Learning to Live as a Conflict Avoidant 

It came as no great surprise to me recently when my therapists (that’s right, PLURAL) told me that I am ‘conflict avoidant’. If you need a crash course on conflict styles, google it and catch up because I’m going to jump straight to the point: I do not like conflict. If I’m being honest, conflict feels like a creature with a thousand claws is scratching down my shoulders and squeezing my neck until I choke. But thankfully, through therapy and a hefty tool box of mental exercises, I’ve (kinda) tamed that creature and have made it (somewhat) my bitch.

Like all conflict styles, being Conflict Avoidant (CA) is no better or worse than the others. Every human being has a different manner in which they deal with conflict, and all manners have pros and cons. However it seems that humans get really frustrated when different styles of conflict are confronted by one another. I know this because I maintain close relationships, and each person has a different conflict style than myself. Some are easier to manage, while others often get tangled up in a mess. It’s a work in progress learning how to dance with each style.

I can only speak from my own experience being CA, so I try to be understanding of all other conflict types. I feel that as a CA, I’m far easier intimidated and am more susceptible to pressure and persuasion. I have often found that when I’m in situations of conflict in which the person I’m arguing with has a stronger personality and (perhaps) thicker skin, I often give up or give in. It’s rarely because I agree with the other person’s argument or I’ve changed my mind; it’s always because I can’t stand the pressure of conflict, I always feel like I’m about to suffocate and/or cry. 

This is really hard for me to write about, as it’s really my biggest fault. Standing up for myself is a huge overwhelming effort, one that I can pull off once in a blue moon but leaves me drained for weeks. More often than not when faced with conflict, I back down and walk away because I don’t want the negativity to germinate in my chest and take over. It’s just always been easier that way.

I think the reason I’m writing about my biggest weakness is because I’ve been examining self-esteem lately. My therapist has been asking me for ages, ‘where does your self-esteem come from?’ And I’ve never had a really good answer. Every answer I gave was half-hearted or desperate guesses, I’ve never really been sure where it came from. After recently going through some rough patches and putting my frustrations under a microscope, I had the answer: Solitude.

Two years ago, I moved into my own apartment. I had never lived alone before, after high school I went to college where I had a string of roommates then moved back in with my parents post-undergrad. Living with my parents for a year in my twenties was both a blessing and a HUGE pain in the rear. Sure, I was in my twenties and I was an adult. I had finally quit my soul-sucking job selling shoes at Macy’s to work for a school district that paid me better and didn’t make me hate humanity. But I still had that awkward need to ‘ask’ my parents permission before going out late, and when I got into a serious relationship that meant ‘sleepovers’ I was ready to leave the nest. I was ready to be on my own to fly.

I am very blessed to have been living alone for two years in my apartment now. My true introverted self flourished in my solitude, and there I finally met my true self and called her friend. I still live close to my family and have sleepovers with my boyfriend, but being alone has really allowed me to find myself and where my true strengths lie. I’ve set up an etsy business that I’m slowly (because I’m absolutely terrified) branching out into farmers markets, I’ve embraced my desire to make art, and I’ve learned how to clean the toilet (are you proud of me yet, Mum?).

I imagine you can see how my self-esteem is now so well matched with my weakness. They often hold hands as they skip through the minefield of emotions I experience on a daily basis. In my solitude I can find clarity and thought in any issue I’m presented with, but being CA often means I take longer to respond to an issue than others. When immediately confronted with conflict, I’ll often back down and give in to find some immediate peace, only to later examine the situation in solitude and find thoughts that I wish I’d shared earlier. My need to sit on any issue to mull over in solitude has cost me many relationships with impatient individuals; ones that were more open to conflict than myself, but I ultimately wouldn’t miss. 

I’ve gathered some tools lately to help me bear out being CA. First is the word “safe”, there is more power in that word than any superpower found in the Marvel Universe. I telling someone “I don’t feel safe in this conversation…” or “I don’t feel safe when…” automatically stops the other person. Unless they’re a real asshole, no person wants to be told that they make someone feel unsafe. It’s a terrible feeling! Because if someone doesn’t feel safe talking to you, that means you are not a safe person. Unless you’re a psychopath (in which cast, stop reading my blog and go get some help), no one wants to make people feel unsafe. I know that if I tell someone, “I don’t feel safe right now,” they cannot tell me I’m wrong. They are my feelings, and they are 100% valid. Anyone who tries to invalidate someone’s safety is an asshole.

My second tool comes on the heels of the first, and that is using statements that start with “I feel…” I have found that in using statements such as “that makes me feel…” or “When you did this, it made me feel…” you have already blamed the other person for whatever it is they’ve done. In stating “I feel…” You are taking ownership of your feelings and where you stand in any given situation.

The thirst tool is time.  This can be both a healing balm, or a slow poisonous death. Taking time to step back from a conflict to think and gain insight can present better solutions, but if the wait is too long the other person may grow impatient. Not all conflict can be dealt in the heat of the moment, but neither can they be left on the back burner forever. There is a mastery to asking for time to examine the conflict, the returning to it later enough that insight has been gained but the battle hasn’t been abandoned. This tool is one I’m still training, as being CA often means letting conflicts drop and pretending they don’t exist anymore. 

