When You Avoid Conflict, You Internalize It
Why setting boundaries is better than self-abandonment.
Dear peacemakers, people-pleasers, nice guys, and don’t rock the boaters: stop lying to yourself. All that alleged kindness is a compulsive and subtly self-destructive shame-avoidance tactic.
When people avoid conflict to “keep the peace,” they’re usually waging war with themselves. They’re dismissing their wants and needs, ignoring their intuition, stuffing their feelings, and allowing their boundaries to be violated. In this habitual act of self-abandonment, they are reinforcing a core belief of unworthiness.
So the tragic irony is that, in an attempt to avoid the possible rejection and loss of connection inherent in conflict, these people are rejecting and disconnecting from themselves.
You see, shame at its core is a fear of disconnection. Yet shame actually perpetuates disconnection and thrives on isolation. What’s worse — people are ashamed of being ashamed, so shame itself is a shameful experience! What a vile and insidious emotional cancer!
This is why Carl Jung called shame “a soul-eating emotion.” It’s the fucking worst.
What if I told you that every conflict is an opportunity to remind yourself that you are worth fighting for, your voice matters and that your needs are important?
Would you consider the possibility that confrontation is a means to stop abuse and not to inflict it?
What if conflict was never about winners and losers, rejectors and rejectees, good and bad, right and wrong? Is it possible that conflict is a place for two parties to share vulnerably and authentically of themselves to cultivate intimacy and discover a win-win solution that meets everyone’s needs?
Holy shit. Could that be?
I can already hear some of you saying, “Yeah, that sounds real cute and flowery, Adam, but what about all the petulant man-babies and objectively terrible people in the world who refuse to cooperate in non-hostile negotiations?”
Well, that is a splendid question.
Everyone is fighting an internal battle. We all have baggage, wounds, and triggers of our own. We’re all doing our best on this terrifying journey of self-discovery. And you’re right, there are some badly broken human beings amongst us.
Conflict with such unfortunate souls is an opportunity for you to protect yourself, set boundaries, walk away, or perhaps even amputate a whole motherfucker from your life. You will continue to get what you tolerate, and if you tolerate toxic relationships… well, there’s more where that came from.
Now, I’m not saying to eradicate all difficult people from your life. One could argue that every human relationship is difficult. But you must discern which people are safe to engage with and which are not. Who is willing to work towards a win-win solution, and who is out for blood?
If being vulnerable and voicing your insecurities or stating your needs to someone results in criticism, judgment, manipulation, or attack, then it’s quite possible that this person literally doesn’t know any better. Maybe their broken parents were unable to teach them how to be whole. That’s fair.
Here you can exercise compassion and tell them how it feels when they react contentiously to someone simply stating their needs. If, over time, they prove to you that there is absolutely no room for your dignity in their conversations with you, then it’s time to let that person go. You are paying all of the emotional costs of maintaining that relationship, and it’s depleting your life force. You’re not obligated to shoulder that burden.
Don’t expect a pack of wild dingos to babysit your inner child. You are 100% responsible for who you surround yourself with and how you let them treat you.
Remember, someone doesn’t have to be “bad” for them to not be good for you. No matter how charming and well-intentioned this friend, family member, coworker, or partner is, if they’re exhausting to be around, you alone are tasked with setting appropriate boundaries with them.
This is what conflict is: boundary-setting! So when you avoid conflict, what you’re really avoiding is boundaries. And missing boundaries always, always, always produce resentment. And resentment manifests in countless types of dysfunctional and harmful behaviors. Thus, avoiding conflict with others can only produce conflict within yourself.
I believe that we all have a moral obligation to not be at war with ourselves — to love ourselves, even. Because self-destructive tendencies invariably radiate outward and harm those around us. You have to show up for your life. All of it. Not just the happy and wonderful parts. You’ve got to show up for the conflict, confrontations, and scary stuff too.
That’s your responsibility.
Writing to heal myself, others, and the world.