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Abigail B. Calkin

A Blog of Flashbacks

What is the Aftermath of War?—Some Solutions

August 2020

Last month I posited the question, What is the aftermath of war? This month I offer a few possible solutions based on my experiences, observations, and what I’ve learned  from being a military wife, a school psychologist, and from many encounters with people with personal difficulties.  

1. Who or what makes someone angry? I have learned that when a person is angry, the anger is most often self-directed. However, it’s very hard to yell at yourself. I tried it one time when I was angry. I went to the bathroom mirror. First of all, I noticed my face looked awful. No one by any stretch of imagination would have called me attractive. Then I started yelling at myself in the mirror and immediately burst out laughing, not because I found the situation at all amusing, but because I looked and sounded ridiculous.

2. Listen to the person. Don’t talk. Listen! When you only listen, you begin to hear what the person is saying and you also begin to hear your own feelings as well as theirs. I’ve learned not to interrupt and say “but….” Our parents always told us not to interrupt, that someone else is talking. They were right. We need to keep our lips together and listen!

3. Stay calm. No matter what the other person says, I try to stay calm and not say a word. I listen to their words and sentences. I listen to the feelings of anger or sorrow, even if I think they’re wrong. I’ll tell you a secret though. Feelings can’t be right or wrong. They just are.

4. “It’s not my problem.” Remember that short sentence. I learned it from one of my nephews. As he biked across the country from Vermont to California, he stopped for three or four days that turned into thirteen months. Sometimes, I came home from work stressed. He was often the first person I saw and as I spouted off about something, he always said “It’s not my problem.” I have no recollection of the various problem situations, but his statement was so very accurate.

5. Stay strong within your self.  This one has several parts to it.

1. Make a list of your positive qualities. Write down everything anyone ever said to you that was a positive, a compliment, that made you feel good. Your grandmother told you when you were five-years-old that you were pretty/handsome/cute/smart/lively. A teacher told you that you wrote a good paper. Someone said you played well with others. Your boss complimented you on something you did well. It doesn’t matter how big or small the task or compliment.

Here’s a list Rose Rodriguez made for her middle school students in the 1990s, almost all of which apply to adults. It’s still a good list. Choose your qualities from it.

Self-Positives - Rose Rodriguez

able confident funny joyful predictable stable
acceptable conforming gallant just progressive strong
active conservative generous kind protective strong will
adequate considerate genius knowledgeable proud structured
admirable content genuine learner questioning supportive
adorable congenial giddy light-hearted quiet sweet
affectionate conscientious gifted likable rational swift
agreeable considerate giving lively reader sympathetic
airy cooperative glorious logical reasonable tactful
ambitious cordial good brother lovable reassuring talented
amiable courteous good child loving receptive team player
amusing creative good friend lyrical reflective tender
animal lover daring good listener mature refreshing thankful
animated decisive good sister mellow relaxed theatical
appealing dedicated good student mild reserved thoughtful
articulate delightful grand modest respectful timely
assertive detailed grateful moral risk taker tolerant
athletic determined gratifying neat scientific tranquil
attractive devoted hardy neighborly secure trustworthy
aware dignified healthy obedient self-accepting unassuming
beautiful dramatic helpful objective self-actualizing understanding
brave dutiful heroic obliging self-aware unselfish
bright easy going hilarious open self starter useful
brilliant efficient honest opinionated self-reliant visionary
calm empathetic honorable optimistic sentimental vivacious
carefree enchanting hopeful orderly serene warm
caring energetic hospitable organized selfless well rounded
cautious entertaining humane participant selfpride wholesome
certain enthusiastic humble passionate sensitive willful
charitable environmentalist humorous patient serene witty
charming exciting idealistic peaceful serious worthwhile
cheerful extroverted imaginative perceptive silly youthful
cheery fair independent performer simple zestful
clean faithful ingenious persuasive sincere  
colorful fantastic innocent playful skillful  
comforting festive innovative pleasant smart  
comical firm inquisitive pleasing sociable  
committed fit inspirational poetic soft  
companionship forgiving intelligent polite soft spoken  
compassionate focused intense popular spirited  
competitive friendly intuitive powerful spiritual
complex fun jovial precise spontaneous

If you need ideas, Rose and her students came up with plenty. You can practice these daily, or more often if you need or wish. You can add to them. I started people doing a 1-minute timing every day on their positives. You can cheat, except there’d no such thing as cheating here. You can copy! It’s your list. You can look at it as often as you wish. You do not need to share your own list with anyone. It’s your list. I’ve never shared mine with anyone, although I might some day.

2. If you have those negative thoughts or feelings that won’t go away, what are their opposites or contraries? Find them on the list.

6. The difference between thoughts and feelings.  I remember as my husband and I walked home from a counseling session one day. He said, “I don’t know what he meant ‘what are you feeling? I kept telling him.” My response: You were telling him what you thought. He was asking you what you felt. His reply: What’s the difference? A thought is comprised of words. Feelings often don’t have words even though we assign words to them. I can feel happy or sad, excited or calm and attach no words until I pause to find one.

7. Listening.  Let’s go back to listening for a moment. A marriage counselor once gave my husband and me the suggestion to sit down for 20 minutes once a day and each person got 10 minutes to say what was bothering him or her. There were times we found out 10 minutes wasn’t enough and it had to be 20 minutes each. I couldn’t say a word while he was talking. I about jumped out of my skin the first five minutes of the first time we did this. Then I started to listen to him, to hear what he was telling me. It wasn’t about me. He just stated his perceptions and feelings. I listened. What a lesson for me to hear him. When my 10 minutes came, I expressed my feelings and stated my thoughts.

Oh, I hear someone say that’s fine if you don’t have children. We did, and his mother, not always the easiest person to live with by a long shot, lived with us. Not stayed with us for a month, but lived with us. Which brings me to another pointer.

I used this listening technique one memorable time at work. The school secretary told me Micheala’s mother sounded very angry and was coming to see me. Thank you, Cora Lee, for the advance notice. I’ve had parents angry at me before, but this time I had notice. The mother stormed into my office some minutes later. We sat at the round table in front of my desk. If I sat behind my desk, that was a barrier to equality. She began to yell at me. I listened and said not a word while Mrs. ____ yelled at me. After 10 minutes, she finished, took a breath and relaxed, but it’s what she said next that taught me a lesson. “Thank you for listening to me yell at you. Now can we talk about the issue?” We did. That was my giant lesson in listening. And then I learned from her the saying “Small minds talk about people. Average minds talk about events. Great minds talk about ideas.” I put that down on my computer and before leaving that evening, printed it out in large letters, copied it, laminated it and posted it in the hallways and student restrooms. Then I went home for the day. I wish I could tell Mrs. ____ what she taught me and how grateful I remain even 25-plus years later.

8. Do not talk about problems before you go to bed.  My husband and I made a rule that once in the bedroom at night we were not allowed to talk about the day’s problems. The bedroom was the place to make love and to sleep. No problem, including anything about a person—parent, child, or friend, or our work, belonged there.

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