Freeing yourself from the keeper hole of conflict


Conflict is filled with resistance: Resistance to their wishes, resistance to their perspective, resistance to the anger we’re feeling, resistance to continuing, resistance to stopping, resistance, resistance, resistance. But the real way to free yourself from a conflict that’s keeping you stuck is not to resist, but to practice radical acceptance.

Here’s a story about radical acceptance: One day after a big storm, an expert kayaker named Walt went out in his kayak and found himself in much more dangerous water than he anticipated. Then the worst happened — Walt got stuck in a keeper hole, a type of deadly, circulating current that can suck down a kayak and paddler for good.

Walt tried desperately to fight his way back to the surface as he was sucked down into the keeper hole. Kicking himself free of his kayak, he tried again and again to keep himself at the surface, but each time he was sucked back beneath the water. He was going to drown in that hole.

Then Walt did something that seemed crazy. Fighting his way to the surface one last time, he took a gulp of air and then let the current pull him under. Down he went into the cold, dark depths of the keeper hole. A few seconds later, Walt felt himself pushed to the surface and emerged about 20 feet away from the keeper hole, free.

Psychologist Steve Flowers, relating the story of his friend Walt, says, “He saved his life by an act of radical acceptance — diving into what he feared the most.” He goes on: “It’s not that we can meditate fear, anxiety, or pain away; it’s that we can come into a different relationship with these inescapable aspects of the human condition and find new ways to respond to our fears, rather than react to them with aversion.”

What does it mean to practice radical acceptance of your conflict? What does it mean to stop resisting and allow yourself to be drawn into the keeper hole of your conflict? It means to stop resisting their point of view and to allow them to pull you alongside briefly, long enough that you can see it through their eyes, feel it through their heart. Resisting, after all, only draws you down under the surface.

It means to stop clawing your way out of the conflict because you hate conflict and to allow yourself to be part of something beautiful, the clashing of ideas, the dance of strong wills.

It means to stop resisting your anger and allow yourself to feel it fully, because your anger is trying to tell you something important. There is a difference, of course, between feeling your anger fully and using your anger as a weapon.

It is an act of courage, certainly, to allow yourself to be pulled down into the keeper hole of conflict instead of fighting it to the point of exhaustion. But in that single act, in that moment of deliberately releasing your resistance, you give yourself the chance to change your relationship with the conflict…and with your dance partner.

Print Friendly

Enjoy this article?

Join thousands worldwide who subscribe to my actionable weekly updates. You'll get my Conflict Pivot Worksheet, Chapter 1 of my latest book, and more.


  1. Ian Grodman says

    Great story to illustrate your point, Tammy, thank you; especially after radically accepting my conflict with Mother Nature this morning!

  2. Mary says

    Many years ago as a lifeguard I was also “caught” in an “undertow”. I had to make an immediate decision to “go with the flow” for a bit, in order to become free of the water’s force dragging me down. I was released about 30 yards away from the original site, but remember all too well the fear I felt giving in to the pull of the water. My training saved me that day. Perhaps our experience and training can lead others to a safer place too. Wonderful story to make a point. Thanks for the enlightenment.

    • says

      Mary, as I was writing the post I kept thinking about undertows, so your comment is very welcome. Rescue personnel along NH’s short Atlantic coastline are often on television during the summer months to give exactly the advice you just did. I often wonder how many people who’ve heard the advice remember it in a moment of panic. Your training made the difference for sure. Thanks so much for sharing your similar experience and your radical acceptance of that current!

  3. says

    Thanks, as always, for the insight. Now, if I can just help parties in mediation get to the point where they see the need for radical acceptance.

    • says

      Robin – it is possible to achieve! I have been experimenting with a certain approach over the past few years that has had very good results like this. When my second book comes out I hope it will help fellow mediators do the same.

  4. Luci says

    Hi Tammy,

    I cannot tell you how appropriate and affirming this message was for me personally today. I have been going through some things with my counselor and she gave me a book by Jeff Foster called Deepest Acceptance. It discusses this very thing. And, while it feels like the last thing you should be doing – accepting the trial or the conflict – it absolutely works towards creating freedom and peace.

    • says

      Luci, you made my day with this comment! I can’t tell you how happy it makes me when my timing is right, my topic useful, and someone like you takes the time to let me know.