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conflict is scary, conflict is beautiful
anyone who knows me knows i love this topic
One thing I'm currently working on is letting other people be disappointed with me.
It's really, really hard. I've been conditioned for most of my life to be deeply attuned to the needs of others. When I'm with another person, I instinctively notice difficult emotions, and sometimes I seek them out. I want to be of service, and ask questions that offer space for others to lean on me. And I share myself with vulnerability — I want the tender parts of me to be seen, because this is how I have learned to feel connected.
I've always wanted people to think well of me. Surely I'm not alone in this! I want to be seen as helpful, reliable, present. It's not just about image; I know I'm happiest when I'm actually in service, when I'm showing up, when I'm participating. But perhaps there's a new acceptance here that paradoxically, this yearning for acknowledgement of these traits gets in the way of actually embodying them.
You can't say yes to everything.
Life has been kind to me. But the more I study human systems, the more I navigate and mediate conflict, the more I realize: shit just happens to us. Misunderstandings abound. I've seen multiple cases of well-intentioned people in high-stress situations getting caught in a tangled mess of interpretation, striving to meet their image of the other person's needs, sometimes at great personal cost.
I am in these images. I have learned that silently stretching to be the person I think you want me to be... it doesn't work. It deepens conflict. What has worked for me has been talking about this shit, getting it out in the open, telling one another what our perceptions and stories are, and asking for guidance on how we can work together in concert.
What would be different if, instead of pursuing the veneer of closeness with others, I worked towards trust? Not a passive security but one that is earned, a robust resilience. It doesn't seem possible to know that a relationship is resilient until you witness it navigate conflict.
It's going to be messy. People who get close to one another get hurt, often by accident. And conflict isn't easy; we aren't widely given the tools to hold and metabolize it together. It means allowing you to express your frustration with me, and holding that expression as a means for us to be closer. It means making time to accept the knots that have formed in our dynamic, and to unravel them together. It means believing that the hard feelings will give way to easier ones, that being witnessed in my discomfort is more important than being seen as effortlessly comfortable.
The mess will spill out into other areas of our lives. We will be more easily tired, and might have to ask for help. We might have to take breaks, both from the conflict and from one another. We will be working to look past the programming that tells us that one person is right and the other person is wrong, and the programming that asks us to ignore the messages we receive from our bodies, and the programming that has us playing into dynamics of status, power, and privilege. But time and time again, I have seen this process lead folks from disconnection to connection. And I think that’s all we really yearn for.
I get frustrated sometimes, because I often feel like I'm the person in a dynamic who's spent more time sinking into conflict, who's a stronger advocate for its benefits — you have to be willing to sit with some discomfort and disappointment to see the other side, where both people feel better and more understood. So I'm learning to be inconvenient. I'm learning to be annoying, because sometimes I need us to look at the monster in the room together. And when I'm full out of yesses, and I need to retreat, I'm learning to be disappointing so I can protect what matters to me.
Recently I had to walk away from a relational dynamic because the other person told me they didn’t have the space for conflict. I love this person, and their wellness is important to me. I don’t wish for them to cross their own boundary, but I couldn’t abide knowing that we were in loops of misunderstanding and confusion and were unwilling to look at that together. It feels wrong, walking away from someone, it feels like failure. But I still stand by the choice — I was protecting our relationship from further hurt. And the relief I felt in my body afterwards gave me a strong resolve with the choice.
A dear friend has recently been telling me that "every trigger is a gift." I agree with this, conditionally. If we want to receive this gift, we have to agree to treat triggers as opportunities to deepen our learning about ourselves. We have to accept the mess that comes with difficult sensations and the recognition that we aren’t always quite who we want to be. And if we want to learn relationally, we have to agree to look at the way we’re impacted by one another, together. We have to agree to humility, transparency, and compassion.
The more I stand up for this over the years, the more my relationships can hold it. Beautiful people around me are rising to the occasion of conflict, whether that means diving headfirst into the arena or naming boundaries so that we can all take care of ourselves. When we make space for conflict, magical things can happen. If you identify with my struggle to disappoint other people, I hope you get the chance to explore and discover this magic for yourself, too.
What about yourself are you learning to accept?
I am always looking to work on conflict / people-pleasing with people, whether as a coach or as a mediator. If you know someone who'd resonate with this, please send them my way or share this with them!