Conflict Averse? How to Stand Up for Your Wellbeing

Conflict Adverse - How to stand up for your wellbeing

For many people, conflict is something to stay away from. You may be willing to put up with some injustices to avoid rocking the boat and potentially upsetting friends, family members or coworkers. However, while compromise is a key component to healthy relationship dynamics, conflict avoidance is profoundly different than this normal give-and-take. It disrupts healthy relationships and can cause resentment, taking a toll on your mental wellness.

Whether it’s a colleague who regularly takes credit for your hard work, a family member who shows open disdain for your differences in political or religious beliefs or a spouse who isn’t pulling their weight, you likely have relationships in your life where there are opportunities for growth. Unfortunately, tackling issues such as these typically involves uncomfortable conversations.

Few people enjoy conflict, but it is an essential part of healthy interactions. By overcoming conflict avoidance and learning to set boundaries in relationships, you can work toward becoming your own advocate and maximizing your well-being.

Acknowledging and Understanding Conflict Avoidance

There are numerous reasons a person may be conflict-averse. In many cases, this habit stems from childhood and is based on how someone saw their parents navigate disagreements. In some households, maintaining peace at all costs was the primary goal, even if that meant suppressing voices, downplaying emotions and allowing unfair patterns of behavior. In other cases, this cycle begins when someone experiences a dysfunctional relationship with a partner who doesn’t know how to handle perceived criticisms. Avoiding conflict altogether was preferable over bringing up sensitive topics and risking confrontations.

People who actively avoid conflict tend to do so because they’re conditioned to expect negative outcomes when they express their opinions, challenge an idea, or advocate for themselves. They don’t trust the other person to handle the conflict constructively, so the idea of asserting their opinion can feel scary and not worth the potential backlash. Alternatively, they may prefer to be seen as a nice, low-maintenance person who’s willing to go with the flow rather than create obstacles for others.

Conflict avoidance can manifest in a variety of ways. For example, someone may sidestep a potential conflict by changing the subject and avoiding certain conversation topics, or they may deny that an issue exists altogether. They may also be reluctant to enforce their personal boundaries. In many cases, someone who’s conflict-averse fears disappointing others or being abandoned.

Recognizing the Impact of Conflict Avoidance on Well-Being

Avoiding conflict may be a sanity-saver in the short term, giving an initial sense of peace. However, in most cases, you’re simply exchanging an external conflict for an inner one. By continuing to let someone ignore your boundaries and minimize your feelings, experiences and contributions, you’re missing growth opportunities, improved relationships and healthier power dynamics.

While you may be able to sidestep external conflict, this typically creates an internal battle that ultimately disrupts your mental well-being. Avoiding a disagreement or uncomfortable conversation requires you to suppress your emotions, thoughts and sometimes beliefs. You may not have to endure a difficult conversation, but you’re likely to deal with feelings of resentment.

Resentment is toxic to a relationship, creating a wedge between you and the other person and creating disconnection and isolation. It also has a significant impact on mental health and can lead to depression, irritability and an inability to focus on anything other than the injustices you experience. These negative feelings can take over, leaving you unable to enjoy the present.

Conflict is unavoidable in personal relationships, and even if you dodge confrontations, you still have to deal with the challenges it brings. Choosing to be assertive and setting personal boundaries spares you the mental toll of resentment while giving the relationship an opportunity for improvement.

Developing Assertiveness Skills

If you’re accustomed to going with the flow and avoiding confrontation at the expense of your well-being, practicing assertiveness and clear communication can feel aggressive. It’s important to remember that by being assertive and letting others know your boundaries, you’re doing your part in fostering a healthy relationship.

While some people are naturally more up-front and less concerned with how people perceive their boundaries, others have a difficult time setting boundaries in relationships. The good news is that assertiveness is a character trait that anyone can develop and hone.

Value Your Self-Worth

Oftentimes, people who actively avoid conflict have a diminished sense of self-worth. Consciously or subconsciously, they may believe that the other person’s perspective, beliefs or wants are more valid or informed than their own. As a result, their low self-esteem prevents them from telling others their expectations. When you begin to show as much respect for yourself as you show other people, you may have an easier time expressing yourself authentically.

Get Comfortable with Saying No

There’s nothing wrong with someone asking for help, whether they need weekend childcare or a pet sitter, a colleague to take on some of their work or a ride to the airport. However, the fact that a need exists doesn’t mean it’s your job to fulfill it. When your plate is already full or you have an opportunity for some much-needed leisure time, simply say no.

Be Direct

Assertiveness is effective in communication because it cuts straight to the point, leaving no room for misinterpretation. When navigating a conflict, use “I” phrases, as in “I think” or “I feel.” This is simple and direct without presuming to know the other person’s thoughts, feelings or motivations.

Eliminate Negative Emotions from Your Message

Conflict often brings negative emotions, which is likely why so many people seek to avoid it. When navigating a challenging situation, keep your message objective and leave out negative emotions. Even if the other person becomes reactive, avoid becoming angry or defensive.

Seek Understanding of the Other Person’s Perspective

Assertiveness doesn’t mean steamrolling over someone else’s ideas, opinions or feelings. Instead, it means having the ability to say what you need to while respecting the other person. This enables a collaborative solution where both people may come away from the conversation with something they need.

Setting Boundaries and Prioritizing Self-Care

Setting boundaries is an essential aspect of self-care. They help you monitor your own behavior and structure your life in a way that helps you meet your goals. If you constantly feel overwhelmed, you say yes to too many things or people in your life consistently ask too much of you, then it may be time to rethink your limits.

Be Aware of How Others’ Requests Make You Feel

The first step to setting boundaries in your relationships is to note the emotions you feel when a potential conflict arises. For example, if a neighbor or family member asks you to provide unpaid childcare regularly or a coworker asks you to take on some of their tasks, pay attention to how you feel at the thought of saying yes to their requests. Does fulfilling their requests feel manageable, mutually beneficial and something you can do without overextending yourself? Or do you feel dread or panic at the idea of taking on new responsibilities?

Take Time to Recognize Your Needs

The next step to setting boundaries is allowing yourself to realize what’s bothering you and what needs to change so you feel better about a situation. Once you can identify your feelings, you can develop the confidence to say what you need to say to honor your own needs.

Make Simple Changes

Prioritizing self-care through setting boundaries in relationships involves making small, manageable changes. For example, one change you may make is turning your work phone and computer off in the evening and not checking your email until the next day. Or, your boundary may be that you keep your weekends free for leisure time.

Seeking Support and Professional Guidance When Needed

If you identify as conflict-averse and your default answer to requests tends to be “yes,” setting new boundaries and learning to communicate openly and clearly can feel intimidating. This is especially true for those who’ve experienced trauma related to interpersonal conflicts. In many cases, professional support and guidance are essential for those learning to become more assertive in communication. A trained counselor can help you identify your needs, learn to articulate them and navigate challenges related to conflicts.

At Restore Mental Health, our mental health care professionals specialize in helping clients gain the confidence they need to advocate for themselves. To learn more about our programs, contact us today.