I am someone who has spent 99% of my life avoiding conflict.
Growing up with a violent father, I associated conflict with verbal and physical abuse. I knew conflict ended up in one party being hurt, damaged or even killed. Faced with fight or flight, I always chose flight.
I did everything I could possibly do to avoid conflict. I had developed a coping mechanism that (I hoped) kept me safe. Doing whatever it took not to antagonise. Carefully calculating everything I said or did as not to arouse someone’s anger. Laughing and joking to lubricate potential disagreements. Making myself invisible. Pleasing, always pleasing others.
Unbeknown to me, I carried the behaviour that I had learnt in childhood into my adult years. I kept on avoiding conflict even when conflict was no longer dangerous. It had never occurred to me to even question it.
Until one morning, a few years ago, when my flatmate came into my room with a hangover and asked me to go and buy her a kebab. The guy I was seeing (who had spent the night in our flat) seemed shocked. ‘Do you always do what she asks you to do?’ he had asked me. ‘It’s ok,’ I had said. ‘I’m happy to go.’
I didn’t think about that episode until a couple of years later when I did enter into a conflict with the flatmate. It wasn’t a nice conflict. I probably could have avoided it. But I just couldn’t anymore. Something inside told me it was time to fight.
It was physics that made me accept conflict.
Friction (which is another name for conflict) is defined as the resistance that one surface or object encounters when moving over another. The more different the surfaces, the better grip they have against each other, facilitating movement. Non-friction in surfaces impedes movement and anyone who ever walked on a slippery slope or ice knows what I am talking about. Without friction, there is no movement forward.
The same can be applied to life. I, for one, have grown exponentially since I have learnt to lean into conflict. And I’m not saying all conflict is good and/or healthy, but bad things have a tendency to unleash good energy to counteract it.
Needless to say, I am not looking for conflict when none is due. But I have learnt to accept that it is an essential part of life. I have become better at fighting. Healthy conflict is essential in relationships and I certainly had a fair share of it in mine. But I have learned to embrace it. I have learnt to let it move me forward.
I am still a little uneasy around conflict. I’d still rather avoid it at all cost. But it is the surest way to growth.