The pitfalls of avoiding conflict may be obvious. We may conceal our genuine feelings, desires, and viewpoints because we’re afraid of how we’ll be seen or received by others.
Rather than be courageously authentic, we might find a pseudo-refuge by clinging to lies, deceptions, and convenient omissions. We may shut down emotionally or artfully change the subject, fearing that if we reveal our honest feelings or wants, we’ll be rejected or shamed.
Past rejections or traumas often bleed through into our current situation. We may be convinced that we’re better off keeping our experience to ourselves, lest we expose our tender heart to another rejection. This may keep us safe in the short-run, while reinforcing a shaky sense of self-worth and painful isolation.
Avoiding Conflict When Possible
If our intention is to live with an open heart and connect with people in harmonious ways, then why wouldn’t we avoid conflict whenever possible? Does some part of us think we should eagerly welcome conflict, seek opportunities to engage in it, or even relish it?
We need not feel shame if we have an aversion to interpersonal tension. After all, what we really want is love and intimacy. If we keep a clear focus on trying to understand another person and expressing our feelings and wants in a kind, respectful way, we may minimize the conflicts that stem from feeling misunderstood, criticized, or shamed.
Perhaps some people enjoy conflict because it makes them feel powerful or more alive. They may think it’s shameful to “back down,” even when they know they’re wrong or on shaky ground. They may find pleasure in the pride of being right and find power in proving others wrong.
Perhaps they’re addicted to the adrenaline or dopamine produced when they let their anger fly or find fault with others. Or they enjoy the thrill of the debate and the ego gratification of winning points.
We can learn and grow through unavoidable conflict when approached in a skillful way. However, a habit of stirring up conflict can become a defense that keeps us distant from people.
People who have a history of not feeling loved, wanted and connected may be drawn to conflict and drama because they’ve become acclimated to it — or don’t know how to receive love when it’s present. They may have difficulty letting others get close to them.
Taking intelligent risks to face possible rejection or conflict is an important part of personal growth. But we need to pick our battles wisely rather than impulsively succumb to the “fight” part of the fight, flight, freeze response. Living in a chronic, heightened state of vigilance can create stress and inhibit our restorative systems.
Another reason to steer away from conflict when possible is that we need healthy boundaries within our world. There may be situations where we don’t feel safe to reveal our true experience because our history with a particular person reveals that there’s little room for our feelings or views. We wouldn’t want to continually walk into a propeller when it’s not really necessary.
One part of self-care is to safeguard ourselves from unnecessary and draining confrontations. If this lack of safety applies to a partnership, we might consider couples counseling as a safe place to resolve important issues that are creating distance.
Avoiding conflicts may be our default mode if we haven’t had good role models or positive experiences when we’ve taken risks to express ourselves. If so, it may serve our growth to tap into our inner strength and face interpersonal challenges rather than collapse in the face of potential conflict. Cultivating the art of discernment and mindfulness — trusting our inner sense of when it feels right to engage in a challenging conversation and when it doesn’t — can safeguard our heart and lead to a more peaceful life.