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For years, I used to pride myself on the fact that I was highly conflict-averse. If someone did something that worked against me, I would retreat inwards, and tried to look at the situation from their point of view. If that didn’t bring me to understanding, then I would try to extrapolate the situation a decade or so into the future. The vast majority of the time, the result of this exercise was that the situation at hand seemed small and meaningless ten-plus years out. And so it went — challenge after challenge, conflict after conflict, I tended to sweep each and every one of them under the rug, quick to forgive.
I saw myself as big-hearted. I saw myself as compassionate. I saw myself as forgiving.
But in reality, as I have grown as a person, I have learned that is not the nature of true forgiveness. What that was, was not truly big-hearted or compassionate or forgiving. Instead, I started to realize my pattern for dealing with conflict was weak. It was self-disempowering. And it was avoidant. And it led to a lot of half-resolved issues that popped up again and again — and not to mention quite a bit of resentment over the years on my part.
In the past few months, I’ve encountered a few difficult conflicts. Just a couple, but they were hard for me. I will not go into details, for a myriad of reasons, but I started to realize that conflict can be positive when it is met bravely, rationally, and honestly. As a wife, mother-to-be, daughter, friend, and business owner, I suddenly realized conflict was unavoidable if I want to live an honest, ethical, and manageable life. (And if I ever want to get to solving the underlying issues.)
But I could choose how to deal with conflict. The type of conflicts I was encountering could either keep arising if I kept on ignoring them, or I could face them head-on, deal with them properly, and then (and only then) let them go and move on, in a way that was both more emotionally satisfying and interpersonally honest.
To quote the late great Louise Hay, whom I admire greatly: “Taking a stand and setting healthy boundaries is often the most loving thing you can do— not only for yourself, but for the other [people] as well.”
I’ll be honest — I’m rather new to conflict, and I still have a tendency to ostrich myself back into conflict avoidance. But I’m learning how to have the difficult conversations. I’m learning I have a right to boundaries, and when those are violated, how to address the issue, how to respectfully state how I perceive it, and how to firmly express what I want the other party to do or say to make a situation right for me.
Sometimes it works. During those times, I’ve found it leads to me being able to truly forgive the other person, not just sweep it under the rug and blow up later. And sometimes it may also lead to a greater understanding or resolution that proves to be valuable later. And I often feel greater self-confidence and respect for myself afterwards.
And sometimes it doesn’t work, and it leads to the other person getting pissed off, especially if they’ve known me for years and anticipate that I’ll just back down and drop it. And that can be a lesson in and of itself.
You can’t control other people. But by finally owning my honest feelings and reactions, I’ve started to make progress in my life in surprising ways. I feel greater self-confidence and more self-respect. And some of the changes that have resulted, while painful at the time, created a better life for me later.
So, yes, I still believe in positive thinking, goal setting, personal development, and all of that good stuff. But sometimes dealing with the negative can make you pay attention to what really needs addressing in your life. And if you deal with challenges and conflicts from a place of honesty, awareness, and intelligence, well, all I’ll say is it’s made a world of difference in my life. I’m finding you can be kind without being a pushover, forgiving without giving the other party all that they want, and loving without having no boundaries and/or no consequences for violating those boundaries — and it’s ultimately changing my life in all kinds of positive ways, even if it is painful sometimes in the short-term.