Updated: Jan 12
“Don’t worry about stepping on my toes, it was my fault anyway” 😊
Silly, right? I used to live a very conflict avoidant life, but counseling changed all of that and gave me so much freedom! I'm sure I'm not the only one that can relate to apologizing for someone else's mistake even if the mistake was unintended.
I have been conflict-avoidant most of my life. Disagreement? Fighting? Standing up for myself? No, just, no. Don’t rock the boat! This held me captive to people pleasing and I “adapted” by being quiet. Because, causing conflict is hard to do when you’re quiet, right? Yes. But, it’s pretty hard to be known and have meaningful relationships too.
Years ago, I made a connection within myself. Whenever there was conflict, I felt queasy, sometimes to the point where I thought I had the flu! “Is this normal?” I thought to myself. I noticed other people didn’t seem to have anxiety around conflict or shame around using their voice. Some people even seemed to like conflict! “What is it about conflict that really bothers me?” I thought to myself. Over time I realized there were some beliefs I had about myself and life:
False Beliefs from society
1. Conflict is bad. In relationship (plutonic or romantic) it means the relationship isn’t healthy, so avoid it at all costs! No conflict = no problems.
2. Disagreeing should only be done in your head. Even if it’s for a good cause (human rights violation, injustice, pain, suffering, or any just cause) it’s too uncomfortable to speak out against the majority and sometimes shameful to disagree with others.
3. Anger is sinful (if you come from certain religious traditions)
Past Personal Beliefs
1. What if I use my voice and it’s rejected? It’s easier to cope if people reject a mask I wear than my own thoughts and desires.
2. If there is a disagreement taking place, I must be wrong because my thoughts, feelings, needs and very being aren’t valid. My own voice is unworthy of taking up space and surely can’t help anyone, so I must be wrong anyway.
3. If people are mad at me, they will leave, and I will be alone. I cannot risk displeasing others because rejection and loneliness are just too painful.
Do you relate to any of this messages, if so how?
Warning this might disrupt your equilibrium
Some challenges to these statements are:
· Am I really connected with others if I need to put on masks to keep the peace?
· Who am I without masks?
· Where did I learn to navigate relationship by feeling I can’t take up space or risk causing conflict? Is this serving me?
· Where did I learn that my voice, feelings, needs and very being aren’t valid or worthy? (for me this required exploring my story)
· As for anger being sinful, I’ve usually heard this in the context of Christianity, but there is no such verse. The Bible has a verse that says don’t let the sun go down on your anger (try to make a repair as soon as possible) also, be angry and do not sin. Basically anger itself is not bad, but we are responsible to treat others with respect even when we are angry.
How did your upbringing effect the way you view conflict?
Ok, back to regular content
I grew up in a conflict avoidant home. My parents had good intentions for avoiding conflict, but I walked away without seeing conflict handled in a healthy way. So, when I ventured out into the world as a young adult and heard others talk about conflict I used to think, “oh man, you were fighting with your wife, again? Sheesh, that’s not going to last.” How did your upbringing effect the way you view conflict?
Did you know? Conflict can be a sign of relational health. If two people agree on everything, they can be relationally fused: meaning one (or both) just goes with the flow and never speaks up for fear of, BAM, conflict. Without conflict, a relationship hasn’t been tested. If you know how your partner feels or “we” feel but not how you feel that’s a sign. There’s no shame in being relationally fused,
Wait, Conflict can be a Good?
Conflict and confrontation aren’t bad by nature and actually can be a sign of a healthy relationship. How we engage during conflict and how we process it afterward are the key differences. Resolving conflict proves that the relationship is secure, because when things are hard each party shows, with actions, that they’re not going anywhere. Resolving can be anything from a partner understanding they’ve hurt the other, have broken a commitment (like I was going to do the dishes), or as simple as both parties still being in disagreement but having seen the other’s perspective and at least respecting it.
Get angry, not personal.
Healthy conflict: can heated and passionate disagreements and/or frustrations that don’t get personal. By personal I mean shaming the other person and attacking their personhood, “you always… you never… you would forget… that’s just like you” these are scornful statements with contempt that attack the essence of the person, instead of expressing frustration with a single action i.e. I'm frustrated the dishes are still in the sink...taxes are not finished yet... I hoped the walls would be painted." Do you see the difference? Scorn, contempt, and getting personal all fall under unhealthy conflict and are damaging to every kind of relationship.
Healthy Conflict Tips
Active listening: Listen, just listen without coming up with rebuttals. Then, give the gift of paraphrasing to make sure you're really understanding and listening.
Empathy: Practice selflessness. If both parties put up walls and refuse to be humble you will
Ability to regulate your emotions: Breath deeply; it works.
Asking for a break: Taking a mutually agreed upon break and say, "Hey can we come back to this at 7:15 (in 10 minutes) so I can cool down because I love you and want to help calm
Themes: Try to recognize patterns and themes around fights. Is it responsibilities, communication, general irritability, loneliness, unspoken expectations, something else?
Reflect: What did I do well in the argument? What didn’t I do well? Own your part of the poor performance. E.g. “when I said _____ that was childish and mean, will you forgive me?”
What's Underneath? Are you really angry about where to put the spatulas (insert silly thing you’re fighting about) or what’s underneath this anger? Are you feeling heard in other parts of the relationship? Are you lonely?
Threatening (divorce, physical or psychological harm),
In healthy relationships people know others are flawed and are open to ruptures and repairs. When we idealize people with unrealistic expectations of who they are, how they will treat us, and how they’ll never hurt us, well, they have all that much more distance to fall. In healthy-enough relationships, both parties can hold – “hey, if we get close enough, and trust each other enough, we’re going to fight. I’m committed to working through that, are you?”
Finding relationships like that takes practicing #vulnerability