Dealing With Conflict—The Story Of An Empath

Conflict turns my stomach. It makes my chest tight and uncomfortable. I feel legitimately sickened by it. 

I avoid arguments, and negativity, and pot stirring, and drama as best I can—not because I’m a high road walker. It’s more about self-preservation. I wasn’t kidding when I said conflict makes me sick. 

As a sensitive, over thinking, soft-hearted, earnestly reflective, people pleasing, peace making empath, it’s a struggle for me to let it go.

let-it-goWhy can’t I be more like Elsa?!

I take hurtful words or actions to heart. I absorb them and replay them in my mind. That’s the tricky part about being a “highly sensitive empath“. It eats me up. 

When friends in my life are in a bad place, I absorb it like a mushy sponge.

Instead of spitting an insult back at the insulter, I swallow it. This is not to say I swallow people’s spit. Only my own. 

Somebody told me once that this makes me weak. So I slapped her hard across the cheek and kicked her squarely in the crotch. Okay, not really. But I really gave it to her… but only in my head.

Don’t get me wrong, if you mess with one of my kids or cross somebody I love, I will lash out. A hard core lashing. I’m not a wimp when I’m defending somebody else. I’ll curse, I’ll raise my voice, I’ll pen a strongly worded letter. 

And if you dare make a racist or sexist or homophobic joke within earshot, I’ll call you on it. I don’t enjoy rocking the boat or stirring the pot or poking the hornet’s nest or generally making a fuss but so help me, if you make a joke that includes the word “retard” I’ll rock, stir and poke, hard.

But whenever possible, I’m more inclined to try to turn the situation around before it escalates. I’ll metanoia the snot out of conflict if I can. 

The concept of ‘metanoia‘ is a lesson I retained from my time as a teacher at a private school with an Anglican background—not an overtly religious school (thankfully since I consider myself to be a less than holy person a lot of the time) but we attended chapel once a week with our students. We heard stories that highlighted Christian values—like “be kind, be tolerant, be honest, just be a good person for heaven’s sake.”

I spent a good majority of the time trying not to laugh. I have that thing where I sometimes burst out laughing at inappropriate times. It didn’t help that some of my best friends were also teachers sitting close by, deliberately trying to make me laugh. Sinners. 

One of the lessons was about the power of “metanoia”—turning toward the light. Metanoia is a Greek word that means, “change of mind.” It implies making a decision to turn around, to face a new direction. Because we have a choice. We can decide to turn around. 


Photo Credit: (Hilarious site! Check it out!)

And that’s what I attempt to do when sh*t starts to go down.

Instead of fanning the flames I try to quietly douse them. 

If you’re annoyed with me for something silly, I will phone you to talk it out. To be honest, my stomach will churn until we patch things up so the sooner we mend fences, the better. For me anyway. 

If you don’t answer the phone, I will drive to your house and make you talk to me until we eventually hug it out. 

If you post something snarky or rude on Facebook, I’ll try to soften your sharp edges with a self-deprecating joke. 

If a disagreement begins to escalate, sometimes I’ll just go ahead and apologize just to put an end to it. That’s right. In order to reclaim peace, I’ll take one for the team and apologize. Even if I’m not necessarily in the wrong. 

I know, I’ve heard it before. “Why do you do that? You just totally gave in. You let him/her get away with it.”

I don’t need to win. But I do need harmony. 

Life is about choosing your battles. Some aren’t worth the effort or the agony. Smoothing it over with a joke or a simple, “Sorry about that,” so we can just move on, makes my life easier.

I know when to stand up and fight. You don’t want to argue with me, for real. When my emotions take over, I’m unpleasant. And I don’t forgive easily. So that’s fun.

I also know when to give up. I am not a doormat, but recognize when a line has been crossed and when it’s time to cut my losses. It’s never easy, but I know when it’s time to turn myself around and metanoia myself the hell outta there. 

How to do YOU deal with conflict? Do you feel the need to get in the last word? Do you have to win? Or are you okay giving in a little for the sake of peace? 

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