I am struck by how avoidant people are to conflict. Please know that I put myself in that camp too! I don’t like arguing or discontent among those around me. However, just because I (and others) have a natural tendency to act a certain way doesn’t make it right, healthy or mature. In fact, I would argue our human nature is more often than not unhealthy and selfish rather than mature.
First, let me address why non-avoidance is important. You won’t find me making blanket statements about all situations and all times. 100% universal rules rarely exist. Even the rule of “never lie” may not be the best course of action if you were a non-patriotic German during the reign of the Nazis, you were hiding Jews in your home, and the Nazi’s come knocking on your door to see if you know where the Jews are. Extreme example I know, but you get the point. In general, however, facing conflict is ideal.
- Avoiding has an emotional toll. While avoiding may relieve you (temporarily) from the emotional stress of talking face to face with someone (or something similar), you brain still knows there is conflict around. Our conscious and our subconscious will still be dwelling on the conflict, trying to figure it out, rationalize it, problem solve, etc. There is cool brain research on how our brains continue to problem solve during sleep. Our brains are incredible organs that are bound and determined to try to help us be successful! Don’t let you brain’s resources and energy be used up by something that could be deal with sooner rather than later. Think about your brain like a computer. When you have too many programs open or a couple big programs open, the RAM gets used up (the memory that is necessary for immediate functioning). Close out some of your emotional programs and you’ll find it running much smoother!
- Avoiding starts to deteriorate relationships. This is especially relevant if the conflict you are having is with someone you care about or must continue to have a relationship with in some capacity. It takes an extreme amount of “acting” and needless energy to try to fake a good relationship with someone you are in conflict with. Also, the longer the conflict goes, the more that assumptions are made and solidified, negative opinions start to color thoughts and emotions, and issues will start to feel bigger than they did originally. All of these things (and more) make it more difficult to be positive or productive in your relationship, and down the road, it will make restoring the relationship much more difficult and possibly less likely.
- Avoiding also has a physical toll. You are avoiding because it feels like an easier option than confronting. However, you are really trading an acute emotional pain to a much more prolonged one. That means you’ve traded a high stress situation for a longer term stressful environment. Like it or not, here are just some of the things that chronic stress (and stress’s primary hormone called Cortisol) will do to your body:
- Creates free radicals that kill brain cells
- Increases forgetfulness
- Decreases your logical and intelligent brain
- Decreases your ability to manage impulses
- Increases emotional instability
- Contributes to cycles of fear and anxiety
- Stops production of new brain cells
- Depletes the brain of neurochemicals, causing depression
- Increases your chances of having mental health disorders
- Measurably shrink your brain
- Increase in toxins let in through the blood-brain barriers
- Increases risk of Alzheimer’s and Dementia
I think I can stop at this point, although the list continues to go on (based on much research).
So …. given our inclination to avoid conflict and the fact that long term stress actually is far worse on us than high short term stress, we need to be intentional about not avoiding. Instead approach issues in a mature and productive way.
Read our next blog on the first step to resolving conflict.
~~ Dr. Sheri Fluellen, PhD ~~