Why You Must Stop Avoiding Conflict

Sometimes, you might avoid conflict to please others and prevent uncomfortable situations.However, this has negative consequences. Find out more here.
Why You Must Stop Avoiding Conflict
Elena Sanz

Written and verified by the psychologist Elena Sanz.

Last update: 16 December, 2022

The relationships you have with others have an important impact on your well-being and emotional health. For example, if you live in a harmonious, respectful, and peaceful environment, it’s likely that, on a personal level, you’ll also feel calmer and more satisfied.

However, systematically avoiding arguments, disagreements, and contrary opinions isn’t necessarily the best way to behave. In fact, you’re probably unconsciously doing yourself harm. Therefore, we suggest you stop avoiding conflict. Let’s examine the benefits.

The way you react to conflict is a part of your personality. Some people are excessively combative and have difficulties conversing. Others know how to find a healthy balance. This allows them to communicate assertively. Then there are those who simply run away from any kind of conflict and try to reach an agreement at all costs.

If you’re one of this last group, you need to know that your inclination to avoid conflict is due to particular reasons (which we’ll discuss below). But even if you’re not ‘at fault’, it’s important that you take responsibility and start working on your avoidance to prevent its negative repercussions.

Thinking woman sitting at the window
Running away from conflict harms your self-esteem and your relationships with others.

Avoiding conflict is damaging

This won’t be easy to understand if you’re a conflict-avoider. Moreover, conflict avoidance is generally appreciated and well-valued by others. People will see you as generous and easy-going. Maybe you’re even proud of this trait yourself and consider it to be positive.

However, you might want to think again if you display some of the following behaviors.

  • You seek to please others. This is always your priority, even above your own needs.
  • You silence your opinions, emotions, and contributions if they go against the general tone of your interlocutor.
  • You have difficulty setting boundaries, making requests, and expressing complaints or criticism. In fact, you commonly repress your emotions so as not to make others feel uncomfortable.
  • When there’s a problem that needs to be solved, you refuse to see it. You’d rather give in or ignore it than start an argument.
  • You feel really uncomfortable debating or facing up to situations.

These attitudes are generally the result of early learning you acquired in your childhood. Maybe you grew up in an authoritarian environment or with caregivers who weren’t particularly receptive to your needs. Perhaps, when you cried, shouted, or expressed your disagreement or opposition, your caregivers weren’t available to accept your emotions and give you space. Instead, they responded with rejection, threats, punishment, or withdrawal of their affection.

Consequently, you learned that to be loved and accepted (to survive, really) you had to conform to the expectations of others, be accommodating, and ‘not be a nuisance’. When this was transferred to your adult life, you became disconnected from your needs, with poor communication skills and low self-esteem.

Avoiding conflict has consequences

During your childhood, avoiding conflict was useful (and even necessary) to win the affection of your caregivers. Even today it allows you to avoid confrontations, fights, and other situations that bother and upset you. That said, in return, it generates undesirable consequences. In fact, by avoiding conflicts, you’re harming yourself in several ways:

  • You put aside your needs and sacrifice yourself for others. This constitutes a lack of respect for yourself. It harms your self-esteem and your relationship with yourself. You show yourself, in every act, that you can’t be trusted to take care of and prioritize yourself.
  • You tolerate disrespect from others and allow them to cross your boundaries. This generates abusive and unbalanced relationships that create great wear and tear and emotional suffering.
  • You don’t allow yourself to express your emotions. But repressing them can affect your state of health. Remember that each emotion has a function. It’s there for a purpose that you can’t simply ignore.
  • You leave problems unsolved. This causes them to repeat and perpetuate themselves. If someone acts incorrectly and you don’t disagree, not only will they continue to do so, but you’ll also likely develop a strong resentment toward them.
  • Your personal relationships are affected due to your lack of communication. Indeed,  by avoiding conflict, giving in, and always agreeing, you’re creating a wall that prevents the other person from knowing what you really think and need. In the long run, it’ll hinder and tarnish the link between you.
Woman crying for her partner
Running away from conflict implies not expressing your own opinion and possessing low self-confidence.

How to stop avoiding conflict

If you see yourself reflected in the above situations, it’s important that you take steps to reverse the situation. First of all, start by changing the way you view conflict. Stop interpreting it as something negative that should be avoided at all costs. Try to perceive it as an opportunity to clarify your ideas and opinions and find solutions.

Get used to coming into contact with you. You’re probably accustomed to not even thinking about what you want or need. That’s because you only focus on what others want. However, it’s time to prioritize yourself. Although you may not be able to initially express or assert your thoughts and emotions, at least get in touch with them and become aware of them.

Once you’ve taken the previous steps, try to externalize as much as possible. Start setting boundaries, making requests, and gradually expressing your disagreement in situations that feel safe for you. With practice, you’ll feel more comfortable and you’ll be able to transfer this behavior to other more complex scenarios.

Above all, get rid of your fear of disappointing others and remember that nothing terrible will happen if the other person gets angry. You’re no longer an infant dependent on your caregivers, but an adult with the right to express themselves and with the ability to deal with disagreements.

Finally, if these tasks are rather too complicated for you or you don’t feel prepared to carry them out, don’t hesitate to seek professional help. Clinical psychology has techniques and tools that’ll help you gain confidence and learn how to properly assert your opinions.

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  • Hershcovis, M. S., Cameron, A. F., Gervais, L., & Bozeman, J. (2018). The effects of confrontation and avoidance coping in response to workplace incivility. Journal of occupational health psychology23(2), 163.
  • Patel, J., & Patel, P. (2019). Consequences of repression of emotion: Physical health, mental health and general well being. International Journal of Psychotherapy Practice and Research1(3), 16.

The contents of Exploring Your Mind are for informational and educational purposes only. They don't replace the diagnosis, advice, or treatment of a professional. In the case of any doubt, it's best to consult a trusted specialist.