When conflict arises, do you run away from it or shame yourself for having “caused an issue”? Does your inner critic start attacking you? Or you start feeling unworthy of love?
It’s natural to fear conflict—to be afraid that we’ll lose a relationship with someone we love. For those of us who have survived abuse, conflict was often a dangerous thing. For the rest of us, conflict is simply tense, uncomfortable, and stigmatized in society.
The problem with a fear of conflict is that it cannot be avoided. It’s going to happen. Even the healthiest and most unconditionally loving relationships have conflicts. They’ll be safe to experience, but that doesn’t mean they’re easy.
You may find yourself suddenly swept into memories of your past. Terrified of everything collapsing around you. Maybe, you’re beating yourself up on the inside. You may find yourself falling back into patterns you spent years trying to escape, simply because a recent conflict triggered a particular emotion from your past.
Let’s say your partner was having a rough day and you were a bit out of it, acting somewhat colder or more detached than usual. You were just having one of those days—you weren’t doing anything wrong. Your compassion simply wasn’t as bright!
The next day, your partner tells you that they would have loved a little more support from you. You didn’t know this yesterday, so they’re clear that you didn’t make a mistake. They’re only sharing their desires for future reference.
Suddenly, you then are overcome with emotions. Your inner critic begins a monologue of how horrible of a partner you are. Saying that you’re cold and unloving and that they deserve someone so much better. It punishes you for what you see as a mistake—even though the conflict wasn’t a mistake.
Your partner was simply setting a boundary and placing a request, something perfectly healthy. Your mind took that as an assault—believing that you should have anticipated their needs and “done better.”
Handling conflicts without having them overwhelm you is an art. Yet, I know you have all the skills to find comfort with conflict.
An Exercise to End This Fear of Conflict
One of the best ways of doing this is by rationalizing what is actually going on. You’ll want to use a piece of paper for this, since our minds have a tendency to blow things out of proportion fast.
Write down what the conflict was. What specifically did your partner, or friend, take issue with? What—as best as you remember—did they actually say to you?
Look at their request and pull yourself into an objective mindset. What is the boundary being set? Did one party make a mistake? If so, what does that say about the person who made the mistake?
As you’re doing this, keep a column for what your inner critic says. Just objectively write down what you hear.
Be rational with this whole exercise. You may be tempted to say that you made a mistake and that it makes you a horrible person, but it really doesn’t.
This rationalization may help tame your inner critic instantly. But, if it still clings around—since that’s pretty common too—just keep repeating the rationalization.
All of this will help you to recognize that just because you made a mistake doesn’t make you unworthy of love. You’re still a fantastic partner or friend—conflicts are normal and perfectly okay.