Do you avoid conflict at all costs?
Most of us aren’t keen on conflict. True, there are people that relish it, or are energised by it, but most of us don’t seek it out. But for some people, it’s the worst thing ever. They will go to the ends of the earth to avoid conflict. Why is this, and what can you do about it?
I regularly come across people who tell me two things: they don’t know how to set boundaries, and they hate confrontation. Whilst these are different things, they have understandably got muddled together.
As children, we learn boundaries from our parents, who set them for us and role model them. However, if we didn’t experience these healthy boundaries for whatever reason, we don’t know how to set boundaries to protect ourselves, and therefore avoid conflict at all costs. This creates within us anger and resentment.
We may even feel shame about speaking up for ourselves, because we feel responsible for other people’s feelings. We aren’t responsible for other people’s feelings, by the way.
When we set or maintain a boundary, we cannot, at the same time, be taking care of someone else’s feelings.
Six things you can do about it
1. Understand what your own boundaries are
A boundary is simply teaching others how we want to be treated by them. We discover what our own boundaries are by getting to know ourselves, our values, and our feelings, and by working on recognising our innate self-worth and cultivating our self-esteem. An earlier article on How to Create Healthy Boundaries goes into more depth about this.
2. Give yourself permission to look after yourself
If you don’t look after yourself, who will? Yes, it’s lovely when other people look out for us, but we can’t rely on the opinions and actions of others. Give yourself permission to look after yourself.
3. Give yourself permission to mess up!
You are learning a new skill in setting boundaries. When we are learning, we make mistakes - expect it and embrace it! You will likely swing between being too rigid and being too soft with your boundaries for a while. Keep practising - I promise it gets easier.
4. Know when to set a boundary
If something makes you feel uncomfortable or upset, pay attention to that. Ask yourself how you feel, and drop your attention from your head to your body. The way to do that is to slow down and take several deep breaths.
Don’t get distracted by making up stories - 'what if’s' - or by getting into a blame game. Once you know how you feel, you can then ask yourself if you have a need associated with it.
5. Speak up
Speaking up for yourself is powerful and vulnerable, so it will feel scary, especially at first. It also gets easier with practice! A great way to speak up for yourself without any need for blame or confrontation is to use the following:
"When you did/said ___, I felt ___"
In some cases, that may be all you want to do, as you simply need to express your feelings. If you have a need, then you can add:
"Next time, please do ___", or "I would much prefer it if you did ___"
6. Trust yourself
There will be some people you don’t feel comfortable having this level of conversation with. You get to decide what you tell people. You may decide that, in some cases, it isn’t worth your time and energy raising an issue with someone. Remember, you can’t change other people. You know who in your life you can have these in-depth conversations with.
Conflict is a normal part of everyday life because we all have different needs and expectations. If we avoid ever addressing what bothers us, it can breed resentment and actually end up damaging the relationship we wanted to preserve.
By speaking up for ourselves, although we may initially feel 'bad' for doing so, it allows us to get our needs met, validates ourselves in that "I matter", and avoids the need for any big confrontation.