The fear of conflict is rooted in the reality that we are not taught constructive ways of dealing with interpersonal struggles. Plus it’s scary: conflict can bring the end to romantic relationships, friendships, and even family connections. We humans are social creatures who thrive from our relationships and our habits, and any sort of disruption to our peace of mind (or even just the threat) can condition us to want to run away and avoid conflict.
Reframing the role conflict plays in our lives can have a significant, positive impact on our emotional reaction to it. Rather than approaching it as a win-lose situation, or seeing it as a power struggle between “good and bad” or “right or wrong,” think of it as an opportunity for personal growth, reflection, and a tool for strengthening your relationships. Below are some of the steps I have taken in my own life to begin to reframe conflict and find more peace within my emotions. For further reading I enjoy this article explaining why conflict is a good thing.
- Identify the root of your fear of conflict. Most strong emotions are rooted in something from childhood. Can you remember the first time you learned to fear conflict? Was it with a teacher, or a parent? What did it feel like? Identifying where fears are rooted is the first step in starting to face them. Once you have begun to identify the root of this fear of conflict, try to understand from that perspective what resolution looks like. This does not mean that you need to go back in your life and “right the wrongs,” but it does mean getting in touch with that raw emotion. I find journaling, writing angry letters that never get sent, and meditation are powerful tools when trying to identify and process these emotions.
- List the good things you learned from the conflict. All conflicts teach us something, so try to be open to receiving the messages. You can even think back on past conflicts to figure out what you learned from them. Did a fight with a friend make you see that you needed to be honest about your likes and dislikes? Did miscommunication lead to a painful fight with your mother? Sometimes the lesson is about finding better ways to communicate; other times the outcome helps you decide how you want to be as a person, and what kind of behavior you want to let go of. In my case, past family conflicts have taught me the value of breaking negative family behaviors so I do not pass them along to my children. Business conflicts have taught me the value of negotiating contracts, which provide for transparent and clear rules of engagement. Conflicts with friends have built my character to be a more compassionate and patient person.
- Thank the person(s) you had conflict with. Because we all learn from conflict, we can use this to reframe our perspective on the person(s) there was conflict with. Thank them for the role they played in bringing you to a new level of understanding and wisdom. The way I do this is by sitting quietly and imagining this person(s) being showered in light. Sending them light does not mean you need to admit you were wrong or even like the person you are sending light to, but what it does do is release you from the anger of always making them wrong in your head. By reframing our own experience with the conflict as one of personal growth, you regain your own power, rather than giving it away to someone who may not even be present in your life anymore. From there, you are more securely in charge of your future, and don’t need to leave things to “fate.”
- Clear out the old to make room for the new. Approach conflict as an opportunity to understand ourselves better by forcing yourself to deal with parts of yourself that you don’t want to acknowledge. We can confront our own fears, letting go of the things that no longer serve us. This process can bring out strong emotions, which is scary, but remember that it is always darkest before the light.
- Understand how conflict can bring you closer to those you love. Conflict tests our personal bonds. If you handle disagreements and struggles without resorting to hurtful actions or comments, the bond is often strengthened by the experience. Working through conflicts with others will create a deeper understanding, fostering a bond built on trust and respect with those involved.
This type of self-work is rooted in compassion, discipline, and self-care. Being discerning in your reaction to conflict will help you to free up emotional energy. I credit this type of self-work with giving me the emotional and mental capacity to follow my dreams, building a successful business. While the process looks different for everyone, practices that have worked for me are journaling, meditation, and concentration.