Fights and Frights...
Conflict is a normal part of Relationships!
“No it isn’t!!! Conflict is bad, hard, painful and ruins relationships!!” This has been my gut reaction to a statement like this for much of my life, and it is only very recently that this is changing, and I am even intentionally starting to make space for conflict in my life and my family. Make intentional space for conflict? What the heck does that mean? Why should I or anyone want to add conflict to their life?”
This picture is a painting that is hanging in my oldest son’s room above his bed. When I walk in the room I feel it deep in my gut all the meaning that this painting holds for him and I in our relationship. Every time I see that rainbow hanging on his wall, it’s a reminder to me of the fact that it’s ok that ‘conflict is a part of relationships’ and that when I accept that truth, beautiful and redemptive things can be created for me, for us.
You see, I grew up in a home like many people do with a lot of conflict. Sometimes it was spoken, yelled even, and often violent, and sometimes it was unspoken, unpredictable and left everyone feeling uncertain of what may happen next. It is true that conflict can be scary, terrifying even for those involved. So it makes sense that we want to shove it to the side, shut it down and declare it as unnecessary in our lives. But we all know all too well that it does not work that way. And when we shove it to the side it does not serve us, or our relationships well. Because conflict is a natural human experience, if we shove it away it will find a way to have a voice in our life. And if we don’t make space for it to have the voice we want it to have, it takes over in unpredictable and often destructive ways. As I examine my own and others fear around conflict I see a few main universal themes. But for the sake of this article we will just focus on one; that we desperately need space for difference in our world.
I have a little saying that I’ve repeated to my kids as they have grown into school age children, learning the ways of the playground. It is this “We can be different and still be friends”. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard my oldest tell me that someone in his class has told him the opposite. That, “they can’t be friends if he doesn’t do… or think…”, and still I repeat “Jude, we need to be able to be different from one another and still be friends”, a very hard concept for little ones to grasp, and for adults too. Why is this? Partly because we are often taught from a young age that if people are different from us, they must be bad. We do this to try to hold onto our belief that we are good, because we do, we have to believe we are good. The cost to not believing we are ‘good enough’ is great, and something the researcher Brene Brown explores extremely well in her work on shame.
The avoidance of being real about our shame, or trying to hold onto the belief ‘I am good enough’, can sometimes look like absolutely not one tiny ounce of room for difference in our lives. And on a much larger scale I believe that it is this fear of not being good enough, that manifests itself as no space for difference in our lives, that ultimately leads to war.
Conflict is experienced so incredibly different for people when it is ok, even normal, that we are different. Think different, act different, and respond different. In permission for our difference, we also can both be good enough at our core. If it’s ok to be different, I do not have to prove my ‘good enoughness’ to you by being right, and I now have space for something’s new and productive in conflict; curiosity and compassion. Curiosity and compassion not only for you and your difference, but also for me, and the angst that wants to rise up in me and prove my ‘good enoughness’ to the world.
Here’s the truth: this angst rises up in me a lot in parenting, especially with my oldest for reasons I might write more about another time. So this is my work, because conflict, and difference and ‘good enoughness’ were not done well in my developmental years. I am creating a new culture around conflict in our family. One where it is normal, it is welcomed, because we can be different. And even when we go about it poorly we can be curious and compassionate with ourselves and each other.
That rainbow painting that hangs in Jude’s room was birthed out of a big fight, where I became indignant and then felt helpless, and then went deep into my own shame first, and all kinds of “you’re not good enoughness”. But as I became curious and reflected on this old old shame message and how I do not want my children to carry this belief within them, I dug deep into curiosity and compassion with myself first and then with my boy. From this place we could both eventually soften, apologize for the parts we did not do well, and then we chose to create together. Brene Brown calls this “circling back around”, messing up and circling back in vulnerability of self-compassion.
So, I invite you to consider the option of intentionally making space for conflict in your life, to bring along side curiosity and compassion; and choose to own your conflict from this place, so it no longer owns you.
Danielle Braun-Kauffman MC, RCC