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Keeping The Peace While In Lockdown 2

by Nancy Blake(more info)

listed in nlp, originally published in issue 264 - August 2020

When we are all confined, tempers rise.  But, like covid-19 itself, the consequences can vary from trivial to fatal.  Maybe the usual family arguments just become a bit more frequent and more heated. At the other end of the scale, domestic violence has increased; the rate of domestic murder risen.

COVID 19 – Outbreak – Bored Frustrated Family

COVID 19 – Outbreak – Bored Frustrated Family

Photo Credit: Shutterstock  ID 1724072155


Covid-19 is more prevalent and more deadly in areas of financial and social deprivation. One of the starkest markers of deprivation is lack of space. Lockdown means something very different to the family living in a comfortably-sized house with a large garden from what it means to the family living in a flat on the tenth floor of a high-rise building. (Not everyone has a farm with three houses and a woods to retreat to!)

The smaller and more crowded the space, the harder it is to contain the spread of the virus, to care for the sick.

The smaller and more crowded the space, the harder it is to contain the tensions and stress of confinement, to defuse or to escape from the consequences of frustration and rage. Watching reports of the plight of women and children physically confined in abusive situations, it seems presumptuous to be making simplistic suggestions: ‘Spend time in a separate room.’ There may not be a separate room.  You may not be allowed to go into a separate room.

The best I can do is to offer my reader information which is based on facts, and which can put some power into your hands. (Many of you, especially if you have spent years dealing with difficult family members, will have figured a lot of this out already. Respect!)

The three strategies: Separateness, Submission-signalling, Changing your lines.

Separateness [1, 2]

Separateness is essential to mental health. We all need to have a place and a time in which everything within this space is me - everything outside of this space is not me. Needing to have separateness is not rejecting others - it is keeping ourselves sane.

It is needing ‘time for myself’. It is needing to have my own room, that I can go into and shut the door. (But how many of us have that?) It is needing the kids to be quiet for five minutes so I can hear myself think. It is needing for the neighbours to turn their music down. It is needing a fence around the garden for a bit of privacy.

There are different ways to organize it. You can all be in the same room, but all paying attention to your own phones.

  • You can each have an activity that is yours alone;
  • You can plan to give each other ‘me-time’ by taking over the demands of others in the household so that each of you can take turns having an hour or so of uninterrupted time.
  • If the children can be put in front of an engrossing movie, parents can have time with each other;
  • Try to keep clear boundaries between activities. Helping the kids with school-work. Playing games together. Now a quiet time with each doing their own thing;

Crowded into a house that is too small, in rooms that are too small, physical separateness is hard to come by. Keeping activities within time boundaries is also likely to be more difficult, but even more important. As in everything else, deprivation makes hard work of things that the well-off can take for granted.

In terms of your need for separateness: It will be easier for young children to leave you alone for ten minutes if you have shown them that ‘ten minutes’ means ten minutes...after that time you will be fully with them again. It helps, too, if you emphasize how much fun you are going to have after they have left you alone. That takes it for granted that they will leave you alone, rather than emphasizing that they have to do it. And focuses them on the time after their wait is over. Your being strict about keeping your word - it will end in ten minutes - will build a sense of security that can help them become more able to leave you alone for set times.

(Keeping your word about time is a very useful strategy in managing the anxiety of possessive males, insecure girlfriends, and for teen-agers, their worried parents! You are tempted to make the mistake of telling them you will be home sooner than you actually will.. bad move! Tell them that you are going to be home later than you actually will. They will be delighted and reassured when you return earlier than you promised.)

If things get really stressful, getting physically separate is does become essential. Someone needs to be in a room alone for a while. It’s not a punishment...just a way to manage how you are all feeling.

Once you realize how much separateness is needed - we all must have it to keep sane - then planning for it and prioritizing it can begin to come naturally. Above all, separateness is the way to keep good feelings alive!


Dog and Car Best Friends Playing Together

Dog and Car Best Friends Playing Together

Photo Credit: Shutterstock ID 162633491



Wildlife watchers will know that every species has signals to indicate submission. These are essential for the survival of rivals in any competitive situation.‘The fight can stop now, you don’t have to kill each other!’ The tribe as a whole needs both the winner and the loser to survive.

A signal powerful enough to stop a potentially lethal fight is a useful enough tool to have in our armoury.

Even more deeply ingrained is our response to signals that say ‘I am an infant, I need your care and protection.’ Essential to species survival, we all have powerful programming to take care of an infant.  Signalling the helplessness of an infant keys into this drive.

These signals work even across species, sometimes even between predator and prey. We’ve all seen those YouTube videos of improbable bonds between different species - they’ve come about because predator-prey signals have been replaced by ‘infant-parent’ or ‘playmate’ signals, to produce a benign miscommunication.

Submission-signalling may be mistaken for ‘giving in’. It is in fact the most powerful tool you have for deflecting anger in difficult circumstances. Lock-down is a difficult circumstance, more so for the pent-up person prone to anger anyway, and deprived of exercise or escape.

Although it may not look that way, anger is fuelled by a combination of feeling threatened and feeling helpless. The adult who feels strong and in control has no need for anger.

