care.

But boundaries aren’t one-off, one-size-fits-all. They need intelligent application and on-going upkeep. At its most basic level, a boundary represents an either-or dichotomy: an entrance or an exit: embrace or release.

While it’s possible for us to be overly permissive with our boundaries, saying yes so often that we fall into a sacrificial well of martyrdom, we can also be overly rigid with our boundaries, saying no so often that we erect a calloused wall of disenthrallment. Idling into either extreme can be equally toxic. Unlike the realm of mathematics, where equations can be resolved with certainty, cultivating balance in one’s life is an ever evolving process—it’s not a condition that we can attain conclusively. 

Indian spiritual leader Sadhguru reminds us that moving on from life’s challenges is not about forgetting the bad things that happen to us in order to appease moral principle. With that said, we must discern the differences between living in our memory versus living in the present experience. Why do we choose to suffer what no longer exists? After we have been hurt, we are confronted by a decision between carrying on wise or wounded. Is it not wiser to use our intellect for us rather than against us? 

In self-help circles, there’s a buzz phrase about merely “letting go” of the parts of our life that are no longer serving us. In light of such platitudes, Sadhguru cautions against letting go of our intelligence for the illusion of enlightenment. To surrender the very instrument that empowers us would be not only foolish but self-destructive. If we are seeking solutions rather than solace, then whatever issue we are addressing must be managed from within ourselves with conscious awareness.

At the end of the day, as indifferent—and sometimes even hostile—as the world may appear, the responses we receive are rarely personal. We are wise to appreciate the programming behind our ignorance and pain. After we have cleared space in our minds and hearts to bring our presence to the present, then we can press on with awareness and grace. If discernment is the compass, integrity is the map. Each step of our journey falls always on our side.

(The featured image is used by courtesy of Tetyana Kovyrina on Pexels.)