By Candace Schoner
For me, 2023 started off horribly with the death of my mother. She was 92 and living on borrowed time so her passing did not come as a total surprise. As her Medical Power of Attorney, I was the first to learn that she died peacefully in her sleep. What followed was a mix of emotions as I notified my siblings and began the long and difficult task of dealing with her estate.
I won’t profess that I was the best daughter, but only that I tried. My mother was not an easy person to love, particularly as she grew older. She was demanding, critical, judgmental and totally unaware of the mental abuse she inflicted on her three daughters and one son.
Unlike my older siblings, I never argued with my mother and instead, I became the self-elected peacekeeper. Rather than fight, I would make jokes, quickly change the subject, or put off tough discussions until later. Classic signs of conflict aversion disorder (CAD).
CAD worked well for me until it didn’t. It was my way of surviving in a very dysfunctional household where expressing one’s emotions was met with anger and threats. For example, if my mother thought I was about to cry she would say ‘Stop your crying or I’ll give you something to cry about’.
Psychotherapist, Babita Spinelli, explains, “A conflict-avoidant personality is a type of people-pleasing behavior where someone avoids conflict or disagreements at all costs and fears making others upset or angry.”
“A conflict-avoidant personality is a type of people-pleasing behavior…” Babita Spinelli, LP
This was me to a tee. I would bottle up my emotions as long as possible until I would erupt like a volcano, and physically pound on my chest as hard as I could until I was exhausted.
Even after years of therapy, I still struggle with CAD. My first instinct when responding to any conflict is to choose flight over fight.
Thinking back to my 16-year marriage, I used to boast to friends and family that I never had a single fight with my spouse during our first ten years of marriage. Admittedly, my former husband also hated conflict. After 16 years together, I finally realized how exhausted I was from avoiding conflict, and filed for divorce.
Now, 23 years later, I am facing the fact that I will never have a chance to unleash all my bottled-up anger, frustration, and resentment toward my mother. It’s like I’m sitting on an unlit stick of dynamite.
Despite awareness of my disorder and the devastating impact it has had on my mental and physical health, I’ve learned to forgive my mother and celebrate the victories when I face conflict head-on.
Conflict is inherently uncomfortable for most of us, in both personal and professional contexts, but learning to effectively handle conflict is essential for both personal and professional relationships.
Here are my 4 simple tips for dealing with conflict:
- Don’t ignore Conflict. It might seem tempting to just put your head in the sand and pretend the problem will go away. Ignoring conflicts has a tendency to fester over time.
- Talk Directly. Assuming that there is no threat of physical violence, talk directly to the person with whom you have the problem.
- Schedule a time to talk. Don’t address the problem when you are tired, angry, or under duress.
- Avoid blame or name-calling. Blame and name-calling only intensify the problem and puts others on the defensive, making it nearly impossible to reach an equitable resolution.