The Discomfort of Being “In-Between”
Last year I set a New Year’s resolution to try something new each month. My first experience was to climb a rock wall. A close, childhood friend, Jude, agreed to share the adventure. Two things surprised me: the amount of trust I had to have in my climbing partner (a.k.a. Belay) and my physical response to the fear of falling from the wall. I was literally tethered to my friend Jude, who had control over the amount of rope I was given in order to climb and was my only support when I was ready to return to earth. On my first climb, not wanting to go forward or backward while clinging to the wall, my palms sweat and my legs became like jelly. My body was literally failing me. “Take” I commanded Jude as I had been instructed, requesting that all slack be removed from the rope awaiting her instruction to release my grip and “fall away.”
Having let go of the wall I was suspended mid-air hanging/sitting in my harness and I felt strangely relieved. It was trying to hold on that had gotten me. It was the knowing I couldn’t go back the way I had come, but I couldn’t go forward either--didn’t have the strength, was so afraid that my body wouldn’t let me move forward in that moment. “Falling away” meant release. A break, a hope that soon I would be on solid ground.
Conflict throws us all into this in-between place of unknowing. If a person initiates the conflict, they generally have a sense of unhappiness with where they are and may even have a vision for where they want to go, but they are left to trust the other person and how they might respond or not respond. Worse is the person who finds themselves in the midst of conflict they didn’t see coming. They are struggling to understand what is happening and are often clinging to where they were and the sense of reality they had been living in before this conflict erupted.
In the midst of conflict, it is common for both people to have a host of feelings and physical reactions. A sense of weakness, confusion, anger, or fear are all common. Bodies flush, sweat, shake, teeth clench, voices rise, tears flow.
As professionals who assist people in conflict, we can offer them help through this difficult time. Jude encouraged me, let me know she was there to support me, and offered me a hand when I hit the ground. Letting people know we understand how uncomfortable it is to be in the in-between place--a place of knowing life is changing, but not knowing exactly what it will look like--is a form of verbal empathy. By reflecting their words and the emotions back to them, we are offering validation and support in working through conflict. We can hand a sense of control back to the parties by encouraging them to take good care of themselves in this challenging time, by reminding them they can decide when to meet, when to take a break, or when to end for the day.
I climbed again that day, but never experienced the same intensity of feeling. I knew what to expect, I knew I could stop where I felt comfortable, and I had regained a sense of control. It takes courage for people to work through conflict and it is important to offer the support and encouragement they need to work through the fear and anxiety they often face as they regain a sense of personal control.