Observing Self and Others – A Way Out of Reacting

What does it take to be able to remain in the midst of turmoil and observe what is going on, without being “caught up in what is going on? 

Observing and reacting are functionally incompatible.  The more one reacts, the harder it is to observe.  The better one can observe, the easier it becomes to contain reactivity.  Dr. Murray Bowen referred to “observational blindness,” or the inability to see what is right in front us.  I find having a framework for observation helps me become a better observer.  What follows is a framework that helps me take the idea of observing to a level of practical application.

Observing Self:

  • What do I see myself doing right now?
  • What am I thinking?  Feeling?
  • What do I really want?  What are my goals for this given interaction?
  • How does my behavior right now line up with those goals?
  • What factors are influencing my behavior right now?
  • How responsible for myself am I acting?

Observing Others:

  • What do I observe others doing right now?
  • What conflicts and alliances do I observe between others (and myself)?
  • How responsible for self is each individual right now?
  • Who is over-functioning, who is under-functioning?
  • What forms of reactivity can I observe in others (conflict, distancing, giving in, etc.)?

Observing What Goes On Between Self and Others:

  • Where do I see myself getting caught up in a conflict between two others?
  • Who am I most reactive toward?
  • Who am I most and least connected with?
  • With whom am I over or under-functioning?
  • How are others responding to more or less reactivity on my part?

Ironically, making a priority of observing one’s own reactivity has the effect of reducing the intensity of the reactivity.  Armed with a few key questions, it is possible to remain in the midst of “the fray” without being “taken out” by it.  Additionally, working at being a better observer during relatively calm interactions makes it easier to observe tense interactions.  Only working to be a better observer during tense periods is like trying to learn skills needed for skydiving as you are jumping out of a plane.

With conscious practice, one can increase his/her observational skills.  It is astounding to see what has been in front of us all the while, though we never noticed.

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