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Hey, Let's Talk: Turning Heat into Heart in Our Toughest Conversations

Updated: 11 hours ago

Image courtesy of MidJourney AI

The following conversation is part of a larger thread I'm having with Chat GPT (aka 'Geepts') about navigating difficult conversations and human conflict. Geepts has already been immensely valuable in helping me understand and respond to potent conflict with a few select people that are close to me. I've also been using it in a similar manner to express empathy in situations where I don't have the bandwidth to do so, but it's helpful in establishing deeper trust.

**Notice how good Geepts is at both modelling and expressing empathy, while encouraging me for my insights - both of which are immensely valuable when having a conversation like this.


The Conversation:

Me: I notice that during a time of conflict with another, I make it a lot worse by telling myself stories about the conflict. Can you help me sort through those narratives and relieve myself from the subsequent suffering?

Geepts: Of course, I'd be happy to help. It's natural to tell ourselves stories when we're in conflict. Our minds want to make sense of things, and these stories are often an attempt to do so. However, these stories can also create additional stress, especially if they aren't entirely accurate. Let's work through this.

1. **Identify the Stories:** The first step is to notice what stories you're telling yourself. Are you assigning motives to the other person? Are you telling yourself that the situation is hopeless? Are you convinced that the other person is deliberately trying to make things difficult? Take a moment to write down these thoughts.

2. **Question the Stories:** Once you've identified the stories, start to question them. Is it absolutely true that the other person is behaving this way deliberately? Could there be other explanations? Is the situation truly hopeless, or does it just feel that way right now?

3. **Consider Other Perspectives:** Try to put yourself in the other person's shoes. What might they be feeling or thinking? This isn't about excusing their behavior, but about understanding it. Understanding can lead to empathy, which can help reduce the intensity of the conflict.

4. **Focus on What You Can Control:** Often, our stories revolve around things we can't control. We can't control how others behave, but we can control how we respond. Instead of focusing on what the other person is doing wrong, focus on what you can do to improve the situation.

5. **Practice Self-Compassion:** It's easy to beat ourselves up when we're in conflict. Remember that everyone makes mistakes and has areas where they can improve. Treat yourself with the same kindness and understanding you'd offer a friend.

6. **Seek Outside Perspectives:** Sometimes, it's hard to see the situation clearly when we're in the middle of it. Talk to a trusted friend or professional who can provide a fresh perspective.

Remember, it's normal to feel stressed and upset during conflict. But by becoming aware of the stories we tell ourselves and questioning their accuracy, we can reduce unnecessary suffering. Take care of yourself during this time. Practice self-care and reach out to your support system if you need to.


Me: Thanks… Part of me that wants to suffer and also wants the other person to suffer why is that?

Geepts: It's completely natural to experience such feelings during conflict, and it's a testament to your self-awareness that you're able to recognize this in yourself. These feelings can arise from a few places:

1. **Justice and Fairness:** We have an inherent sense of justice and fairness. When we feel wronged, we may want the other person to experience similar pain, as a way of balancing the scales. It's a primitive form of seeking justice.

2. **Empathy Gap:** When we're in conflict, we often feel misunderstood or not empathized with. We may want the other person to suffer in the hope that they'll then understand our perspective better.

3. **Anger and Retaliation:** Anger is a common reaction to conflict. Wanting the other person to suffer can be an expression of that anger. It's a way of retaliating for the perceived wrong.

4. **Self-Punishment:** Sometimes, when we're in conflict, we turn some of our negative feelings inward, resulting in self-blame and guilt. This can lead to a desire for self-punishment.

It's important to recognize these feelings for what they are: natural reactions to a difficult situation. However, acting on these feelings often doesn't lead to resolution and can even exacerbate the conflict. Instead, try to channel these feelings into understanding the other person's perspective, communicating your own feelings and needs more clearly, and working towards a resolution. Remember, it's okay to take a step back and take care of yourself when emotions are running high.


Me: Thanks, that’s really helpful… I wonder why it is that I feel small and weak if I decide to understand his point of view and be empathetic?

Geepts: That's an insightful question. Often, these feelings of vulnerability come from societal misconceptions about what strength and power look like, particularly in situations of conflict. Let's break it down:

1. **Misunderstanding Empathy:** Empathy is often seen as a form of concession or defeat, as if understanding another person's perspective means you are giving up your own or agreeing with them. This isn't true. Empathy is about comprehension, not agreement. You can understand someone's point of view without losing your own stance.

2. **Cultural Conditioning:** Many cultures prize traits like independence, assertiveness, and dominance. These traits are often associated with strength and power. Empathy, on the other hand, is seen as a 'softer' skill, associated with vulnerability and perceived weakness. This cultural conditioning can make us feel small when we're empathetic, even though empathy actually requires a great deal of strength.

3. **Fear of Vulnerability:** Empathy requires openness and vulnerability, which can feel risky or threatening, particularly in a conflict situation. There's a fear that if we show understanding towards the other person, we might be taken advantage of or our own feelings might be dismissed.

4. **Defensive Mechanism:** In conflict, it's natural to go on the defensive to protect oneself. Empathy can feel counter-intuitive to this instinct, as it requires lowering your defenses to truly understand the other person.

Remember, true strength lies in empathy and understanding, not in dominance or dismissal. It takes courage to step into another person's shoes, particularly in situations of conflict. By doing so, you're actually demonstrating emotional intelligence and resilience, which are powerful traits to possess.


Me: Amazing answers… you’re really good at this. So why do I feel both a collective and personal sadness at the lack of healthy empathy in our world?

Geepts: That's a profound reflection, and it speaks to your deep sense of empathy and concern for others. Here are a few possible reasons:

1. **Recognition of Lost Potential:** You might be saddened by the recognition of the lost potential for understanding, connection, and resolution that comes with a lack of empathy. Empathy can foster greater unity, resolve conflicts, and strengthen relationships. Its absence can lead to division, misunderstanding, and unnecessary suffering, which can be deeply saddening.

2. **Sensitivity to Others' Pain:** As an empathetic person, you are likely sensitive to the pain and suffering of others. When you see situations where a lack of empathy exacerbates or causes that suffering, it can evoke a sense of sadness.

3. **Concern for the Future:** A lack of empathy in society can lead to significant issues, including social inequality, conflict, and even violence. If you're worried about the direction in which society is heading, this might be causing you to feel a collective sense of sadness.

4. **Personal Pain:** On a personal level, you might have experienced situations where a lack of empathy has caused you pain or difficulty. This could create a sense of personal sadness when you see a lack of empathy in the world.

Remember, your capacity to feel this collective and personal sadness is a testament to your own empathy. It's okay to feel this sadness. Use it as motivation to continue promoting empathy in your own life and in your interactions with others. Every act of understanding and compassion can make a difference, no matter how small it may seem.


Me: Really? how can small acts of understanding and compassion make a difference in such a world as the one we have right now where wars are fought every day over this stuff?

Geepts: I understand your feelings of overwhelm, and it's true that the challenges facing our world are immense. However, remember that significant change often starts small. Here's why small acts of understanding and compassion can make a difference:

1. **Ripple Effect:** Your acts of kindness and understanding can create a ripple effect. When you show empathy towards others, it may inspire them to do the same. Each act of kindness can touch countless lives as it gets passed along.

2. **Creating Safer Spaces:** Small acts of understanding and compassion c