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  • trauma photo 1Sometimes we don’t realize the impact of a tragic event until after the day of the actual occurrence. Whether this is death, theft, or a loss of a job, emotions often do not surface until days, weeks, months or even years after the event. For me, several tragic events have led to hidden inner conflict within myself. I would like to share two examples of how these events impacted me and provided some strategies that have I have used to try to handle my circumstances in an effective manner.

    The first traumatic event was watching my mother die in my home. I witnessed her passing out, the air go out of her lungs, her veins bulge, and her eyes roll up to the ceiling. She died from what is known as sepsis as a result of pneumonia. The experience was not only traumatic, but it was life changing, for, at that moment that I saw my mother die, I felt like I failed. This event triggered for me an internal conflict about my role and primary responsibility as a daughter. Since I was a child until my mother’s death, I held the role of caregiver for my mother who struggled with mental illness. It was my job and mission to save my mother from herself, and I could not.  The impact of this traumatic event stays with me today as I struggle with my self-deprecating thoughts and my emotions about my role and our relationship.

    The second traumatic event is a recent theft that occurred to me back in April. A young lady, known for her drug abuse, stole my cell phone, credit cards, driver’s license and other important items such as my husband’s credit and debit cards as I was sitting in a restaurant. She immediately used our money to purchase food, tobacco, and other items at local stores. This life-shattering event violated my privacy, compromised my identity and that of my family’s identity. I am a very private person, and this theft was a violation on so many levels. Upon going to court, this young lady, who has since offended three more times since my theft, had a very casual, no-care attitude. She took no responsibility and even stated she didn’t secure a lawyer due to her “laziness.” This attitude only triggered me further and tapped into my internal conflict from prior traumatic events.  I now have difficulty trusting others even my friends, and I am fearful of this happening again. As a result of these two specific experiences, I knew I needed to do something to manage my internal turmoil and conflict. These recommendations come as a result of my experiences and may work for you too.

    1) Seek professional guidance or counseling. Often people wait or do not seek help in any way after they have experienced a traumatic event. This form of assistance can come from a trusted friend, a religious leader, a counselor or therapist who specializes in grief or trauma, or even a specialized coach. The key is not to get stuck, and to talk about the internal struggle with someone.

    2) Keep a journal. Get into the habit of writing daily to express your thoughts and feelings. There is no right or wrong way of doing this. This journal is something just for your eyes only. It is your process for dealing with the impact and consequences of the event.

    3) Be patient with yourself. Remember that this journey to healing is not a race to the finish line. The impact from traumatic events can have long-lasting consequences which needaddressed. It is a process of forgiveness, healing and everyone experiences this process differently. It is highly individualized.

    4) Take daily time away from everyone. It is important you give yourself alone time even if it is 10 minutes in the bathroom to decompress. This private time can be hard to do  if you have children or other caregiver responsibilities, but make this a priority to give yourself this quiet space to reflect.

    It is my hope that my experiences with traumatic events and my suggestions are helpful for those who are experiencing the effects of trauma. To learn more about dealing with traumatic conflict, listen to our podcast “Handling Stress After a Traumatic Event” with Denise Thompson, LCSW with Crisis Response Consulting. For professional tips on how to handle trauma, visit the Better Health Channel of the Victoria State Government in Australia’s website, and read their article entitled:  Trauma-Reaction and Recovery.

    Best Wishes.

    Ann Margaret Zelenka

    Graduate Student Intern

    University of Baltimore

    Negotiations and Conflict Management M.S. Program



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  • tired-hikers-249683_1280Have you noticed that you’ve been getting into more arguments lately? Or that every little thing seems to set you off? Not sure why your fuse is so short? Look no further than the outdoor thermometer!

    I took notice of my more irritable state as of late. I don’t mind sweating if I’m working out or gardening, something that warrants breaking a sweat. However, I am not a fan of just sitting around and doing nothing and sweating. I am a big fan of controlled air, and I found when I sweat I feel overheated and testy.

    I also became aware of the fact that the heat makes me tired which could be a side effect of not being well hydrated. I have determined that a combination of lack of hydration, sleepiness, and sweating puts me into rare form.  I became more conscious of this when I began picking fights for no reason and becoming more annoyed with my husband. I also noticed I have less patience with our puppy Alvin.

    According to an article by Rachael Rettner, a senior writer for livescience.com, ” hot and especially humid weather is known to be associated with increases in aggression and violence as well as general mood.” The article goes on to explain that the limitations put on our daily activities due to the sweltering heat can cause us to be angry. Another interesting piece from the article, Rettner writes, “a lack of control over the situation may further irritate some people.”

    Just another way my control issues can get the best of me! So what are we to do in these situations? Summer is the best time to soak up that vitamin D and be outside – we can’t be expected to hole up in our controlled climate houses fanning ourselves right?

    * Be aware – the most important thing is that you are mindful of the fact that the heat could be affecting your mood. Be aware of what is triggering your annoyance. It is also important to remember the weather could be changing other people’s attitudes as well. So if someone seems to be biting your head off the heat could be a contributing factor.

