I avoid conflict like it’s the worst thing on earth. Any potential confrontation transports me right into fight-or-flight mode. I spend a good deal of my time in the sympathetic nervous system zone as it is, but if I even imagine there might be conflict in my future, I go into overdrive.
You don’t have to be avoidant to share these feelings – conflict will trigger you in some way if your nervous system is at all imbalanced.
Do you dread conversations with people close to you? Do you always imagine the worst possible outcome? And when these conversations finally happen (as they always do), are you so far out of whack before they even begin that you totally lose your shit and your ability to form coherent thoughts?
Yeah, me too. Fun, isn’t it? I go from a logical, intelligent human with the ability to communicate to a babbling, sobbing, and stammering mess. It’s maddening. I want to be able to engage in important dialogue without fear and tension shooting through my entire body.
As one of my dearly valued mentors recently said – the conversation isn’t the enemy. The conversation gives you information and knowledge with which to make decisions and move forward. What’s actually difficult is accepting the truths that the conversation reveals and then acting upon them.
Most of the time I know the truth before the conversation even begins – or I think I do. I’ve avoided having “the talk” because I know it will spur the inevitable into motion, like a breakup or a rift with a friend. And there is the biggest problem – me thinking that I already know.
Because my anxious, imbalanced brain already thinks it knows what will happen – and that it will crush me – I actually end up pushing the conversation in the direction I fear it will go. I don’t allow for real communication because I am so afraid that I will be hurt. The irony is that by attempting to control the conversation somehow, I don’t leave any space for a different outcome.
The conversation isn’t the enemy. Your fear of the unknown is the enemy. And conscious, mindful, non-violent communication is the solution.
This is something I’ve just begun working on myself, so I know firsthand how daunting it sounds. Sometimes it feels impossible to actually shift the patterns and views we have held for years, perhaps a lifetime. Think of it this way – if we don’t at least try, we are guaranteed to stay stuck. Do you want to keep losing yourself so deeply in serious conversations that you look back and hardly know what happened?
We have no real control when we attempt to control. Do you feel like you are in control of these conflicts when you approach them in full fight-or-flight mode, your anxiety and dread running the show? Of course you don’t. You can’t control the other person and in trying to do so you also lose control over yourself.
So begin by working on what you can change – your own approach. If you can learn to come into conflict with a clear vision of your intention, as well as compassion for the other person and a desire to see them not as an adversary but a teammate facing this conflict with you, you will find grounding and stability as you proceed. Focus on staying present, staying in your breath, and responding thoughtfully rather than reacting anxiously.
There is a wonderful book called Say What You Mean that addresses this topic in depth – I highly recommend it. It’s shifting my entire attitude towards conflict and difficult conversations. I won’t pretend that all of this isn’t work, but it’s worth it to feel stable and safe when you deal with conflict, which is an inevitable part of life.
Remember – the conversation isn’t the enemy. It’s your fear and anxiety around the conflict that could (only could!) potentially come from it. Walk into it with love and curiosity for all parties involved. Bring a willingness to be open-minded and learn. Conflict isn’t a bad thing – it’s actually healthy, when handled correctly.
You can do this. You can handle the tough situations that life brings your way with courage, grace, and ease. I have faith in you. Sending you love. You got this.