One of my favorite books is called After the Fight by Daniel Wile. Even if you never read the book, the title says it all. There will be fights and hopefully, there will be an after. One of the most painful things for me, and for most of the people I work with, is an unfair fight or an argument where we don¹t feel heard at some fundamental place inside ourselves. Somehow, this miss feels as painful as the subject of the fight itself. And then, of course, there are all the unfair things we said, or ways that we fought back only to cause more suffering.
I do not believe anymore that fights can be totally avoided. I have tried that route and discovered that the material I have been suppressing almost always comes back in some covert way, or in a much worse fight. Nor have I been perfect in any of my very civilized approaches to fighting. You know – the ones where of course I did it right and the other person was a jerk, the ones where I used perfect non-violent communication, or the positive-negative-positive sandwich approach. I do know that fights can leave me feeling battered and unjustly accused and fighting shame and rage.
So what is so great about After the Fight? It presupposes ongoingness. It assumes that we all fight and that the art form is less in the fight than in the willingness to repair. For me, repair begins with managing my own nervous system, highly sensitive to criticism and what feels in my body like cruelty. I have years of inner work to draw on here, years of trying to understand why certain triggers create more hurt in me than others. This inner work is my first line of healing. I am in defense after a fight. The character structures we learn at Lionheart are helpful clues as to where I go in the time during and after the fight, what my transference is onto the current moment, and when it is better to shut up than keep going.
I don¹t have a perfect map but I know, for me, I often need to stay away for awhile, retreat to silence, try to get my anxiety – a very early practically hardwired part of self – to calm down. Then I have choices. I can revisit the territory with the Other, or I can just keep going and wait for the next time. Neither choice seems particularly better anymore. Earlier in my life, I would ALWAYS choose the revisit the territory. I believed that good communication could heal all differences. I don¹t any more. Some fights are better walked away from. Some people¹s style of fighting will almost never help me heal or move to resolution. Some friends are easier to repair with than others. So I tend to practice with them. Usually the closer the relationship, the weirder the fights and the more treacherous the territory of repair. But knowing that everyone fights and that there isn¹t a perfect answer or perfectly elegant way to avoid conflicts…this helps me after the fight.