For the month of December, the last month of the decade, the theme is Relationships. Last week, I shed light on friendships and before then I blogged on Emotional Unavailability. This week, I am ready to tackle the hot topic of conflict avoiding. This month on Relationships is meant to shed light on romantic relationships, friendships, professional connections, and relationship with self. May these last blogs of 2019 help you gain 20/20 clarity in your life as we enter a new decade. Be sure to share with a friend, become a member of our blog site right here, and comment your thoughts.
Typically, I would run away from conflict and write about it - that was easier than staying and dealing face-to-face with humans; that's terrifying for me.
There are millions of conflict avoidant personalities in the world, but I am not one of them. I love conflict resolution. Living in dissonance does not suit me. Walking on eggshells to avoid difficult topics and situations is not my forte.Imagine someone playing two dissonant notes on the piano and sustaining them. The sound messes with your ears until it is resolved by a note that ultimately resolves the conflict musically.
I often think to myself, why the f*** would anyone choose to be silent or avoidant, when they could take some time and energy to say what they need to say clearly and tactfully. It costs a lot to speak up when it feels challenging, but it costs even more to avoid and avoid some more. The avoidance builds up and creates conditions for anxiety, people pleasing, and bitterness to grow. Ultimately, we pay in dividends when we avoid, and that’s too expensive for my taste.
So many people learned early to avoid hard topics. They witnessed their parents avoid and justify avoidance by using the phrase, “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” By the way, that’s a cop-out statement. Nice is relative. I have said and sent what I believed to be the nicest gestures and emails, but they were misconstrued as anything but nice. The receiver of the message determines how they receive the message, and we have no control over how they receive it. We have no control over what they do with the message. But, we have control over the when, where and how that we deliver the message, and that is important.
The thing is you already know that you are a conflict avoider because you:
1. Go out of your way to sidestep difficult discussions and uncomfy situations;
2. You’d rather render yourself unavailable and unreachable than to actually have the conversation with the individual (yes you ghost);
3. Freak out that a person may have an issue with you, so you become overly nice to the individual until you feel things are “ok”;
4. Blame yourself or an external factor for causing the issue and decidedly do nothing and say nothing (or you fake shock when confronted);
5. Find a distraction and refrain from thinking about it…ever. But, you will think about it. The thing you most want to avoid will find its way into your thoughts and stick there unless you confront it.
The truth is: You’ll never be able to fully avoid conflict. Your perception of conflict can change and probably needs to change. Conflict isn’t bad. Destructive behavior during rages and arguments is unfortunate and wrong. But a disagreement can be a lesson in disguise, not an excuse to cut someone out of your life.
Anger and conflict do not always go hand in hand. Perhaps you’re afraid of the fight, except for the fact that conflict resolution and heated arguments are not one in the same. It’s time to change perspective and gain a better appreciation for meeting people at the bridge of truth and love.
I want you to read on, because it gets interesting. Here are five ways to combat conflict avoidance (in no particular order):
1. Gain a deeper understanding of conflict. Conflict is simply people disagreeing or not seeing situations, topics, relationships from the same lens. Get it? I’m going to see things differently from you and vice versa. We do not have to place a moral value on people because we see things from a different lens. I am not bad because I disagree. I disagree because I have my own thoughts and my own mind. Conflict does make me or you a terrible person. It means that I have an opportunity to grow in my relationships and communication. Take the time to separate the conflict from the value of the person.
2. Do not wait long periods of time to have courageous conversations. You’re waiting because you:
a. don’t know what to say or
b. hope that the issue will miraculously go away.
If you don’t know what to say, write down what you want to say and practice the conversation with a trusted confidant before sharing with the individual. The issue isn’t going to go away because you ignore it. No one gets a pass. We have got to face reality. Those who bury their heads in the sand aren’t the wiser or the healthier for it. We need resolutions and can endeavor to have them in a timely fashion.
3. Visualize the end result that you hope for by resolving the conflict. What do you hope to communicate and to gain? What do you hope the other person takes away from your communication and the process of the conversation? Utilize the answers to the questions when communicating. The process can be tough, but visualizing the hope in the end result advances the outcome.
4. Be proactive. One example can be to ask the question, “Did it bother you when I said XYZ” and if the person says “yes” then state your intention and apologize, if needed. One reason that conflicts do not get resolved is because we take offense early and often. Do not allow your mind to go to an offended place until you’ve taken a self-scan and asked the person if they are indeed bothered. Conversely, maybe it’s you that’s bothered. If you haven’t acknowledged it, do not expect the other person to read your mind. Ignoring who offended you makes you look immature. Exploring the offense and gaining self-awareness is important.
5. Stop attempting to people please. People pleasing is born from fear. Some people worship other people to the point where they live and breathe to the tone of who likes and doesn’t like them. They don’t want to beef with anyone. They want nothing but roses and harmony, so they become doormats to keep people happy (though it rarely works). People pleasing will kill you slowly, as you ignore yourself and your needs. The best favor you can do anyone is to be yourself, keep realistic expectations and know/explain your boundaries.
The five aspects of combating conflict avoidance are not exhaustive. Pick and choose your battles, of course. But there is a weight we are not meant to carry and it doesn’t start with the other person. It starts with you. If you’re waiting for the other person to “be the bigger person” then you’ve missed it. You’re the common denominator and you owe yourself and the situation more than silence and feigned ignorance. It is way too expensive emotionally and mentally to continue to live in avoidance and fear. Get out of the cycle of avoidance before it’s too late.
Relationships matter and if you want healthy ones, popping pills to numb your emotions and avoiding the hard knocks at all costs does not guarantee health. It guarantees more avoidance and the illusion of getting along. And that’s not reality. Get to reality and learn to step into the voice God gave you fully. That’s a price I’m willing to pay. What about you?
Thanks for letting me step on some toes today as I try to help you, and myself, function more effectively in relationships. Fear not.
See you next week,
Until next time, Be good to yourself and others!
Evaluate your relationships!
Check your thought life!
And, invest in opportunities that increase your quality of life.
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This Dear Wednesday Letter was hand-crafted by Dr. Joy. Dr. Joy Well, mental health clinician, confidence catalyst, professor, and avid researcher is one of the quintessential experts on the connection between the mind, body, and immune system. Her doctoral work explored the experiences of women of color living with autoimmune diseases and how they function and experience the medical community and beyond. Once a shy, small-town girl with big dreams, Joy has found peace and purpose working with women of all ages to develop a fierce, faith-filled identity, personally and professionally. She is a clinician and entrepreneur in mental health private practice, seeing all ages, backgrounds, and genders. In her spare time, she enjoys music, movies, writing, and getting into mischief with friends. You can find Dr. Joy on social media @captivatingjoy.