How to create a positive feedback loop is what I teach my clients in couples therapy or marriage counseling sessions at our Key Largo and Boca Raton offices. I didn’t expect I would get a reminder about the importance of using a positive feedback loop! But read my story here: Last week, I took a much needed holiday. I completely disconnected from life at home and work for a week. It was a fabulous opportunity to recharge, practice radical self care, connect with self and family. But, this isn’t a story about self care. Its a story about relationships.
Why Anger Has No Place in a Positive Feedback Loop
We traveled on the Disney Fantasy (which was perfect, shout out to my new friends ;-)). They have on-board laundry facilities on each deck. By late in the week, our makeshift laundry hamper had its own odor – so we decided to familiarize ourselves with cruise style clothes washing. We trekked the ship locating an available washer. Except, the guest that had previously used the machine hadn’t swapped the load to the dryer.
A Woman of Action
Well, you know me. I’m a woman of action. I promptly relocated their clean clothes to the dryer – feeling quite helpful I might add. As I am decoding the hieroglyphics to operate the machine, the other guest walks in. This person was visibly disturbed that I had moved their clothing.
Again, being a woman of action, I jumped in for a conversation.
Me: “Hi there, you are distressed?”
Them: An angry “Yes!”
Me: “Apologies, I meant no harm.”
Them: Mean face
Me: “Is there something I can do to make this right with you?”
Them: More mean mugging and “NO! You could have not touched my pants!”
Me: “I understand, but now that it’s done, I would really like to resolve this.”
Them: Waves me off with mutterings, huffy breaths, and more distorted faces.
I am a Fixer, Caretaker, and Peacemaker
I was rattled.
Feeling completely unable to connect with this human, I left the launderette like WTF.
I noticed a radical internal shift that was not pleasant. I mean, obvi I’m a fixer, caretaker, peacemaker so this felt like a failure. It was more than that though. I was pissed. How dare this person not accept my apology. Then the lightning bolt –
The Feedback Loop of Anger is Starting …
I was in a feedback loop of anger. Meaning, I was triggered and using their anger to fuel my anger.
A similar thing happens with our internally initiated thoughts and feelings. Think an upsetting thought, have an upsetting feeling. Without interrupting negative thoughts, we perpetuate painful feelings.
I realized I had to break my loop. Easy to do while on vacay and with no likely future encounters. Harder to do under real-life circumstances and relationships.
Positive Feedback Loop: The Softened Startup
In couples counseling, expert Dr. John Gottman calls for the “softened startup.”
It’s a soft or playful way to break the feedback loop within a couple who is fighting.
A softened startup can be used in any relationship and could be almost anything like a kind word, a playful or silly face, or flashing them; lol.
The better you know your partner, friend or family member, the easier it is to select the perfect softened startup in an argument.
But what about when the person isn’t willing to accept or receive a softened startup?
What if your attempts fall entirely and hopelessly flat time and time again?
3 Recommendations for Creating a Positive Feedback Loop
1. Don’t take it personally.
Yup, I touched the pants.
I broke some boundary or violated a code of laundry and undergarments. And they had every right to be offended. There are some entirely legitimate reasons this person responded in this way. Noted.
And, if they are unwilling to move forward in any way other than anger, it’s entirely out of my control.
Humans are diverse in their beliefs, principals, and procedures.
Not accepting a genuine apology is a rejection of humanity and it’s natural differences.
Takeaway: A closed heart and mind are not for you or me to judge. Accepting others as they are is the most powerful thing we can do to promote peace, break a negative feedback loop and repair a damaged relationship.
Acceptance leads to forgiveness.
In this case of the laundry debacle, I had to cut myself a break for pissing this person off. And then I had to let go and forgive their unwillingness to receive my attempt at repair.
We cannot base forgiveness on changing the past.
Mercy has to center around letting go and accepting life in the now moment.
For instance: the offended launderer could recognize there was no changing the pants situation and suggest that in the future I act with more consideration. Thus, potentially leaving the world a more thoughtful place.
Takeaway: Remember, acceptance isn’t condoning or agreeing with a behavior; it’s recognizing that time travel has not yet been invented. Additionally, a relationship where un-forgiveness is a chronic occurrence, there may need to be further examination of the relationship.
3. Know When to Say When.
There are times when the next best thing to do is walk away.
An inability or unwillingness to repair a relationship will do lasting damage to everyone involved.
Consequences can include
- anxiety and
- physical illness.
But, not everyone gets a choice to walk away.
There are those that are legitimately stuck – to those I send love and endurance.
Remember, nothing lasts forever. And, I believe in the potential of healing, even late in the game.
Just remember, all healing is personal healing.
It is fruitless to expect someone else’s healing to fix your circumstances.
So, goals: do your best to be a considerate and loving human. When you screw it up, do your best to apologize and repair the relationship. Some of you may relate to the offended party. That’s ok! You may want to notice if you struggle to receive apologies and explore why that’s happening.
Alternately, some of you may relate to my experience. In that case, practice interrupting an anger loop with acceptance and forgiveness.
“Holding a grudge doesn’t make you strong; it makes you bitter. Forgiving doesn’t make you weak; it sets you free.” ~Dawn Wiggins