    * Take deep breaths- If you are feeling angry take some deep breaths to help focus your mind. Take a deep breath in, hold it for a few seconds and release. Just taking those few moments to refocus can help you be more aware of the conflict at hand.

    * Take shade and hydrate – I am not asking that you sit inside all day, but it is important to take a break from the sun now and then to help regulate your system. Also, it is imperative that you stay hydrated especially if you are sweating, this will fend off tiredness and keep your system fresh.

    * Use sunblock – I am a fair person, so I burn easily, and I know that when I get a sunburn, I am not a fun person to be around. So, keep yourself slathered in sunblock and fend off the painful burning experience.

    It is important to remember to cool down before engaging in a summer battle both figuratively and literally. These may seem like common sense suggestions, but I rarely think of the weather as being a factor in a fight. Keep the weather in mind and be aware of your triggers. You will be sure to have a great summer experience!


    Have a great week,

    Abigail R.C. McManus M.S Negotiation and Conflict Management



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    Argument 2

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    The holidays, whether they are birthday celebrations, the 4th of July or religious events, are a tough time for many people in biologically related families, let alone adding in-laws and extended family members into the mix. For most of our holidays, my husband and I spend time with our families separately, and then, my husband comes back home to spend time with myself and my dad and brother. Why? The reason I do not go over to my in-laws’ home is due to ongoing conflicts between myself and his parents.  This dynamic is not ideal. As newlyweds, this is not the way it is supposed to be. My assumption after we got married is my husband, and I would spend time together creating happy memories, enjoying special traditions, and spending time with those we love and who love us. However, my husband is very close to his family and in the past, he has wanted to spend most or all of his holiday time with them. Our time apart caused many issues in our new marriage.  Recently, he has chosen to balance his time during holiday gatherings as he realized that this was hurting our relationship.

    Another issue that places a hardship on our situation is the time it takes to travel to the in-laws home and the cost of traveling there. Although I have spent much time there while my husband and I were dating, I feel we have established our home and feel it is unfair to continue to be expected to make all the sacrifices…expenses, travel time, missed time with my family, and to top it off, to experience the stress of the ongoing conflict. It is to the point where I cannot just hold my tongue and pretend this is not a problem in our relationship. I cannot continue to avoid conflict or communicating my needs or how this makes me feel quite sad. When I avoid communicating my concerns and needs, it has only led to poor relationships and misunderstandings.

    So, what do you do when you find yourself in this situation especially when you are not off on the right foot with your in-laws after marriage? Do you just suck it up and continue to pretend it doesn’t bother you? NO! For me, this only built anger, resentment, hurt feelings and escalating conflict distancing myself further from my in-laws and damaging my relationship with my husband. In thinking through and weighing various options, you have to be cognizant of everyone’s needs. What are they? Knowing this will greatly assist in how you can negotiate what might work moving forward. For example, I know my in-laws have eight children to consider. They would consider it a burden to leave their home just to visit us when they have other children to consider. My husband’s need is to be with his family and continue to honor the family’s special holiday traditions. And of course, if/when we do decide to have children, we will have much more than just their needs to consider for our situation. But it varies situationally, and so thus, there are many considerations regarding needs and concerns of the entire family.

    Once you have identified the major needs of all involved, then consider these additional recommendations to reduce or manage conflict at holiday or special events between your spouse and in-laws.

    • Discuss expectations with your new spouse (before marriage if you can). Holiday family traditions and how to spend time with the two separate families is often a concern for many newlyweds. Will you be okay with how your spouse chooses to spend his/her time? If not, then you need to communicate an honest view of your expectations. 
    • Make a plan with your spouse to have a challenging conversation with the in-laws. You and your spouse need to decide if both of you or your spouse alone will communicate the concerns and your needs for a respectful engagement. This conversation needs to be done well before the holidays or special event.
    • Create a backup plan with clear boundaries. You can do all of the planning ahead of time, but what if this doesn’t work? You can’t change anyone. They very well might continue to criticize, pass judgment, and make hurtful or embarrassing remarks. You have to decide what are the boundaries, and how will you respond when they do. For me, I might say “I can no longer be a part of this conversation.” and then, walk away. Later, convey in a respectful manner that the remarks hurt you. For example, “I had to walk away because I felt hurt and embarrassed.
    • Ask your spouse what role he/she will maintain during conflicts with his/her family towards you. Will they be a mediator, an avoider, a fighter, or a peace-keeper? This role is important to determine as you do not want to pursue an uphill battle alone. You also want to know how you should approach the conflict since this is not your family of origin, and you may be unfamiliar with their communication style.

    Try to enjoy the holidays as best as you can while showing your in-laws that both sets of feelings do matter. For tips on how to manage conflict like this without avoiding it all together, listen to the Texas Conflict Coach® ‘s radio program episode Repairing the Damage of Conflict Avoidance with Pattie Porter and Stephen Kotev!


    Have a Great Day!

    Ann Margaret Zelenka

    Graduate Student Intern

    University of Baltimore

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