Conflict is not exactly something we enjoy …
UNLESS of course, you have a psychological addiction to creating drama (see drama queens). In which case you may want to seek therapeutic intervention.
No, in general, most of us seek a conflict-free life in which we are liked and accepted by those around us. Very few people like being disliked (unless you are some kind of anarchic masochist). Most people want to fit in, be validated, agreed with, and approved by others … which is all very normal.
But what happens when this desire to avoid conflict becomes pathological?
The answer is that we become people-pleasers; sacrificing our authenticity to fit into a cookie cutter mold that is given the tick of approval by others.
Not only that but when avoiding conflict becomes pathological we may even start to adopt a “good vibes only” approach to life.
Let’s face it: on the surface, this appears kind of cute and has a faux-spiritual-new-age ring to it. But adopting this “positive-attitudes-only” philosophy to life is actually one of the most emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually detrimental attitudes you can adopt.
Because when we are trapped in the cycle of seeking positive vibes and avoiding conflict, we are not actually growing as people. Not only that, but we can actually become what I call “negativity-phobic” meaning that we develop a phobia surrounding conflict that can result in some pretty extreme and ironically negative behavior.
The Bullsh*t of “Good Vibes Only”
I have met and seen my fair share of good-vibe-only people in my field of work. I also am the creator and admin of four Facebook groups, which at the time of writing, have a collective total of 300,000+ members.
One thing I have noticed that has popped up consistently, no matter the environment or context, is that people don’t like critical thought. Critical thought is generally perceived as something “negative” and unsavory. Questioning and pointing out flaws and logical fallacies is something generally frowned upon and is almost immediately shunned, along with the person, who is perceived as a “troll,” “trouble-maker,” “argumentative person,” or most unfortunate of all, an “unawakened person.”
Not only that, but most people in the “spiritual” and self-help communities tend to be highly reactive towards any form of emotional conflict – or at best, passive-aggressive and self-righteous. It’s as if the spiritual ego that people adopt adds an extra layer of difficulty in dealing with negativity. We develop these strong ideals and beliefs about life based on regurgitated spiritual rhetoric (such as “all is Love,” “Love and Light,” “Think happy thoughts”) that when someone comes along as shits over that, we’re shocked.
I think this shock is the result of fear and anger. Fear that we might be wrong. Fear that our spiritual beliefs are no longer pacifying or creating a comfort bubble around us. And anger because we instinctively want to defend ourselves – the ego doesn’t like to be challenged or disproved. The ego wants to feel spiritually righteous; it wants the laziness of “good vibes only” because there is no challenge and therefore no threat.
But wanting and desiring “good vibes only” means that we are in a constant state of resistance to reality. Trying to create a “good vibes only” life, while understandable (especially if you’ve struggled with a lot of sadness, loss, and self-hatred in the past), limits your growth on every single level.
Why is demonizing and avoiding conflict limiting to your growth? We’ll explore that next.
Why Conflict is a Powerful Teacher
I am not innocent nor am I immune to the struggles of the “spiritual ego.” As a person who was raised in a fundamentalist Christian environment, I was taught to defend my dogmas, resist others, while at the same time trying to avoid conflicts and convert others.
Fast-forward to meeting my partner and co-writer of this site, Sol. Or shall I say: Shiva, the destroyer of worlds. Entering a relationship with this man was the most ego-destroying thing I have ever experienced – and I say that as a good thing. Getting into frequent conflicts in the early years of our relationship was the single most important thing that helped me to spiritually awaken.
Sure, it wasn’t pretty. I often felt a lot of self-pity, resentment, and anger surrounding my beliefs being systematically challenged and destroyed (hello Mr. INTJ). But it was keeping an open heart to this conflict and choosing to learn from it that transformed my life forever.
Without having someone call bullshit on all the ways that I lied to myself, I would never be where I am today. Without having someone point out to me where I was mistaken/wrong, it would have taken me years to develop the self-insight I now possess.
So here is why conflict is such a powerful teacher:
- Conflict helps you to actively develop more patience and forbearance around others.
- Conflict helps you to “see beyond the veil” of another’s actions and develop deeper insight and compassion for them.
- Conflict reveals your own areas of vulnerability and insecurity.
- Conflict shines a light on your shadow tendencies.
- Conflict can point out where you’re genuinely going wrong.
- Conflict is a no-bullshit teacher that reveals how you can grow more.
- Conflict is a way to test your emotional and spiritual maturity.
