Over the past thirty plus years my career has focused on all aspects of dispute resolution – it began with a specialty in family law and it continues that way today. Over the past years I felt a need to step into leadership. I learned that at this time in history, this work has become a deep calling and one that I feel privileged to take on. Let me clarify, throughout my career I have balanced a commercial and family law practice; now my work is 100% focused on leaving the family in better position than before they engaged my services.
An important aspect in the law, conflict resolution and peace-making is understanding the role trauma plays in resolving deep seated conflict. As an attorney and probably for most lawyers we did not get trained in understanding the role trauma plays in personal, family and civic disputes. Over the past years I have had the privilege teaching attorneys and staff at the 911 Victim Compensation Fund about the principles of mindfulness. The Fund provides financial compensation to the Victims of 9/11 and in doing so are hearing first-hand what citizens and responders experienced at the time of this national disaster. The experience has deepened my empathy and understanding for the impact trauma plays on our physical health and well-being. Now when you combine this with the impacts from Covid, trauma gets exacerbated.
Much if not all conflict originates with personal trauma: when you pause and examine a conflict’s pathology we recognize it began with an incident that is shaping the present-day concerns. When we deepen our understanding and experience, trauma becomes our best teacher in developing successful outcomes in our lives. Every individual is special, whether you are divorcing, in the middle of losing a loved one, or seeing your identity stripped away in a family business, everyone has parts frozen from prior trauma that holds aspects of our greatness. Through practices of mindfulness, therapy and working with a skilled mediator in this area we can begin to melt away this grip and loosen its reigns. When we experience this shift we find that the fears, anxieties, critical non-stop judgments, and anger that has been gripping us somehow is better understood and dissipates.
My own story is that I was born when my 7 – year old sister died from a concussion. They describe me as a replacement baby – which there really is no such thing. As a baby and as a child I had no cognitive way to empathize with my mom, dad and living sister regarding their grieving and loss– nor can I understand how negative behaviors could show up after an immense loss of a child. What’s the trauma you might ask, I did not suffer the loss myself, I was not mature enough to appreciate the loss . . maybe it was vicarious trauma. Now I am seeing how being present and open to this event in my life helps inform my work with clients who are in the middle of a deep and troubling situation. When I am able to direct my own awareness to a trauma be it my own or client, just the identification and awareness of which creates space for the parties in dispute to step back from the immediate conflict. This separation between some earlier trauma and the conflict at hand has power – I often use the metaphor “going to the balcony”. It is also helpful to realize that there are many forms of trauma that can be impacting the current conflict. I realized how impactful and lasting grief and shame can be on the human psyche. It is amazing how we can become successful in life, go to the best of universities, make an excellent living and still have this one hanging out in our minds with this unknown shadow. Conflict situations such as family, ancestral, communal, organizational or historical traumas shape our lives and instruct us around opportunities for healing and growth in relationship.
Through conversation, mindfulness, and understanding, parties begin to see the interrelationship with the current conflict. When we shift from an adversarial posture in the family system to a collaborative model, we find real healing is possible. When I realized that my family did their best with what they knew at the time, it allowed a broader sense of compassion for the contribution they made to me. I am learning how this experience at birth and in my early years informs each and every conflict I am involved with. I believe in the collaborative spirit that all people in conflict are being supported, healed, and move towards peace. This is what starting over is about. When we drag our past beliefs into our next relationship, without resolving prior conflict we repeat old patterns of behavior that do not support us. Now is the time to fully start anew.