Art courtesy of Joe Webb

Navigating Conflict and the
Patriarchal Two-Step

Facing interpersonal conflict instead of shutting down, listening instead of defending ourselves when someone tells us we’ve wronged them: This is the hard work that none of us are exempt from. When we fail to take responsibility for our actions—and sometimes we do fail—we prevent change and get stuck, says psychological astrologer Jennifer Freed.

Freed believes that our personal issues mirror what’s happening at a societal level. And collectively, she says, we have an important opportunity ahead of us to shift the way we relate to one another. If you want an astrological reason: In 2020, Pluto, Saturn, and Jupiter align in the sign of Capricorn, which Freed says is a prime time to break old belief systems.

What Freed really wants us to break is something she calls the patriarchal two-step. This negative emotional pattern is not unique to men. It comes out when we believe it’s more important to be right or in control than to show our vulnerability or weakness. When we do this dance, Freed says, it becomes impossible to resolve conflicts in a mature way. It’s a habit that hardens us both personally and as a society—that’s why Freed wants us to recognize it and dismantle it together.

The Great Conjunction of 2020

We are approaching a unique and transformational alignment of planets in 2020 that has not happened in a thousand years. It will be an opportunity to shift long-standing patterns in leadership, relationships, and policy-making. Pluto (the planet representing death and rebirth, the absolute will to power, and deeply intense transformations) will be conjoined with Saturn (the planet of karma, authority, structures, and loss) and Jupiter (the planet representing royalty, opportunity, higher wisdom, and expansion). All three of these energies will be in the sign of Capricorn, which relates to business, leadership, ambition, and stewardship; it can be associated with immense responsibility and dark depression.

These combined power brokers can encourage tyrannical, grandiose, authoritarian, and insensitive actions and behaviors justified by a narrative of superiority. However, at the highest vibration, these influences can inspire the transformation of entrenched, cold, and imperial rulership and oppressive emotional patterns into truly life-supporting, higher-minded, and inclusive strategies for world order and mature interpersonal connections. We can use this energy to celebrate transparency, authenticity, diverse voices and traditions, and creative modes of expression.

There is one cultural and personal roadblock to moving through this period and realizing the most beneficial outcomes of this cycle. The patriarchal two-step is a toxic and unyielding approach to conflict that has imperiled and impeded the progress of evolving consciousness with escalating and grave consequences.

The Patriarchal

The patriarchal two-step dance goes something like this:
Person 1 does something that emotionally or mentally harms another person or multiple people. For example: Person 1 yells at someone at home and rips them to shreds with criticism. Later, when confronted with that unskillful behavior, they either a) shut it down with more rage and blame or b) have an infantile collapse in which they are apparently so wounded by being confronted that they cannot tolerate any feedback and may threaten to cut off all contact.

These moves make it virtually impossible to work through any interpersonal issues. They create an atmosphere of fear and intimidation. Instead of conflicts being resolved, issues are shoved underground, and destructive patterns and practices remain firmly in place.

When this two-step is danced in an intimate or family situation, the other person or other people become emotional hostages to Person 1. People who love Person 1 learn to avoid genuine intimacy in favor of getting along. Waking this kind of dragon is rarely worth the pain and difficulty it causes.

At a systemic level, Person 1, whether acting as an individual or as a group of people, may hold an entire community or nation emotionally hostage. The two-step prevents any significant repair of social harms or damages, and hardens a position-taking and oppositional mind-set that makes meaningful dialogue impossible. Every day, many leaders do this destructive dance, setting a loud, strident, highly public example for the rest of us. This has led to an epidemic of disengagement, powerlessness, and apathy. When there is no accountability for mistakes, people believe that feedback and participation do not matter. Might equals right, and discourse is an exercise in futility.

Where does this strategy come from? How can we begin to dismantle it?
It comes from shame. Shame underlies all our patterns of defensiveness and attack.

Patriarchy has us believe that control and being right are more important than empathy and relationships. Being on top is a survival skill in a dog-eat-dog world. In this old design, your pointing out my insufficiencies or inadequacies means I have failed to keep the armor of infallibility in place. The ancient reptilian brain has us believe that we must fight or flee when confronted with critical feedback.

In a world where the feminine is constantly devalued by economic disparities and public position inequities, people get the impression that it is better to be a dominator than to be a sensitive, related, kind human being.

There is ample evidence that in societies prizing feminine power and capacities—in terms of social policies and family dynamics—economic disparities, power inequities, and violence diminish. In societies that subjugate and devalue the feminine, we are taught early on to fear or resist female authority. We naturally grow a Teflon-like aversion to vulnerability and the acknowledgement of weaknesses. We feel deeply anchored shame around our own tenderness, neediness, and sensitivities. Those who are addicted to the two-step habit often project their neediness and dependency onto others and demonize them by calling them overly sensitive, lazy, weak, or inferior.

Underneath all the two-stepper bravado and invincibility is a small, terrified child who believes that if anyone really knew their tenderest heart, they would be abandoned. It’s time to reboot this system into a new model in which dialogue and fallibility are a mark of courage and true leadership.

How can we move on from the patriarchal two-step?
The first step in dismantling this oppressive shame-based pattern is naming it clearly. The second step is a cultural agreement that instilling fear and intimidation, throwing tantrums, mounting a dramatic emotional collapse, and cutting someone off in response to feedback are irresponsible, dysfunctional, and unacceptable tactics in any kind of relationship.

We need to collectively call out this two-step for what it is: a blatant power play to silence all diverse and contrary voices. We must also remember that it stems from infantile and helpless fear and be willing to patiently and resolvedly teach a new method to address our deepest insecurities.

Emotional maturity relies on our ability to hear critical feedback and to welcome the opportunity to grow. Managing our emotions requires that we can tolerate difference without punishing or silencing those who disagree with us. We need to enact and affirm a new paradigm where mistakes are a sign of aliveness and repairing them is seen as noble and laudable.

When someone resorts to the patriarchal two-step, we need to gently but firmly say to them, “Let’s talk about this when you are ready. Let’s leave this for now, because I will not be intimidated by your rage or blame. I will not take care of you when it is your harms we are addressing.”

And then we need to firmly walk away until a true conversation can occur.

Imagine a world in which the bluster, tantrums, and manipulations were given a gentle, compassionate time-out.

Realize that this new conversation will happen frequently. Like small children reacting to a parent who is tightening the disciplinary screws, habitual two-steppers may intensify their game before relinquishing it. All of us long to be loved and to be close to the important people in our lives. The two-steppers I know are frequently lonely and emotionally isolated because the people nearest to them grow weary of their rages or collapses.

We can be right, or we can be close. People who need to be right as a core sense of identity don’t realize that their mental superiority is the single biggest predictor of others feeling distant from them. In response to an internal story that they are not receiving the respect they deserve, the two-steppers get more rigid and controlling.

True respect is generated by character, not power. Supporting others to undo their self-sabotaging and righteous two-step is a courageous act of love. If we are to use the power, depth, and opportunity of this coming cycle wisely, we need to dismantle the methods and strategies that have kept corruption, inequity, and separateness in place for far too long.

Jennifer Freed, PhD, is a psychological astrologer. Her new book, Use Your Planets Wisely, is available for preorder. Freed is also the founder of a AHA!, a nonprofit organization that transforms schools and communities with robust and evidence-based methods of social and emotional development. You can subscribe to her free course on spiritual growth here, and you can email her at [email protected].