So when anger threatens to take over, instead of responding with anger or being defensive, try to key into the fear and frustration which is beneath the anger. The angry person needs reassurance, and to feel there is something he can control. It won’t feel natural to treat someone threatening to attack you as though they are a frightened child...but it will work.

‘What is it?’ ‘What do you want me to do?’‘Of course it was my fault.’ ‘Of course you are angry.’ ‘I’ll do whatever you want.’ ‘Can I get you anything?’ ‘Is something hurting?’

Switch quickly from responding to anger with anger into responding to anger with comforting and reassurance. You are dealing with a frightened child (and letting a frightened adult know that there’s one thing he can control, and that’s you). Paradoxically, this is a powerful way to take charge of his internal state and lower his aggression. He won’t be able to prevent this happening, you are in control.

Women these days are told that we must stand up for ourselves, be assertive. You can only prove rape if you have injuries to prove that you resisted.

But: survival advice if you’re in the hands of a killer? Calmly do exactly what he tells you to. (Except getting into a car!)

‘Submission’ creates the illusion of having lost the power struggle. In fact, as you give the signals which are so basic that they force anger to subside, you have won.

Dog and Car Best Friends Playing Together

Tug of War

Credit: Dr AB Blake


Changing Your Lines

We all know that ‘you can’t change anyone else’s behaviour, you can only change your own’. Not true!

Think about it. If you were in a play, where everyone learns their own lines, and learns the lines that come just before their lines...that’s how they know both what to say and when to say it, to keep the play going...what would happen if one actor changed even one line? The next actor wouldn’t get his cue, wouldn’t know what to do or say next. The usual line wouldn’t make he either won’t make sense or has to make up a line that might make sense in response to the new line. This new line means the next actor has to do the same. Of course the prompters will be trying to get everyone back to the script...but as soon as just one actor changes one line...everyone has to start improvising.

So much for not being able to change other people’s behaviour!

But real life isn’t the same as being in a play, I hear you saying.

Really? Family arguments, ever-repeating...they are well rehearsed dramas in which everyone says the same lines, in the same order, time after time. Attack, defence, counter-attack, defence, ‘but you did this’ ‘but you did that’. Once the first line is spoken, and the usual response given, everyone knows where they are, everyone knows where it’s going, everyone knows how it’s going to end, and it’s not pretty.

It is so powerful, feels so inevitable.. a drama where no one dares to change the lines. Where it feels absolutely dangerous for anyone to change the lines.

But it’s only people talking...take the steam out of it, and you can make any response in the world. (You could make a response in Mongolian if you knew Mongolian.) A weather report. A recipe for banana bread. A comment about how sad it is that Marilyn Monroe is no longer with us.

Really. There is nothing that you have to say, and nothing that you couldn’t say.

But probably if you are going to be brave enough to change your lines, you’d like to change them to something that would be helpful.

The most usual starting point for an argument is that someone criticises or blames someone else for something. The other person is justifiably or otherwise, hurt, annoyed, or perfectly furious. And off we go!

So supposing the critic, spoiling for a fight, doesn’t get the usual fight-back. Supposing the response is ‘you’re right’. That’s a line change...what happens next? (You will notice that it is also a ‘submission signal’.)

Probably there will be further attempts to get the argument going again but these can be warded off by simply continuing to agree. (Not sarcastically, not defensively, just matter-of-factly.)

I call this technique ‘Yes-ing them to death’.

Another way to take the argument down a different path is to express concern.. ‘Gosh, I’m sorry, has anything else happened to upset you?’ or ‘I’m sorry. Are you OK?’. ‘You must be tired/not feeling well to get this upset about it.’

Another tack is to offer a practical solution to whatever the problem is. Offer to help.

You can derail the endlessly repeated family argument - just by changing your lines.


Family Looking Happy

Family Looking Happy

Photo Credit: Shutterstock ID 1724056225


You will find that these strategies each offer ways to smooth difficult relations, vital during this time when most of us are confined in spaces that too often are too small.

As you begin to practise, you may be surprised at how much your relationship improves…long beyond lockdown!



2.  This section is based on Transactional Analysis (TA): ego states and transactions. Developed by Eric Berne, a psychoanalyst by training. His most famous popular books are Games People Play and What Do You Say After You Say Hello. There are basic texts in TA. The use of it in family discussions is my own development, partly informed by family therapy theory.


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About Nancy Blake

Nancy Blake BA CQSW, has worked in mental health settings since 1971. She served as the Chair of the ANLP PCS (now the NLPtCA), as well as on a National Working Party developing postgraduate standards for Psychotherapy (NVQ Level 5), and contributed to the document which led to NLP being accepted as a therapeutic modality by the European Association for Psychotherapy.  She has presented workshops at UKCP Professional Conferences on an NLP approach to working with victims of abuse, and in psychoneuroimmunology.  Recovering from ME since 1986, she is the co-author, with Dr Leslie O Simpson, of the book Ramsay’s Disease (ME) about ME, as well as A Beginner's Guide to ME / CFS (ME/CFS Beginner's Guides). Both titles are available both in paperback and Kindle formats on Amazon. Nancy was previously enrolled at Lancaster University in a PhD doctoral program; her thesis topic was Conflicting Paradigms of ME/CFS and how the Psychiatric Paradigm creates its Influence in contrast to the Medical Model. She may be contacted via Her books are available to purchase at

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