Confrontation and conflict are an unavoidable part of the human experience that not everyone is comfortable with.
Any relationship will inevitably have some conflict because we’re all different people with our own goals, desires, and boundaries.
Healthy and unhealthy conflicts will happen in personal and professional relationships.
The difference between a healthy and unhealthy conflict is that a healthy conflict does not come from a place of maliciousness.
You may not appreciate the way a coworker pushes up against your boundaries. You’ll need to stand your ground in a professional way and ensure your boundary is not broken.
An unhealthy conflict with a coworker might be them trying to take credit for your work when they know they didn’t do it.
A healthy conflict could also be an innocent mistake where the coworker did not realize what you contributed.
These are situations in which you need to be able to stand up for yourself and ensure you are respected.
Personal relationships come with their own healthy and unhealthy conflicts. Maybe you have an overbearing parent, pushy friends, or an insensitive romantic partner. Confrontation is inevitable when you’re close to someone regularly.
Absence of conflict does not make for a good relationship. A lack of confrontation and conflict often means that at least one person is not voicing the problems they have or their needs are not being met.
What’s important is that the conflict does not stem from an unhealthy need to control or maliciousness.
Conflict doesn’t mean that everyone is screaming and fighting with each other. Conflict can be civil and straightforward if both parties choose it to be.
Healthy relationships are not built on enabling and constant self-sacrifice. Greater trust is created by confronting and working on issues together.
But to do that, you’ll need to address your fears so you can be okay with confrontation and conflict.
How do you do that?
1. Identify why you are afraid of confrontation and conflict.
An understanding of the problem serves as a guide to the solution.
Childhood trauma, traumatic experiences, abusive relationships, and anxiety are but a few common reasons for fear of conflict.
But the fear may not be that intense. Perhaps it’s a matter of discomfort from fruitlessly clashing with the people in your life.
Not every person who brushes up against your boundaries is toxic, abusive, or wrong. Sometimes they’re just insensitive or make a mistake.
Sometimes you can end up alongside someone who has a fundamentally different perspective on life.
You may find that you are actually the one pushing up against their boundaries, and they are holding firm.
It’s not wrong, and it doesn’t make you a bad person; it’s just the nature of relationships.
To help identify the root of your fear, ask questions such as:
– How long has a fear of confrontation been an issue?
– Can you remember a time when you weren’t afraid of conflict?
– Was it before a serious event in your life?
– Or does it go back to your childhood?
– Can you identify when your fear manifested?
2. Look for enabling self-talk about avoiding confrontation to eliminate it.
A fear of confrontation may be hidden behind enabling self-talk.
A person who is trying to avoid the source of their discomfort may be subconsciously granting themselves permission to avoid it.
This type of self-talk needs to be identified so that it can be changed into something more relevant for addressing the fear.
“I don’t want to cause a fuss for anyone.”
“They might not like me if I disagree with them.”
“No one listens to what I say anyway.”
Sometimes a fuss needs to be caused, or disagreement needs to happen, or someone needs to hear something they don’t want to hear.
The fact of the matter is that any reasonable person isn’t going to take disagreement as a reason to dislike you.
And if they do, it’s worth examining how to proceed with that person, if at all.
You may find that you’re far more invested in the relationship than they are if comfort is solely at their convenience.
It may not be a relationship you want to pour your time and energy into.
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3. Start small and work your way up to more significant issues.
A person who is not willing to engage in conflict may feel regularly unheard in their relationships.
As a result, there is likely a list of grievances that haven’t been dealt with.
A common way to get used to something uncomfortable is to gradually expose oneself to the thing so that we can work on controlling our thoughts and emotions while experiencing it.
This strategy and that list of grievances are an excellent way to work on this fear.
Pick something small and uncomplicated from the list and bring it up with the person. This will give you an opportunity to experience healthy conflict on terms you initiate so that you can start improving your tolerance for it.
The best place to start is with people that you’re close to, who you know won’t respond with unreasonable anger or aggression. Ease into the process.
4. Avoid using accusatory language. Use “I” statements, if possible.
Often, the language we use to express a thing is more important than what the message is.
People don’t think as clearly through their own anger and defensiveness. They will typically dig in their heels and may sometimes be contrary and defensive just as a knee-jerk reaction to feeling attacked.
That doesn’t mean you have to be a pushover or accept lousy behavior.
Focusing on how you feel when the other person does whatever the thing is can be a more effective means of addressing and resolving the conflict.
“It hurts me, and I feel disrespected when you make jokes about me.”
“I feel that you don’t respect my opinion when you don’t listen to what I have to say.”
These types of statements are less likely to evoke anger or defensiveness. And if they do, it should be less intense than if you focus solely on the other person’s wrongdoing toward you.
5. Choose your battles carefully.
Part of overcoming a fear of confrontation is learning what constitutes a healthy and unhealthy conflict.
There is a big difference.
Healthy conflict is one that needs to happen for the protection of one’s boundaries and well-being.
It may be standing up for yourself in a moment when you are wronged, dealing with problems in a relationship, or ensuring a coworker doesn’t take credit for your work.
Unhealthy conflict is one that serves no meaningful purpose. Not everything is worth fighting about, especially in long-term relationships.
There will be times when things come up that are annoying, but not necessarily disrespectful or destructive.
You can choose to either make it into a conflict or overlook it and preserve your happiness.
What matters is that you aren’t feeling disrespected or ignored. Your needs matter too.
The other factor is knowing when it’s better to avoid conflict altogether.
Yes, it’s important to stand up for yourself when you are being mistreated. But it’s absolutely okay to avoid conflict where violence or harm is possible.
Sometimes it’s best to stay silent and back away from the situation.
The process of change relies on regular effort. The more you do it, the easier it gets, especially after you see that healthy conflicts strengthen relationships rather than breaks them.
The caveat is that this type of fear can be rooted in mental health problems, abusive, or traumatic experiences.
If you think that your fear of conflict stems from a mental health issue, it’s best to seek out help from a certified mental health professional. There may be underlying issues that you need to work on first.