What was it like in your home growing up as a child? Maybe your family had unique traditions or funny inside jokes. Maybe you remember the nostalgia of taking fun road trips or going on vacations together.
There was probably some not so good stuff too. Maybe your family got into angry shouting matches, or maybe you had family members who withdrew, addicted to alcohol or drugs.
Have you ever taken a moment to think about how your family dealt with conflict?
Most of us have a skewed view of what conflict is and how it should be engaged. Usually this starts at a young age based on how our families taught us to deal with conflict.
Maybe you were taught to never raise your voice, express anger, or “rock the boat.” Instead, you learned to suppress your feelings and shy away from engaging in any sort of conflict.
Maybe your family engaged in verbal or physical abuse as a way to deal with conflict, and you believed that the way to successfully engage in conflict was to shout the loudest or assert yourself as the strongest to win an argument.
In my home when I was growing up, we dealt with conflict by talking through what we were feeling. Rarely did my parents shout (although my sisters and I sometimes did), but they also encouraged us not to shy away from the gritty and uncomfortable thing that is conflict.
*(Edit: When I shared this post with my mom, she reflected on how she remembers instances in which our family did not handle conflict in the best way. Nobody will always be able to handle conflict in a healthy way. Having the intention to pursue and handle conflict well is what matters. No person and no family is perfect!)
I remember feeling frustrated at times because my mom would keep talking about an issue until she felt like it was resolved. Sometimes this made me feel angry!
Though my parents modeled a healthy approach to conflict, I was someone who preferred to “keep the peace” by internalizing or ignoring issues, instead of dealing with hard conversations.
Much of my life rested on the idea of appeasing, pleasing, and following the rules to avoid conflict at all costs. I was (and still am) a great peacemaker who could quickly crack a joke or change the subject whenever I feared a situation was beginning to feel uncomfortable.
I hated the idea that someone might be angry at or disappointed in me. While I may have
been wanted to be the “perfect” child, student, employee, etc. who obeyed the rules, fear was often the driving force of my actions.
When I sensed conflict broiling, my first reaction was to retreat and to escape the situation. If my feelings were hurt, I would lie and say that I was fine, because I didn’t want the other person to feel bad. I did not want to engage in any type of conflict.
To me, conflict was something that should be avoided at all costs. It was something that disrupted the peace and wounded people.
What I did not understand was that the absence of conflict does not imply the presence of peace.
Can I tell you something that I’ve learned and am still learning that has transformed my views of relationships?
Conflict is good – healthy, in fact.
Now, just like a fork can be used to eat a delicious meal, or to brutally stab and wound someone, conflict can be healthy or detrimental depending on how you engage in it.
Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”
We are to embrace conflict in a way that helps us to grow! Friction smooths things, grows things, and creates things.
Conflict can be beautiful.
In my next posts, I’ll write about the different ways we tend to deal with conflict, and how we can engage in it in a healthy and beneficial way.
Also, here’s a great video on the topic of conflict: