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Asar Maat Assignment – Describe a personal situation when the Gottman Principles were used:
Dua for the opportunity to share reflection.
During the summer of 2019 I made the decision to stay with my aging parents in Buffalo, NY for the months of July and August to assist with a variety of projects they hoped to accomplish. My two siblings, nieces, nephew, a few aunts an numerous cousins all still live in Buffalo. For the past 20 years, I have lived in New York, but visit regularly and for the past three years, I have spent a good part of the summer in Buffalo.
While there this summer, a conflict occurred where one of my adult nieces (28 years old) got into an argument with her father over the phone and she hung up on him (stonewalling). The disrespectful behavior is somewhat characteristic of how she interacts with her parents at times, yet this was a particularly egregious action, certainly an-Maat. Unfortunately, her an-Maatian display comes in the context of a history of years of family communication consistent with the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Unfortunately, criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling are behaviors that nieces parents use regularly with each other in their marriage and of course their children share some of the behaviors. In addition, my nuclear and extended family has a long history of using criticism and defensiveness in our communication interactions.
Recognizing the apocalyptic behaviors occurring it came to my mind that it may be useful to address the underlying pattern of behaviors that lead to the conflict between my niece and her father with the entire family as opposed to trying to mediate the symptomatic conflict that was presented between the two of them. To address this a request was made to my parents, sister and one aunt to watch one of the Gottman videos explaining the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. We watched the video together and then a request was made for us each to reflect upon and acknowledge in what ways we engage in each of the Four Apocalyptic behaviors that contribute to the current conflict. This self-reflective moment was not something that we engage in collectively with any semblance of regularity in my family. The discussion was prefaced with a statement that this self-examination was not an exercise in blaming or shame anyone, but an opportunity for us to take responsibility to cleanse and purity the impressions and emotional residue present in our lives that obstructs harmony in our relationships. With that caveat, the tone of the discussion was set as one of openness and non-judgment. The family was asked to attempt to use “I” statements as we each reflected on the Apocalyptic behaviors we have.
The communication was generally an open exchange, yet my father and sister struggled with not being defensive about the reflection of their behaviors. It was extremely difficult for my sister to acknowledge responsibility for her behaviors towards her daughter, which amounted to a lack of forgiveness for inappropriate behaviors in the past. She repeatedly fell back on the apocalyptic behaviors. In those moments my response was to continually use my own “I” statements, speak respectfully to her, repeatedly acknowledge my own transgressions of the past and take silent deep breaths to self-sooth during the interaction. We also opened the door to make this an on-going discussion if it became too much as we were going on to curtail the potential for stonewalling. A shared sentiment that came out of the discussion was recognization that we each need to practice compassion for ourselves and each other as well as forgiveness. We were also able to talk in terms of the Maatian concept of trying to be righteous and not right in relating to each other. This idea was very well received and we jointly agreed to use it as a foundation for moving forward in our communications with each other.
The conversation was just a beginning attempt to disrupt or counter the apocalyptic behavioral patterns that have sustained themselves in the family for decades. We have been able to identify the behaviors from time to time over the weeks that followed the group discussion.
Asar Maat E.