I’m still learning how not to see being CA as a weakness, but the setbacks tend to be debilitating. I am learning how to turn conflict into conversation; choosing to share feelings and ideas with others rather than engage in a battle of words that leave me with wounds more painful than the victory itself. This doesn’t always work, especially when the other person isn’t open to receiving feelings and thoughts with respect and mindfulness. However it can be a start to giving myself some inner peace in trying to resolve conflict in a non-hostile manner.
That’s not to say I’m now perfect; I’m still the queen of passive aggressive anger. I will cold-shoulder the hell out of you if you so much as think about hurting a loved one or stealing my food. I also make poor judgement calls, and I don’t think I’ll ever have any volume control. But I am trying to do the best I can with the tools I have to make daily conflicts more bearable to deal with. I’m learning how to embrace being CA without beating myself up over the setbacks. It has been, by far, the hardest task I’ve yet to face, but not one I’m willing to give up on. 
Follow on twitter @JoyPearson

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I know I’m not the only one… It just feels that way

I was starving, at that uncomfortable point where you’re so hungry you feel nauseous and ready to cast your cookies without having made the batch in the first place.

I’ve been taking Anti-depressants for well over a year. I’m one of the few fortunate who’s doctor hit the nail on the head with the prescription the first time, Zoloft. I can’t say enough wonderful things about this drug, I’ll tell anyone who asks how it completely gave my life a 180 degree turn from where it was when I graduated college massively depressed and struggling with an unknown diagnosis of PTSD (Oof long sentence, sorry guys).

One of the side effects of Zoloft is my decreased appetite. If I don’t remember to consciously eat, next thing I know it will be 3 PM and I’m reenacting the poor orphans of Oliver Twist. Stupid people have called it a gift, not having an appetite makes it easy to lose weight; it’s also an easy way to embarrassingly pass out onstage during dance rehearsal for The Music Man (True story, but another time for that).

So today, I remembered to drink a breakfast shake this morning, but I completely spaced out during lunch time doing puppy training with my friend, Susan, and watching our various favorite British shows (Hint: Miranda, Downton Abbey, and my new favorite: Crimson Fields).

I got home at 9Pm this evening and got to work tidying my apartment (my mother is coming over tomorrow to help me rearrange some furniture, I don’t think she’d take kindly to the pile of dirty laundry that smells like a dead hobo). I hadn’t noticed I was sweating until I went into my overheated bathroom and realized it was a cold sweat. I was reading some packaging on a hair product when nausea hit and I tripped and fell in a fashion that would have made Miranda Hart proud.

I knew I was hungry, and I needed something quick. I didn’t feel sturdy to stand and cook something and all the take out places near my apartment were long closed. So I snatched my car keys and dashed out of my place.

I am no stranger to fast food. I grew up on it, as soon as I had a car I went and spoiled myself with McD’s french fries at least 3 times a week. My car was low on gas, so I drove quickly to the closest open joint, which was a recently reopened Taco Bell (don’t judge, I love their Ranch Tacos….).

There was a loooooooooong ass line of cars, but I was stubborn and unwilling to drive further. As I got closer to the check out window, smoke curled around me as my anxiety sat in the back seat and silently chuckled, “Oh look, they added a huge window for everyone inside to stare out at you.”

Since they rebuilt the place, the entire side of the building on the drive through lane has one HUGE window, supposedly so we could watch the depressed workers make our fake hispanic meals. I’m calling a huge BULL SHIT on that, the bitch in the backseat drawled, “Oh man, it’s like you’re the exhibit for all of them to watch and judge you for your food choices.” I knew it was ridiculous, but the bitch had a point……

I tried stopping just out of site of the window, but the bloody thing was at least 8 feet long and the cars behind me were getting impatient. So…. I hunched down in my seat and inched forward….. Until I tapped the car in front of me with my own…..

I could only sit and stare wide eyed while my anxiety was slack-jawed in the back seat, “Well done…. You’ve put on a performance for the whole audience.” I made the poor choice of looking beside me to see all the workers paused and staring, the bitch was right again, dammit….

Fortunately, the driver in front was in good spirits and I didn’t make a scratch or dent on their car or my own. The whole business was done within about 5 minutes, but it felt like those times where time slows and you seem to be the only one realizing that everyone else is speaking in slow motion while you’re just like, “WHAT THE FUCK WHAT THE FUCK WHAT THE FUCK WHAT THE FUCK WHAT THE FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK!?”

Completely silent, I drove back to my place, my food in the bag on the seat untouched, while the bitch in the back seat rambled on and on, “My god you couldn’t have done that better. Well done! They’re all going to remember you now. Maybe you can go back tomorrow evening for an encore!”

So now I sit here, wallowing over bean burritos and wondering why this happens to me, why?

I talk about shouting into the void with no expectation of a response, but I could really use a shout back to shut up the smoking anxious bitch in my armchair right now….

For the 2-3 people who read this blog (Hi mum and dad…), have any of you had similar experiences of utter humiliation by the hands of your anxiety? Comment below with stories if you have them, or even just some kind words. I can’t seem to shut my anxiety up by myself right now, I was wondering if a few of you can help me quiet the bitch down? Any of you? Hello? -sigh-