Have you ever been told that you’re conflict-avoidant? Do you cringe in shame when people utter these dreaded words or ones like it?
There are notable pitfalls to avoiding potential conflict. We may conceal our genuine feelings, desires, and viewpoints because we’re afraid of how we’ll be seen or received by others. We shut down rather than take the risk to show our real self. Rather than be courageously authentic, we might cling to lies, deceptions, and omissions that make it difficult for people to trust us. We may withdraw emotionally or change the subject, fearing that if we reveal our honest feelings or wants, we’ll be rejected or shamed.
When painful past rejections or traumas bleed through into our current situation, we may conclude that we’re safer to keep our experience to ourselves, lest we expose our tender heart to another rejection. This may keep us safe in the short-run, but reinforce a shaky sense of self-worth and deepen our isolation.
Avoiding Conflict When Possible
Some people believe that we should always welcome conflict, seek opportunities to engage in it, or even relish it. But if our intention is to live with an open heart and connect with people harmoniously, then it's understandable that we'd want to avoid conflict whenever possible. We need not feel shame if we have an aversion to interpersonal tension. After all, what we really want is love and intimacy.
Perhaps some people enjoy conflict because it makes them feel powerful or more alive. They may think it’s shameful to “back down,” even when they know they’re wrong or on shaky ground. They may find pleasure in the pride of being right and find power in proving others wrong.
Perhaps they’re addicted to the adrenaline or dopamine produced when they let their anger fly or find fault with others. Or they enjoy the thrill of the debate and the ego gratification of winning points. We can learn and grow through unavoidable conflict when approached in a skillful way. However, a habit of stirring up conflict can become a defense that keeps us distant from people.
If we've been mired in a history of not feeling loved, wanted, and connected, we may be drawn to conflict and drama because we’ve become acclimated to it — or don’t know how to receive love when it’s present. We may have difficulty letting others get close.
Another reason to steer away from conflict when possible is that we need healthy boundaries with our world. There may be situations where we don’t feel safe to reveal our true experience because our history with a particular person reveals that there’s little room for our feelings or views. We wouldn’t want to continually walk into a propeller when it’s not really necessary.
Taking intelligent risks to face possible rejection or conflict is an important part of personal growth. We don't want to lose ourselves and injure our self-worth by constantly defering to others. But we need to pick our battles wisely rather than impulsively succumb to the “fight” part of the fight, flight, freeze response. One part of self-care is to safeguard ourselves from unnecessary and draining confrontations. Living in a chronic, heightened state of vigilance can create stress and inhibit our restorative systems.
Couples counseling may be helpful to help the couple find ways to deal with conflicts in a way that deepens connections. Learning more effective ways of communicating may help a couple face conflicts or differences before they escalate.
Summary: Avoiding conflicts may be our default mode if we haven’t had good role models or positive experiences when we’ve taken risks to express ourselves. If so, it may serve our growth to tap into our inner strength and face interpersonal challenges rather than collapse in the face of potential conflict. Cultivating the art of discernment and mindfulness — trusting our inner sense of when it feels right to engage in a challenging conversation and when it doesn’t — can safeguard our heart and lead to a more peaceful life.
© John Amodeo
Deviant Art image by Fleet-Feet