Why Conflict Avoidance is Unhealthy
by Roamers Therapy | May 2023
Sometimes clients come into sessions expressing that they are non confrontational and that they do not express frustration until it becomes too burdensome for them to carry. If we find ourselves relating to these clients, we may be conflict avoidant. People often think they are doing themselves and others a favor by holding in their emotions, thinking that it’s a good way to prevent conflict. Not expressing our emotions may indeed prevent conflict in a given moment, but avoidance can compromise our mental health and negatively impact our professional and personal relationships in the long run.
Conflict avoidance can present in a number of ways. Some try to ignore feelings of unease while others may only allow themselves to feel discomfort internally without saying anything externally. For example, if someone at work said something bothersome, you may avoid expressing how it made you feel and retreat into your own space to process your feelings. Usually, when others voice their concerns, people that are conflict avoidant shut down and disengage from the conversation.
For many people, conflict avoidance is a way to evade backlash. There is a fear that expressing one’s emotions equals getting fired, losing a friend, or being judged. Avoiding conflict may calm some of those fears and the anxiety we may feel about voicing our truth, but it is not a long-term solution.
When we find ourselves relieved temporarily but even more frustrated overall, we create a cycle. Conflict avoidance is a suppression of emotions, making us more prone to experiencing emotional outbursts. When we avoid conflict, there are truths that we prevent ourselves from speaking on and these truths can pile up until they manifest themselves externally. The emotions we suppress may show up in the form of an emotional outburst, increased anxiety, or resentment and they are often directed at the person or group you were initially avoiding conflict with.
Rather than viewing conflict as something to fear or hide away from, challenge yourself to view conflict as an opportunity for growth and change. Reconsider your current perspective on conflict and assess where your fears of confrontation stem from. Recognize that previous experiences with conflict do not determine how conflict will unfold in future situations. There are healthy ways of engaging in conflict. It is important to be open and honest about your thoughts and emotions in a calm manner. Confronting a problem allows you to share your perspective with another person as well as learn from others. This open communication allows for positive growth individually and within the relationship.