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Dealing with Confrontation and Conflict

by Gail Hooper 2 months ago in trauma
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Learning to Feel Safe

Photo by Remy Gieling on Unsplash

If you’ve been in any kind of abusive environment, whether that's domestic violence (intimate partner violence) or if a parent was abusive you may have found that you avoid confrontation and conflict as much as possible.

There’s a good reason for this. In the past you’ve likely found that confrontation doesn’t end well for you, so for safety’s sake you’ve learned to keep your thoughts to yourself, your mouth shut and to manage your behaviour and your circumstances as best you can.

This approach works well for these situations as the most important factor is to survive them. Make no mistake, our survival instincts are strong, and they will protect us as best they can.

Unfortunately, when we’re out of these situations and are safe, our mind often remembers details that will have preceded abuse and/or violence. We might not consciously know what they are, but we feel the effects of them.

From insights into my own experiences, I realised that my mind linked a certain expression - extreme anger, to incidents in the past. If my ex from my early 20's was very angry, then I was in danger and to keep me safe my mind would create dissociative episodes. I didn't really speak during these episodes, and I would be acting 'normal', but I was very aware of my surroundings, I looked for exits and figured out how I could get to them, and I scanned my environment for any objects that I could use to defend myself in case he went too far.

It was a heightened state of awareness, and I knew when it was happening, it was completely normal for me, and I didn't think anything of it even when it was happening in non-abusive relationships. It was something that I didn't question until I had an insight into my behaviour some 20 years later. This is when I began to understand my inability to deal with problems, my desire for peace at all costs and avoidance of difficult conversations. I'd learned to deal with conflict in a relationship where I had to defend and protect myself at any cost. This didn't translate well into everyday life.

Dissociation and extreme defensiveness masked intense and overwhelming fear, and this is what I experienced once I realised that I could stop myself from dissociating. It's no surprise that our mind creates these links and coping mechanisms, its job is to keep us alive and we're not built to live in states of intense fear and stress for prolonged periods of time.

Confrontation and conflict can seem threatening because we feel threatened - we're fully experiencing a response to a perceived threat. Our fight, flight, freeze or fawn response can be activated, or we may bypass the discomfort completely and not even consider the possibility of confronting anyone.

Moving from Conflict and Confrontation to Discussion and Resolution

What can help to reduce fear - which is what's behind this, is to pick apart what is going on. Breaking down what the words we're using can help too. Look at the words ‘confrontation’ or ‘conflict’, they're aggressive, fighting words. Yet they are words that we often use when we need to talk over an issue with someone.

More gentle words are discuss, talk to, resolve, question, find out, explain. We still might feel threatened, but when you look at these words, there is little reason why finding something out would trigger such a fear response is there? In the past, yes, now, in the situation that you’re facing, ask yourself if your reaction is out of proportion to what is going on. There's no judgement on it whatsoever and you don't need to do anything with your answer - you're gathering information about what you're experiencing.

When we go down the path of ‘it’s because of what happened in the past’ we keep those feelings going. Nothing in the past can be changed, it can be understood differently, and it can also be gently disconnected from the life that you’re living now and be allowed to settle - not forgotten, ignored, denied, or erased, simply left to settle.

This gentle disconnection begins to happen when we start to question and explore our thoughts, our emotions, and our experiences.

I think we’ve all encountered times when we know we need to do something, but we simply can’t. That’s when we need to begin to tease the past from the present so that we can feel safe feeling our emotions, without giving them the meaning they previously had. It is much easier to deal with being in a state of defensiveness because of how your mind has interpreted something, than thinking the person in front of you is unsafe to be around.

The behind-the-scenes work, to gently chip away at overwhelming and debilitating emotions makes putting the practical stuff into practice a whole lot easier.

Although it makes sense to respond to confrontation and conflict in a defensive way, discussions, talking things out, ironing out problems, finding resolutions, and acknowledging problems, are best undertaken with love, care, honesty, and openness.

With loved ones, you can talk things over while cuddling or holding hands. The closeness may help you to feel safer. If you feel vulnerable and afraid to resolve issues, then opening the discussion over text or email may help. If closeness is too much for you, then sitting apart can give you the distance that you need.

Look toward easing the emotional impact and breaking it down into smaller, more manageable, less overwhelming and less fearful steps. You can also pause discussions, take breaks, and have space if you feel yourself becoming overwhelmed by emotion. I know we're prone to wanting things to be sorted out quickly, but there's really no need. Some things are worth taking time over.

Much of working through issues like this is acknowledging the problem and finding ways that help you to feel safe, until you know that are.

If you are interested in exploring this issue in a supportive environment, take a look at my monthly and 3-month long coaching opportunites.


About the author

Gail Hooper


A confident introvert who is currently figuring out ADHD

Like helping people out of anxiety and people-pleasing and into an empowered life

I love coffee, cake, swimming and naps

I'm at and Facebook.

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