- a fight, battle, or struggle, especially a prolonged struggle; strife.
- controversy; quarrel.
- discord of action, feeling, or effect; antagonism or opposition, as of interest or principles.
Have I mentioned how much I despise conflict?
The irony of this is exactly how much conflict has been a part of my life. As a teacher, I was surrounded all day long by conflicts. Everything from “she cut in line” to “he cheated off me” to the playground scuffles gets thrown at a teacher, and I was the final answer to each and every problem that came up.
This is just as prevalent as a parent. I deal with sibling conflict, classmate conflict, after school conflict, friends versus siblings conflict. Over and over: fight, controversy, quarrel, discord.
And. I. Hate. It.
But nothing — nothing — curdles my stomach like conflict between me and another adult.
I can mediate conflict resolution between children forwards, backwards, and hanging upside down. Getting both sides of the story? Check. Helping kids see the other point of view? Check. Empathetic statements that acknowledge feelings? Check. Brainstorming solutions? Check, check, and check.
In the past six months alone the kids and I have mediated bullying, exclusion, sharing, respecting ownership, and inappropriate language (just to name a few) between the two of them and sometimes the neighborhood children as well. Kids + play = fun. But kids + play can also equal fights, ugliness, feeling excluded, or general snippiness, and without a mediator within reach things can get out of hand quickly.
Clearly I understand the concept, right? Little people disagree, you get the whole story (or as much as you can, anyway), then help them solve their problem. DONE.
So I’m not sure why my own conflicts cause me such anxiety. And when I say anxiety, I really mean “emotions rampage before settling into a dull roar that provides background noise for days, and the thought of going to the source of my problem makes me feel like vomiting.” I am suddenly reduced to the emotional equivalent of a child, holding it all in with no idea where to file the emotions or how to fix the issue.
This is SO not the picture of a capable adult that I’m shooting to project.
But the problem is that I have years of practice at passive-aggressive anger management, though “management” is kind of a misnomer there. I’ve spent many, many years “handling” problems by either trying to ignore them (typically while dropping hints about what’s bothering me) or by keeping a running tally of transgressions. I used to jokingly claim an innate Italian ability to hold a grudge like nobody’s business.
I’ve been working hard to change this pattern, but it’s ridiculously difficult. Just a few of the phrases that make me feel the urge to puke:
- “We really need to talk about…”
- “I’m sorry that we…” (particularly if I’m not sorry but have to be the one to extend the olive branch)
- “It makes me feel ____ when you…”
I know that I need to be able to look another adult in the eye and begin these conversations. But seriously, the times I’ve had to do it I practically break out in hives beforehand.
Banging up against another passive-aggressive further complicates the problem. Now you’ve got someone doing the things you actually wish you could do, and if you try to hit the problem head on they’ll often duck and dodge your attempts to start the conversation. Because they don’t want to have it any more than I do. Because we’re those passive-aggressive types with a grudge to hold and a snarky comment to make!
I keep telling myself that this is how grown-ups are supposed to handle things…the only problem with this theory is that I keep running into grown-ups just as willing as I am to sweep issues under the rug. But that is a really good way to have things blow up in your face.
I’m 44 years old, and I’m trying so very hard to grow up.
Why is this so freaking hard??