“Conflict is inevitable, combat is optional” ~ Max Lucade
I struggle with conflict.
Not even with conflict, with simply expressing that I don’t like something, or that somebody or something has hurt my feelings. The prospect of telling somebody that something that they have done or said has made me feel something other than good quite literally terrifies me.
This tends to come as a surprise to a lot of people as I’m rarely shy about voicing any other types of opinions.
It came as a huge surprise to me when I finally realised that it was a problem and that most other people don’t feel like this. Until shortly before I started having therapy I thought that these types of conversations only really took place on TV.
In the house I grew up in nobody talked about their feelings. You weren’t supposed to have them. Having feelings made you a bad person and attracted dire consequences. And the school I went too was no better. You had to keep your emotions bottled up there because emotion was equal to weakness, and the majority of the kids were like a pack of wolves, circling, looking for someone weak to pounce on.
That’s not just a simile; the behaviour of most of the pupils was little more evolved than that of wild animals, and some of them have managed to devolve even further still since the day we left.
It was a very isolating experience. I used to watch the characters on show like Neighbours – and whatever else it was I used to watch as teenager – and the way that they spoke to their families and friends about how they were feeling and what was going on in there lives, and then think how wonderful it would be if people were to have those kinds of conversations in real life.
As I got older, met more people, and parted ways with my family, some people obviously did try to have such conversations with me. But that either made me uncomfortable so that I pushed them away, or, I read too much into the fact that they felt able to talk to me like they would to any other normal human being, and started to think that the relationship was more meaningful than in fact it really was.
Needing to learn to live in a community that does not in any way resemble a hive mind has been a painful, at times even tortuous, adjustment for me. Trying to unlearn the lesson of the first seventeen years of my life, that expressions of feelings, and especially of dissent, are something to fear is something that I have barely even begun to get to grips with.
I now know that it is not a normal reaction for someone to respond to your not liking the same things as they do or stating that you’ve been upset at something by throwing things and yelling at you.
Intellectually I’m aware that, unless you’re on Twitter, most people will happily agree to disagree with you on most things without deciding that you’re a truly hateful person and that they really must tell you exactly how so immediately.
The rational part of my brain tells me that on hearing that they have hurt somebody most people’s instinctive reaction is to feel bad about it and to apologise, not to become spiteful, scornful, or dismissive.
However, my instinctive reaction in situations where I need to express disagreement; if for example I really don’t want to go and see the same film my friend does when we’ve agreed to go to the cinema, or to tell them that I’m bothered by something they’ve said or done, is to become fearful.
Just the thought of having to begin that conversation can honestly feel life threatening.
My mind gets cloudy so that I can’t think straight, my breathing gets quicker, and my heart starts pounding so hard that it feels like it could explode. I completely forget that I don’t know anyone who in any way resembles a character from The Wire, and convince myself that the only outcome of this scenario is a massive confrontation where the other person gets really angry with me, basically just for being alive. Even though the subject to be discussed is usually something that hardly matters at all and is likely to have been completely forgotten by the other person before the end of the week.
I’d like to say that this is something that I’m working on and making progress; but more often than not I still meet potential conflict scenarios with procrastination, and even prevarication, in a bid to avoid simply saying no to someone, or telling them something that they might not want to hear. Often causing myself a much greater degree of trouble than was otherwise warranted in the process.
I’m just going to have to keep at it I guess.
Photo Source: HBO