Having someone say “no, you’re wrong, and here’s why” or “that is totally ridiculous” is an immensely valuable gift. Even if the person is NOT coming from a conscious or caring place, it is a gift to experience conflict for others, for it reveals the truth about ourselves.
The way in which we react to others speaks volumes about our capacity to practice kindness and understanding.
The way in which we react to others is a reflection of our own level of maturity or immaturity.
The way in which we react to others is a mirror of our own pain, insecurities, and fears.
There is a big difference between responding and reacting. Responding comes from a centered place of awareness and understanding. Reacting comes from unawareness and ignorance.
Do you feel mentally or emotionally threatened by another person who is “calling bullshit” on you or challenging you? Do you feel insulted by another person? GOOD. Find the lesson. Uncover the spiritual teaching. This person is your tough-love-boot-camp in the flesh.
Instead of reacting mindlessly to them, stop and be present. Be curious. Why is this person treating you in such a disrespectful way? Why does your ego feel so hurt? Do you secretly believe that the person might be right? Why is this a bad thing? What is the real cause of the other person’s aggression? What is behind their anger?
Ask questions and be open to accepting the truth. Ultimately your decision to learn from conflict comes from a choice: do you choose to use spirituality as a pacifier that bolsters your ego and makes you feel comfortable? Or do you choose to use spirituality as a way to pursue truth and authentic inner growth, which can be uncomfortable at times?
9 Signs You’re Negativity-Phobic
Ideally, all spiritual practices would help us respond with maturity, compassion, and understanding towards negativity. But that is not always the case.
Are you negativity-phobic? Read the following signs for some clarity:
- You avoid people or situations that create uncomfortable feelings in you at all costs
- You are attracted towards the lighter and more ‘higher-conscious’ aspect of spirituality, but feel repelled (and maybe also irresistibly drawn to) the shadow side or Underworld path of spirituality
- You can’t handle criticism well (even if it is a well-meaning critique) and feel upset
- You feel unusually defensive or on-guard around others
- You’re highly sensitive to people’s thoughts and opinions about you
- You intentionally try to block out all forms of negativity from your life
- You refuse to acknowledge your shadows
- You tend to be an idealist
- You feel intense and overwhelming emotions such as anger, fear, hatred, or disgust when you’re confronted with a negative person
How many of these signs can you relate to? Be honest. If you’re serious about consciously evolving, it’s important to face reality.
How to Embrace Conflict
Embracing conflict doesn’t mean enjoying it or seeking it out. Instead, embracing conflict is about adopting a mindful attitude that values the experience as something useful to learn and grow from.
From a hell-of-a-lot of experience with conflict, here is what I’ve learned:
1. Stop and take a deep breath. Catch yourself before you react. Walk away if you must. Take a few moments to gather yourself, and then respond.
2. Ask yourself, “What is this person or situation secretly teaching me?” Sure, the person might be acting like an asshole, but what message is being embodied through their actions?
3. Be curious and adopt an attitude of interested awareness when you feel triggered. Look at the emotions surging through your body. Examine the thoughts in your mind. Take note of how you’re feeling. To do this, you need to practice mindfulness.
4. Ask yourself, “What is actually hidden behind this person’s anger?” Stop taking emotions and apparent motives at face value. Try to think of all the possible reasons why the person is acting out or trying to hurt you. For example, maybe they have severely low self-worth. Maybe they are lonely and want attention (whether good or bad). Maybe they just went through a breakup. Maybe one of their loved ones just died. Maybe they’re experiencing a stressful day. Maybe they feel angry and sad about life. Be open to alternative explanations.
5. If you get emotionally triggered, reflect on the experience. What was it about the person that infuriated you so much? Instead of blaming them for how you feel, try to find the opportunity for growth that is being presented to you.
6. Understand that all unkind, cruel, vicious and abusive behavior has its root in pain. When I say pain, I mean emotional pain such as sadness, loneliness, emptiness, and fear. Once you can truly understand this for yourself, you will be able to keep your calm. Instead of running away from or avoiding conflict, you will face it and understand what is behind it with compassion or at least understanding.
Conflict is one of those hard-ass, no-nonsense, and in-your-face teachers of existence that shines a light on your capacity to handle and understand human aggression. Your ability to sit with it without reacting to it is a sign of spiritually evolved maturity. Perhaps even more courageous is to use conflict as a lesson; a way to meet your own shadows and flaws with absolute honesty.
I hope this article has inspired you to stop avoiding conflict and instead perceive it differently.
I welcome you to share your perspectives and experiences with this difficult topic below!