I have always had an intense fear and discomfort with confrontation. I am a classic people pleaser, which I strongly believe stems greatly from my struggles in friendships and past bullying. But I think this is something that a large majority of women experience because of the societal expectation for women to get along, be nice, and project an overall happy and easygoing image. And media portrayals of women handling conflict and issues often goes to one extreme or the other: a nice facade is maintained while backstabbing and gossiping happens behind the scenes, or an all-on war and catfight ensues. There needs to be a middle ground where women have an outlet to express tensions in their relationships in an open, safe way.
Something I’ve learned in my healthy romantic, familial, and friend relationships is that conflict does not necessarily have to be confrontational or combative – it can be collaborative. No relationship is one-sided; it requires effort and care from both parties. If we reframe our thinking around conflict and begin to see it more as a way of opening communication and collaborating with one another on how to get what you both need out of the relationship, it may take some of the fear and sting out of the act. When we approach confrontation as a one-sided conversation – giving an ultimatum, telling the other what to do, punishing them – our mind begins to associate conflict with something that will ultimately lead to a consequence – the person becoming defensive, ending the relationship, turning the tables to call you out, etc. Conflict is actually an important, even necessary, aspect to any relationship. It allows for growth, honesty, and a strengthening of the connection.
Shifting confrontation into collaboration relies on a commitment and desire from both sides to put energy and a certain level of vulnerability into maintaining the relationship. Be honest with what you need from (and rationally can expect) your relationships, communicate it with those you care about, and allow space to be receptive to their needs as well. So even when these needs don’t align, we can aim to meet the conflict with acceptance, rather than aggression.