The Pain of Being “In-Between”

Last year I had my first experience climbing a rock wall. I was literally tethered to my friend Jude, who controlled the amount of rope I was given in order to climb and was my only support when I was ready to return to earth. On my first climb, I froze part way up, not wanting to go forward or backward. While clinging to the wall, my palms began to sweat and my legs became like jelly. My body was literally failing me. “Take!” I commanded Jude as I had been instructed, requesting that all slack be removed from the rope and awaiting her instruction to release my grip and “fall away.”

Having let go of the wall I was suspended mid-air, hanging in my harness and feeling strangely relieved. It was trying to hold on that had gotten me. It was the knowing I couldn’t go back the way I had come, but I couldn’t go forward either—didn’t have the strength, feeling so afraid that my body wouldn’t let me move forward in that moment. “Falling away” meant release. A break, a hope that soon I would be on solid ground.

Conflict throws us all into this in-between place of unknowing. If a person initiates the conflict, they are generally responding to a sense of unhappiness with where they are. They may have a vision for where they want to go, but they are left to trust the other person and how they might respond or not respond to the issue. As for the person who finds themselves in the midst of conflict they didn’t see coming, they are left struggling to understand what is happening and are often clinging to where they were and the sense of reality they had been living in before this conflict erupted.

In the midst of conflict, it is common for both people to have a host of feelings, as well as physical reactions. A sense of weakness, confusion, anger, or fear is common. Bodies flush, sweat, shake. Teeth clench, voices rise, tears flow.

As professionals who assist people in conflict, mediators offer support through this difficult time. Jude encouraged me, let me know she was there to support me, and offered me a hand when I hit the ground. Mediators understand how uncomfortable it is to be in the in-between place—a place of knowing life is changing, but not knowing exactly what it will look like after the change. Mediators can help by encouraging you to take good care of yourself in this challenging time, by reminding you that you can decide when to meet, when to take a break, or when to end for the day.

I climbed again that day, but never experienced the same intensity of feeling. I knew what to expect, I knew I could stop where I felt comfortable, and I had regained a sense of control. It takes courage for people to work through conflict and it is important to work with a mediator who respects that. Someone who can offer you the support and encouragement you need. Through the process of mediation, you can work through the fear and anxiety and regain a sense of personal control.

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