By Sean Grover
When faced with a conflict, do you suffer from the Triple A’s: apologizing, agreeing, and accommodating? Under pressure, are you more likely to compromise or hide your true feelings behind a tense smile or nervous laugh? And afterward, are you still fretting over the situation?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, then conflict makes you anxious. It does for most people, but if you panic when faced with the slightest disagreement or feel victimized, it’s a problem that has the power of affecting every area of your life. Until you learn to work through difficult feelings and accept that disagreements are normal in relationships, you’re never going to experience true intimacy.
What makes conflict so upsetting? It’s messy. It stirs up a lot of unwanted emotions and reawakens old fears and anxieties. When faced with a conflict, your heart may start to race, you may start to tremble. These bodily reactions spring from unresolved anxieties from your past; a dynamic that can make even the smallest of conflicts feel paralyzing.
How You Became Conflict-Avoidant
To understand how you became conflict-avoidant, let’s take a peek into your past and examine the causes and conditions that foster conflict avoidant behaviors:
When parents are too strict, short tempered, or practice excessive punishing, they inundate their kids with unmanageable anxiety that leave enduring psychic imprints, emotional scars that don’t heal. As adults, conflicts with others reawaken childhood trauma and you can experience panic reactions such as sweating, shaking, or heart palpitations. Rather than confront troubling difficulties in your relationships, you turn to childhood defenses such as denial, repression, or depersonalization. To protect yourself, you may remain emotionally distant from others, end relationships abruptly, or abandon friendships without warning. Another extreme reaction is to victimize or demonize others in your present life in an effort to justify your fears.
Aggressive Peers or Siblings
Antagonistic siblings or peers easily overwhelm vulnerable children. Without an adult to step in and set boundaries, repetitive attacks from siblings or peers cause profound damage to a child’s fragile sense of self. As a result, you’re more likely to flee from conflict or overreact to it, and continue this pattern as you get older. As a child you were never given the skills to learn to work through conflict with others, so consequently, as an adult you have few tools at your disposal when relationships get rocky.
An Absent Caretaker
When a loving parent or caretaker isn’t available to soothe and calm an anxious child, that child struggles with fears of closeness and trust. As an adult, when a conflict arises, you’re more likely to isolate or retreat. You may appear cold, uncaring, or unreachable, but deep down you struggle with feelings of emptiness and worthlessness. Few people know the real you because you keep yourself hidden from others.
Working through Conflicts
Every relationship is bound to hit a few snags. Learning to work through conflict stables your sense of self and boosts your confidence. Most importantly, it brings you closer to others. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:
Commit yourself to speaking up when confronted with a conflict or disagreement. Venting to friends via e-mail or posting comments online won’t do. You may feel momentarily relief but these options offer little-to-no growth and often come off as passive-aggressive. If you feel frightened or anxious about confronting someone, bring along a friend or co-worker. It’s vital to do everything you can to address the conflict with the person directly.
Make Friends with Conflict
Avoiding conflict limits your relationships and cuts off honest communication. Many stress-related illnesses spring from suppressed feelings and bottled-up frustrations. The sooner you accept that conflicts and disagreements are inevitable, the better. Be more assertive; instead of running from conflicts, run toward them – to resolve them, not to start new ones. Address and resolve conflicts openly with the folks who are frustrating you. You’re less likely to struggle with bouts of depression or anxiety when you do.
Join a Therapy Group
Therapy groups are a great place to improve your interpersonal skills, foster greater intimacy with others, and learn to resolve conflicts productively. You may also discover that avoiding conflict, in the end, only causes more conflicts and misunderstandings. When it comes to social anxiety or resolving conflict-avoidant tendencies, you can’t beat the power of group. (See How Group Helps)
From Conflict-Avoidant to Conflict-Resilient
The world is a mess because human beings don’t know how to work through conflicts peacefully. Unlike destructive impulses which seem to come naturally, the ability to resolve conflicts without resorting to emotional warfare has to be learned and cultivated; it takes work. The impulse that causes individuals to slander or turn against one another is the same impulse that drives countries to war and fragments society. Learning to talk through conflicts takes courage, but the rewards are great. It opens up new pathways in closeness and intimacy with others and welcomes a world of new possibilities into your life. www.seangrover.com