By: Joel Telling
by Andrea M. Darcy
Want to be good at dealing with conflict, but lose your way every time?
Why Conflict Gets the Better of You
What is it that makes conflict so hard for you compared to others?
1. You go too fast.
If you rush into conflict as soon as something upsets you – if you barge into your colleagues office, or phone that family member immediately? It’s unlikely you will do well in the ensuing conflict.
While most of us would love to be so in charge of our emotions and thoughts we could handle conflict immediately, the truth is that most of us need a moment to sort out just what we are upset about, and how we can best express it.
Something like mindfulness can be a great start to learning how to take a breath and step back before conflict, and can mean it is less likely you’ll say things you regret.
2. You are bringing old emotions to the scene.
Often told you overreact? You are too emotional? You ‘make a mountain out of a molehill’? But confused by this feedback as your emotions feel so real to you?
It could be a case of an unresolved past. Childhood trauma tucked away in your unconscious can create a myriad of big emotions that attach themselves to any present upset.
For example, if as a child you had an abusive or controlling parent, you might be very sensitive to someone telling you what to do. If your boss points out he told you he doesn’t want a cover page on a report you might feel very upset and storm out of the office. This might make sense to you, but if all your colleagues are shocked by your response, it’s worth considering where your big reactions truly come from.
3. You are actually being manipulative.
Manipulation – trying to force others to do what you want – never works well in conflict.
The other person will feel bullied and react strongly and you’ll have a blowout on your hands.
Can’t believe you are manipulative because you are ‘such a nice person’? Being ‘nice’ can be it’s own form of control if it involves making the other person into the bad/wrong one, or letting them know how much they ‘need’ you. Listen to your language. Do many of your sentences start with ‘you’? ‘You did this, you did that’? Are you blaming and criticising?
If this sounds like you, you might want to read about codependency, where someone needs the approval of others to feel good and will ‘nicely’ manipulate to get it.
4. You aren’t being honest about what you are really upset about.
Denial is a defense mechanism that protects us from facing things we are uncomfortable dealing with. When we are in denial our emotions don’t disappear – they just find another outlet.
If you find yourself constantly fighting about the same unimportant things again and again, it’s likely that you are in denial. A classic example is the couple who fight weekly about how to load the dishwasher properly, instead of facing the very real issue that they are no longer feeling connected to each other.
5. You can’t think or feel anything when conflict happens.
Do you go numb when faced with conflict? Find all your well-thought-out arguments have suddenly fled your head only to be replaced with cotton wool? Only know what you feel or meant to say a day or too later, when it’s too late?
It could be you suffer from what is called ‘dissociation‘ in psychology. This is a habit of ‘leaving the room’ when stress hits, that can almost feel as if you are floating out of your body and ‘watching’ yourself speak and act. It arises from childhood trauma and stress, where this sort of ‘exit route’ was the only way to survive. Of course when the brain continues the pattern into adulthood it is no longer so helpful.
6. You are too scared of upsetting others.
Too properly navigate conflict you need to be able to set personal boundaries and state your own wants and needs.
If this is too hard for you, if you feel terrified to tell others no, then conflict will leave you depleted every time. You’ll walk away furious at yourself for again giving in or agreeing to things you didn’t mean to.
This sort of pattern can be a sign of a codependency issue, low self-esteem, or also a side effect of childhood abuse which left you feeling you had no real rights.
7. You have a psychological condition that makes conflict hard.
There are several psychological conditions that can cause someone to struggle with healthy conflict.
Adult ADHD causes impulsivity so you’ll rush into conflict without being able to stop yourself.
Borderline personality disorder leaves someone with both impulsivity and poor emotional regulation skills. This means not only do you ‘go off’ before you can stop yourself, your mood will go from zero to a hundred in record time.
In fact all personality disorders will, to an extent, make conflict hard. A personality disorder means you act and think in ways that are different to others, so it’s hard to understand others and be understood.
What can help me be better at conflict?
Self help books are a good place to start. Take the time to learn how to communicate more clearly, and how to navigate conflict under stress.
If this article has given you a sneaking feeling that your problem with conflict might be connected to unresolved issues in your past or a possible personality disorder, it’s a good idea to seek professional support. A well-trained counsellor or psychotherapist can create a safe and non-judgemental environment for you to get to the bottom of why you can’t handle conflict well.
Harley Therapy connects you to professional, friendly London-based therapists who can help you deal with conflict. Not in the UK? We can also put you in touch with online therapists.
Andrea M. Darcy is a health and wellbeing expert, trained in person-centred counselling and coaching. She often writes about trauma, relationships, and ADHD, and advises people on how to plan their therapy journey. Find her on Instagram @am_darcy