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Is your stress style making a bad situation even worse?

Stress styles of communication
The Blamer and the Distractor with a child watching.

The way you handle stress can make a bad situation better or worse. Find out if you have a coronastress style that’s helping or hurting.

Communication Stress Style
Illustrations by Andrea Sandy for Purpose Built Families Foundation.

Originally published on Medium.

There’s a good chance you have a Coronavirus Stress Style. “Coronastress,” for short. If you’re not sure of your style, ask anyone who is spending time with you.

I’m lucky to have space at home where I can separate from others during the toughest moments of coronastress, but even that doesn’t keep me from taking on one or more of these four stress styles in the face of the most distressing stories, briefings, or longest nights.

Once you identify your coronastress style, you can decide if it’s working for you or anyone else. Keep in mind, you might have more than one and you could have a different style with different people.

Communication Stress Style
The Placater.

Placater: You’re taking care of everyone and everything, always eager to please. No matter the issue, challenge, or problem, your needs don’t matter. “Don’t worry about me, never mind about me.” While smiling on the outside, there’s a good chance you’re not feeling that way inside. Despite what Placaters say and how they act, sadness, anger, and resentment builds up — feelings that make us sick. When a Placater can’t take it anymore, they may just leave — emotionally, mentally, physically. Still with that smile, and leaving everyone else surprised. “I had no idea!

Communication Stress Style
The Blamer.

Blamer: “You, you, you!” Blamers are always on the offense, and the crisis of a novel coronavirus pandemic is no exception. They’ll find a target for their accusations, real or imagined. Nit-picking, criticizing, accusing, talking in sweeping generalizations. “You never do anything right!” “If it wasn’t for you …” “You’re so stupid, sick, bad, crazy, evil … just like …” No one likes to be around a Blamer, which means the Blamer becomes lonely and feels unloved. Eventually anyone who doesn’t have to stay around, doesn’t stay around — proving the Blamer right in their self-fulfilling prophecy.

Communication Stress Style
Two Computers.

Computer: Calm, cool, collected, the Computer is super-reasonable and knows everything. Yes, everything. For the Computer, it’s all logic and reason. “Upset? I’m not upset. Why would you think I’m upset?” “Everybody knows …” “Obviously …” When it comes to feelings, the Computer might as well be deaf and dumb. The Computer doesn’t want to feel anything, and doesn’t want to know what anyone else feels either. If you’re looking for a shoulder to cry on, the Computer is not an option, whether you’re a spouse or a child. That hard turtle-like shell of reason and logic can feel like the Computer’s best protection. Eventually, that castle of protection can be as lonely as the most isolated prison cell.

Communication Stress Style
A Blamer and Distractor.

Distractor: “Problem? What problem? Awful things are happening? Well, let’s watch a movie, have a drink, light up …” whatever it takes to forget about it. All of it. Talkative, irrelevant, often frantically active and unfocused, don’t expect much eye contact or anything else from a Distractor. Like an ostrich with its head in the sand, the Distractor isn’t available for anything that could be upsetting or frightening. Distractors approach the world with the belief they can just ignore anything uncomfortable or confusing and it will go away by itself. Underneath it all, the Distractor may be feeling: “Nobody really cares,” “I don’t belong,” “There’s no place for me.

Imagine being a youngster watching parents act out these styles through weeks, even months of quarantine? Or a lifetime?

There are positives hidden in each of these styles. Combined, those positives can be brought together into a fifth style that brings us closer. That style is called the Leveler.

Communication Stress Style

The Leveler incorporates the Placater’s concern for others as empathy and compassion, without ignoring their own needs and feelings. The Leveler also takes on the Blamer’s ability to speak for themselves, but with regard for how it is for others. The Leveler has the Computer’s ability to be logical, rational, and find solutions — with awareness and appreciation for feelings in themselves and others. And the Leveler embraces the Distractor’s playfulness and spontaneity because life, even in the toughest of times, can be joyful — as long as that doesn’t become a way of hiding or avoiding difficult circumstances.

Imagine being the child getting through the challenges of COVID-19 with those parents?

[Adapted with permission from PAIRS Essentials with appreciation to Virginia Satir.]

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