Every year I run a conflict resolution station at the 5th grade retreat for a local school. The first thing I ask is for them to tell me what words come to mind when I say the word conflict.
Every year, all the adjectives are negative.
Not one child, gives me a positive response to this question.
I bring the word conflict up in family therapy sessions and my clients bristle.
It’s unanimous, no one likes conflict.
But what if we looked at conflict like an opportunity? What if we looked at conflict as a way to teach our children negotiation skills or a way to strengthen our relationships.
What if we didn’t avoid conflict, but we invited conflict.
As a woman, I have been taught to avoid conflict at all costs. Don’t speak too loudly, or have too strong of an opinion. Shrink, so that others around you feel more comfortable. I have been taught this by society. But I have always failed to listen. Which has created many opportunities for conflict.
The way I handle conflict has evolved over the years quite drastically. Conflict now represents an opportunity to learn from my partner involved.
When I was a child, conflict was what I was surrounded by. There was almost always an argument in process in my household.
Conflict was loud.
Conflict was insecure.
Conflict was angry.
Conflict was unreasonable.
Conflict was scary.
Conflict was based in ego.
Conflict came from emotional mind.
From this, I learned maladaptive coping skills on how to handle conflict.
He who screams the loudest, wins.
If you feel out of control, get physical.
Tears always help.
Threatening to leave gives you power and forces your partner to kiss ass.
It’s about being right, not about the relationship.
When in doubt, use sarcasm and belittling to give yourself the upper hand.
These coping skills, created many dramatic relationships for me. Until, at the age of 25, my boyfriend (now husband) told me I was creating a “yes man”. I knew, as well as he knew, that I wouldn’t last long with a “yes man”……I never had. For some reason, this created a break, that I was able to see a beautiful light through and it opened up my mind to what I could have….what was at my fingertips, if I just was able to create change. It offered a different way.
Years later, I interned at a counseling agency whose population was centered around domestic violence victims and offenders. I had a choice, to work with the victims, or the offenders.
I chose the offenders. I felt this was the area I could create the most impact, from my own experience and education.
Some may question this choice, and wonder why I would ever want to work with this population.
In them, I saw myself. I was forced to see that I had been verbally abusive at the very least.
In their stories, I heard my childhood.
Through their admissions, I too, acknowledged where I had failed.
In the “not extreme” cases, I saw us all. Just people who have no idea how to disagree. Sadly many take it too far.
This time with this population, helped me to see the cycle crystal clear. I was able to make the connection as to the “why” I behaved the way I did.
As children, not many take the time to teach us how to do conflict resolution right. Where you walk away, still friends. Still in love, or still intact.
We teach math skills we may never use.
We teach history, that many times is no longer relevant or accurate.
We drill grammar and science.
But we ignore conflict resolution.
The one thing that will help form successful relationships in our lives. We know, that all of us are moving towards relationship, in every form. It’s a piece of our lives that is essential and helps us to create our happiness. But we ignore the skills needed to maintain that relationship. Whether it be an intimate relationship, our relationship with our children, or just friendships in general.
So, as children, we are left to watch our parents. How do they resolve conflict? How they resolve conflict becomes how we resolve conflict. Unless we grab a hold and demand better for ourselves.
It begins with a choice. Do I want power or a partner?
Believe it or not, that was a hard one for me. Power feels really good. Power provides something I missed in my childhood…..control over my own choices.
Even with the pull of power, I decided I wanted a partner.
So I set forth, learning how to change my conflict resolution skills.
I learned how to fight fair.
I learned how to actively listen.
I learned how to take a time out if needed.
I learned how to create a space, where I could hear my thoughts, not participate in them.
I learned I shouldn’t trust all my thoughts.
I rewired my brain, from the bottom up. I created a new pathway for healthy conflict resolution, and I humbly offer that to you. If you know you are in need of change in the way you handle conflict resolution…..grab a hold friend. Awareness and accountability are the first steps.
In all of my writing, I wish to offer raw, real, stories. I wish to offer help to those who want it and I wish to offer the tools needed to make that change for yourself and those you love….breaking cycles always.
Begin with mindfulness. Get to the bottom of what is going on with your thoughts and get to the root of the feeling behind those thoughts. Then, learn new skills, and change your behavior. In a nutshell, don’t buy into all of your own crap.
A great skill to begin with is knowing what your triggers are. This means, what sets you off? What really gets under your skin? What sets in motion a series of negative thinking patterns? Take note of when those negative, destructive thoughts ruminate over and over through your brain, getting you more and more angry. What behavior comes from these thoughts?
Once you know your triggers, take note of your built in warning system of when a trigger has occurred. How does your body react when you are triggered? Where do you feel it? What is the pattern?
My heart races, my jaw tightens, and my head feels pressure.
What does your do?
Where do you feel it?
Are you listening to your warning system, so that you can better regulate your thoughts that come from the trigger?
We all want lasting love. We all want good coping skills for our children. We all want friendships.
Begin today…..conflict is an opportunity to express how you feel, and to create growth in a relationship. Stop avoiding conflict, and become comfortable enough to invite it in and learn from it.