How To Overcome Your Fear Of Conflict

For as long as I can remember, I hated conflict. Until well into my adulthood, I was unable to confront anyone...

How to overcome your fear of conflict

For as long as I can remember, I hated conflict. Until well into my adulthood, I was unable to confront anyone about anything in a more or less decent way. I would keep things bottled up for as long as I could, until there wasn’t any room left to bottle any more. Then, everything would come out. In those moments I’d change from a nice, and understanding woman into a nasty, and irrational version of myself.

After a confrontation had taken place, when I would calm down, my opponents would tell me that I couldn’t handle criticism, that there was no way to reason with me during those phases of anger. And of course they were right.

Fear of conflict is a complex issue

It took me a long time to see that I had an issue with conflict. I thought I was good at it, strengthened by the fact that I had almost no conflict in my life. Until I understood that it was not diplomatic skills, or perfect negotiation abilities that made it so, but rather that I did everything I could to avoid conflict. Always. Everywhere. At all costs.

As a recovering people-pleaser, and a highly sensitive person, I’ve come to believe that my fear of conflict shares its origin with my people-pleasing, and perfectionistic tendencies. In fact, I’ve been able to pinpoint four factors that greatly contributed to me being so afraid of conflict:

#1 I’ve had to deal with conflict growing up

Throughout my childhood, I’ve been witness to, and victim of conflict, mostly because of the recurring, often hurtful confrontations between my parents. So my childhood didn’t feel safe. In fact, I grew up in an environment where emotions weren’t dealt with properly, where anger wasn’t allowed, where anxiety was all around. As a result, I’d become totally conflict averse, and have not learned to stand up for myself in a healthy, positive way.

#2 Unresolved conflict shaped me as a people-pleaser

Because conflict was never resolved at home – just suppressed until the next outburst – early on I started to internalize this conflict anxiety until I believed all of it was my fault. I became a people-pleaser as a means to try and solve the recurring conflicts. Of course other events, and experiences helped shape my people-pleasing behavior, but consistently being exposed to lingering conflict at such an early age definitely played a big part in it. Trying to please everyone became so important to me, that I couldn’t stand the idea of someone being mad at me. So I became even more afraid of conflict. How ironic, right?

#3 People-pleasing led to perfectionism

Trying to please everyone all the time quickly led to perfectionism. As much as I hated the idea of anyone being mad at me, I hated the idea of losing self-control even more. Still in an effort to resolve the conflicts at home, through people-pleasing trials and errors that led me nowhere, I developed a cruel version of a perfect self. I convinced myself that once I’d be that girl, all would finally be well. But because that girl didn’t get angry, was always composed, accepted everything without complaining it became impossible for me to stand up for myself. By this stage I wasn’t just afraid of conflict, I’d also rationalized why it was imperative to avoid it at all costs.

#4 Avoidance of conflict hurt my self-confidence

Growing up with unresolved, lingering conflict, and developing people-pleasing behavior, I wasn’t able to build a strong foundation for self-confidence. When you keep on trying to fix something that is not in your power to fix, and keep blaming yourself for it, you’re like Sisyphus, eternally trying to roll a rock up a mountain. I felt something was deeply wrong with me, otherwise why would this situation persist? This only made things worse. I wasn’t just afraid of someone being mad at me, or of shattering the picture-perfect image of myself. Because of my low self-confidence I also became terrified of the result of confrontations. Because of my lack of self-confidence, the potential retaliation was unbearable to me, a source of much of my anxieties. Having never witnessed conflict being resolved in a positive way, I was terrified by what the other person would do when I stood up for myself by confronting them.

How to overcome your fear of conflict

In my case, the healing process started when I understood the underlying dynamics that caused me to fear conflict so much. By doing that work I was confronted with my lack of self-confidence, self-worth, and self-love.

Having worked my way through understanding fear, overcoming fear, and helping my clients get through their fears, I believe (as Susan Jeffers so beautifully said in her magnificent book Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway) that all our fears come down to one and the same thing: we’re all afraid we won’t be able to handle it. That we’ll be all alone.

What if I told you that from now on until the end of your life, whatever comes your way, good or bad, you’ll be able to handle it. Would you be afraid of anything?

Probably not.

But when you lack self-confidence, self-worth, and self-love like I did, it’s hard to believe that you can handle anything, let alone conflict. So you’re afraid of it. Like I was. And you don’t engage in it, desperately trying to avoid:

  • people thinking bad of you,
  • people not liking you,
  • people seeing through your picture-perfect self,
  • people retaliating,
  • and so on…

… so that you could finally be loved, because you’ve convinced yourself you’re not lovable to begin with.

The way out of fear is through self-confidence (and self-love)

Conflict is unavoidable. You’re not alone on the planet, there are people all around you at work, and at home. You’re a social being that interacts with other social beings. So you’re bound to run into things that are unpleasant, and that you need to defend yourself for, or confront another person about. And that’s OK. It happens every day all around the world.

Some people are actually pretty good at handling conflict, and resolving confrontations in a positive way. What differentiates those people from how I used to be is their level of self-confidence.

When they confront someone, their self is not in jeopardy. Whatever comes out of that conflict will not dictate how much people love them, or more importantly, how much they love themselves. By believing in themselves first, and having a healthy dose of self-confidence, self-worth, and self-esteem, these people can work their way through conflict in a healthy way.

Self-confidence means trusting yourself

Whatever your level of self-confidence today, you have the ability to work on dealing with conflict more easily. And it all starts with trusting yourself.

The more you believe in yourself, the less you’ll be affected by:

  • what other people think of you,
  • by people not liking,
  • by not being perfect all the time,
  • by how people might retaliate,
  • and so on…

Or, as Gary Vaynerchuk says (slightly paraphrasing here Gary, hope that’s OK), they put zero weight into anyone’s opinion about themselves, because they know exactly who they are.

Overcoming your fear of conflict

What a powerful statement, right? Bathed in a tremendous amount of self-awareness, self-confidence, self-worth, and self-love. And that’s exactly what you need to focus on to overcome your fear of conflict.

Now it’s your turn. In the comments below, let me know what your biggest fear is when it comes to conflict. How do you deal with it? What’s been helpful when you needed to stand up for yourself?

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