A conflict avoider is a pleaser who, when drawn into conflict, handles it poorly. I am a recovering conflict avoider. Those of us who admit it have some qualities that cause us shame, low self-esteem and even depression. We are secretly angry. We want to lash out but we dare not. Instead, we beat ourselves up. We deeply believe we are not good enough. We are unlovable. No other person can love us enough to alter our self-perception as unworthy.
We take things personally. We are not paranoid. We just think the other guy is doing it to us. We are fearful that others will see who we really are behind the mask we portray to the world. We are sometimes wildly successful in the world and in our careers. We live in fear that it all might come crashing down if people knew what we are really like. Thus we have to hide our true thoughts and feelings. To not do so would be to invite that which sends our heartbeat soaring – confrontation and conflict.
We rarely let someone get too close to us, though we long for closeness. When we do let someone in, they inevitably pull away. We feel hurt and rejected. We don’t get it. We are neurotic in that sense. It’s all about us. That person saw something in us – our unlovableness. We analyze, even obsessively. Why? Why? What could we have done differently? We are caught in a trap of wanting the approval of others.
When we screw up, we replay the event over and over. Without noticing, we are seeking to assign blame. We want to rationalize that it’s not our fault. But in the end, for a conflict avoider, it’s always our fault. Then we feel bad. A soulful wave of shame washes over us. We are unlovable.
To recover, we role play ‘fixing’ things. We rehearse having a conversation with the other person where we explain ourselves and they nod in understanding. We try desperately to convince ourselves that they will take some responsibility for their actions. We live in fear that if we actually have this conversation, things will go badly. That’s because things have gone badly so many times before. We can’t help ourselves. When we get honest about how we feel, we just blurt it out.
For this reason, we screen everything before we say it. We need to assure ourselves that we’ll say and do things in ways others will like and approve. This is a classic habit of conflict avoiders and it is exhausting. In reality, we are double-minded, thinking one thing while saying another.
Conflict avoiders live in our head. We are amazing fantasizers. We imagine life in another job, another climate and with another person – one who really loves us as we are. Little do we realize that we are escaping the place of our healing that is right under our nose. Past and future are our fantasies. The present barely exists.
We become experts at numbing out. We lean on work, food, booze, pills, sex and nicotine. We talk a lot and listen poorly. We are exhausted, falling asleep and waking up far too early.
For those of us blessed enough to hit a breaking point, something happens. We cannot do it anymore. We cannot please everyone. We cannot stand the racing mind that torments us. We feel like a phony because deep down we know we are. We decide to get real. That’s when all hell breaks lose.
Unconsciously, we have trained those around us on what to expect from us. They expect us to be nice, cooperative and happy with who they are. When we get real, that is not what comes out. Anger, resentment and unhappiness come out. Others can’t handle it. We lose many relationships. That which we feared, we cause to occur. Our challenge is to accept our role in these unhappy endings without mercilessly beating ourselves. We need to be forgiven and somehow, we can’t give that to ourselves.
A true conflict avoider needs help. We can’t see ourselves anymore. Who am I? Where did the real me get lost? How do I find me again? When we do see ourselves, we realize we can’t seem to stop ourselves from doing it. Conflict avoidance has become an unconscious and instinctive habit that causes us to wound ourselves. Repeatedly. For me, this has been nearly a twenty year mental, emotional and spiritual journey to recover, though enormous progress happened in the first three years. And, like an alcoholic, it’s never over. It’s just better, so much better.
Recovery begins with admitting the problem. There is no simple answer and no quick fix. The only way out is to begin facing conflicts that need to get resolved. And getting better at it. I am talking about the big ones that are ruining your inner peace. They are the ones primarily with your family of origin which underlay all the other conflicts in your life. The mere thought of these sends your adrenaline soaring and your hand reaching for a glass of wine.
You need courage. You need to feel fed up. You need to admit you want to change. When you do, the doors will open and the true journey of your life begins. You become the person you were born to be, living out the purpose you are on this planet. You heal the wounds, one at a time. Your fractured mind, heart and soul reunite in harmony. Inner peace is the reward waiting for you – heaven on earth. Jesus said, “Neither shall they say, See here! or, see there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” Luke 17:21