Conflict is defined as a clash between individuals arising out of a difference in thought process, attitudes, understanding, interests, requirements, and even sometimes perceptions. A conflict results in heated arguments, physical abuses, and definitely loss of peace and harmony. A conflict can change relationships.
Conflict evokes strong physical and emotional responses in people, which is often why it is avoided. People avoid conflict for several reasons. It may be that we lack confidence, or perhaps we have already made up our mind about how the situation is and how the other person feels.
Conflict avoidance is a person’s method of reacting to conflict, which attempts to avoid directly confronting the issue at hand. Methods of doing this can include changing the subject, putting off a discussion until later, or simply not bringing up the subject of contention. In a way, conflict avoidance can be seen as a kind of people-pleasing behavior. It often has roots in deep fear of upsetting other people and witnessing their negative reactions.
The thing about conflict avoidance is that, in small doses, it’s a perfectly reasonable reaction. Conflict-avoidant people would rather just shoulder the bad behavior of others than deal with it, and that doesn’t lead to happiness or satisfaction for anybody.
Causes Of Conflict Avoidance
How parents and caregivers react when a child expresses their thoughts and feelings can have a great impact on the child’s wellbeing. If a child is controlled, engulfed, or dismissed in their family environment, they may develop conflict-avoidant and secretive behaviors and thoughts to maintain a sense of safety and security.
This is part of avoidant relationship attachment. If you tend to attach in your relationships by avoiding confrontation and connection, or are prone to secrets, you may have some avoidant tendencies you learned in childhood.
Signs Of Conflict Avoidance
Here are some signs you might be chronically conflict-avoidant, and why that might be a serious problem.
- You Fear Disappointing Or Displeasing Anybody
Conflict avoidance is classic people-pleasing behavior. Conflict avoidance often comes from a deep fear of pissing anybody off or making them “dislike” you in any way; in the conflict-avoidant person’s mind, enduring a bad situation is better than fighting about it and possibly incurring somebody’s displeasure.
- You Pull Conversational Manoeuvres To Get Away From Fights
Serial conflict-avoiders will have a series of unconscious maneuvers to get out of fight situations. Maybe you throw out a joke; maybe you get all passive-aggressive; maybe you leave the room, or deliberately change the subject. But if things start to look like conflict, your immediate reaction is to either get out of the situation or somehow change it so that it’s more peaceful, rather than seeing the fight through.
- You Practice “Gunnysacking”
Conflict-avoiding people are often gunnysacks. It’s a term from psychology, referring to the practice of silently accumulating grievances, annoyances, and problems as they build-up, and then letting them all go in a rush as the “sack” bursts, often completely flooding their target. Gunnysacking is intimately related to conflict avoidance, because it’s what happens when you don’t resolve things as you go along, and just hold onto them instead. It can also reinforce conflict-avoidant behavior, because, after the flood of misery dumps, you may feel wretched and irrational, and resolve to “be more peaceful” in the future.
- You Experienced Bad Conflicts In Your Childhood
A bit of fighting isn’t a bad thing. You just have to learn to fight well and fight respectfully. But conflict-avoidant people tend to have learned, early in their lives, that conflict is a frightening, negative experience to be avoided at all costs, rather than something that can resolve problems. Violent fights, irrational parents, conflicts that escalate rapidly into seriously damaging slanging matches: if you’ve seen a fight go badly wrong, you’ll be inclined to pull away from all possibility of that happening in the future.
- You Have A Fear Of Expressing Yourself
Fights are, ultimately, about expressing our position in ways that may convince the other person that they’re wrong. If, however, you’ve come from an environment where your views were met with dismissiveness, snorts of derision, serious smackdowns, constant criticism, or any other kind of systemic dismantling, you’re not going to feel comfortable asserting yourself.
- You Silently Resent That Things Don’t Resolve
In adulthood, some things rarely resolve properly without a good fight, or at least somebody standing up for themselves and asserting their opinion. If you’re conflict avoidant, instead of telling your boss they’ve got your pay wrong and need to fix it, or a boyfriend that their birthday card for your mom was offensive, you’ll suffer in silence. Keyword “suffer,” because the issue at hand won’t change if you won’t engage in discussion about it, and the same thing will likely happen again. And that’s how resentment builds.
- You’ve Suffered Injustice And Unfairness Just To Avoid A Fight
If you can think of more than one example where avoiding a fight led to a significant disadvantage on your part, you’re probably a prime candidate for conflict-avoiding status. Sometimes avoiding conflict is a good idea; if somebody is being irrational, prone to violence, or just needs to be calmed down rather than met with assertive responses, it’s a good and diplomatic idea. But you have rights, and if you’ve let them slip rather than go for a confrontation, you’re avoiding conflict and costing yourself things in the process. And no, complaining to other people doesn’t count as helping a conflict resolve itself.
Getting out of conflict-avoidant patterns is tricky, but there are a lot of psychological guides to getting what you need out of a conflict, from pre-planning your sentences in your head to figuring out how you’d like things to resolve ahead of time. It’s all right.
How To Overcome Conflict Avoidance
Evaluate your survival patterns. What experiences from your past may have led to your conflict avoidance? What are you trying to escape when you shy away from confrontation? Becoming aware of your core survival patterns is the first step towards changing them.
Think about the effects of hiding emotions. Try and identify the negative ways that avoiding confrontation can affect your relationship. This can motivate you to speak up and work on developing healthier conflict behaviors. Additionally, consider how healthy conflict can benefit you, not only in your relationship but also in other areas of your life, such as social and professional situations, where self-esteem therapy can provide valuable guidance in fostering assertiveness and self-assurance.
Reconsider any assumptions you may have about conflict. Fear of conflict can be incredibly deeply rooted, so this step can be hard. Try to remind yourself that confrontation won’t necessarily result in pain and distress. And the more you practice healthy conflict, the less afraid you’re likely to be next time.
Take one step at a time. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and overcoming your learned survival patterns is unlikely to be a quick process, either. Take it slow and work on one problem at a time.
Practice staying calm. Honest and fair communication relies on patience, calmness, and “I” statements. Instead of casting blame, try to keep your cool and give your perspective calmly. The idea is to become more assertive, not aggressive. If all these measures fail, see a medical doctor or a counselor.