Hate conflict? Yeah – me too.

As a recovering people-pleaser, I used to hate conflict and I still cringe at the idea of bringing something up to family member, client, or friend. It’s taken me years of breathing through discomfort to get to the other side. What once used to elicit a full-on panic attack is now a few deep breaths and doing the damn thing.

As people-pleasers, we love making others as happy and comfortable as possible. Often at the expense of our own. I’ve stayed in jobs, relationships, and school far past the expiration date because I feared how my choices would make others feel. I feared my knowing.

I feared my knowing meant there would no longer be room for me and them in the relationship. The expiration date literally felt like death and that felt scary to admit out loud.

We people-please we avoid conflict to avoid rupture. By molding and shifting ourselves, we stay on course – no matter how it makes us feel because on some level we know that living in constant compromise is better than the death of conflict and our knowing.

But here’s the thing – conflict gives us and our people the opportunity to get back on course. It provides the opportunity to repair after rupture, strengthening relationships and allowing us to love with out whole selves – not just the easy to like, desirable parts of ourself.

When we only show our people the part of ourselves we think they’ll like, they never get the opportunity to know all of us. This can make relationships feel shallow and inauthentic.

Conflict arises from difference. And when difference elicits strong feelings, it’s often speaking to a deeper relational need. Relational needs such as the need to be safe, seen, and known, the need for closeness, intimacy, or respect. Our needs as humans are so relational because we need each other to survive. As infants, people-pleasers often had to hide their needs and feelings to receive care. The crying baby who needed milk was “too much” for the caregiver and so the child learned authentic self-expression was either pointless, or counterintuitive to having their needs met. With all of this in mind, it makes sense conflict feels so destabilizing to people-pleasers – to rupture is to die.

But as we come out of people-pleasing tendencies we learn that actually, our needs and feelings do matter. And that the right people will gladly meet us where we’re at. This requires owning our needs and feelings and showing up authentically to receive them.

In the meantime, showing up to difference becomes a practice. We’ll know we’ve jumped the rainbow bridge to healthy conflict resolutions when we:

  • Respond to others with an internal sense of solidity, while remaining opening to their needs and feelings
  • Embody a malleable heart that is willing to forgive
  • Embrace compromise and release punishing behaviours after the conflict has been “resolved” (like, passive aggression
  • Trust that repair is possible after rupture and know deep in our bones that repeated repair grows strong relationships

As we learn how to be in conflict, we can use the following strategies to navigate:

  1. Regulate your nervous system
    • This can look like a bunch of things. Maybe it’s taking 3 intentional breaths, exiting the conversation and going outside for a few minutes, or repeating several affirmations that bring you back into your body (“It’s safe to be in my body,” “My voice is important,” “My knowing matters.”)
  2. Name your emotions
    • By naming our emotional experience we gain clarity regarding our needs. Our emotions have been passed down through evolution to preserve our safety and support life. For example, anger cues the need for protection and boundaries, sadness cues we need help or care.
  3. Practice embodying solidity and firmness
    • Press your feet into the ground, practice wall work, scream into a pillow… all are powerful ways to connect with an embodied feeling of strength, indicating to our minds that our needs matter.
  4. Be gentle with yourself
    • Patterns of people-pleasing are formed during our most influential years and etch patterns into our psyche and nervous system that we carry with us throughout life. Don’t beat yourself up if you avoid conflict or forget to express your needs. It’s important we honour or capacity for change at any given moment and this will look different from day-to-day.

Next, take a moment to check-in with yourself. Was any of what you just read activating? Or did you find yourself disassociating? It’s important we check-in before we check-out. Get curious. How did this land for you?

If you’re seeking support navigating patterns of people-pleasing, over-functioning, or overachieving, and are a BC resident, explore counselling. I offer online therapy across British Columbia and in-person counselling in Victoria, BC — including Langford, View Royal, and Colwood.

The People-Pleaser’s Guide to Being in Conflict