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Avoiding Confrontation, Part 1

Copyright 2014 by Abigail Blackburn, PsyD

I like to read advice columns. I have been reading them since I was a teenager – Ann Landers, Dear Abby and a few others throughout the years.

Despite the passage of time, letter writers seem to be asking for help around the same issues – how to deal with horrible bosses, intrusive in-laws, non-committal boyfriends and rude houseguests. What has changed dramatically is the tone of the columnists in response to pleas for help.

The advice is a great deal more confrontational, direct and solution focused now – with the solution being increased self-esteem and self-empowerment rather than preservation of appearance and/or unhealthy attachments.

Where I used to read “try taking some space or going to talk to a professional,” I now see “tell your mother if she does not stop what she is doing immediately, you are going to stop seeing her altogether.”

Avoiding Confrontation --Not Always the Best Idea

I must hear “I avoid confrontation” about seven or eight times a week in my practice. Clients who are asking for help treating symptoms of depression and / or anxiety also seem, interestingly enough, to be the same folks who describe themselves as being “peacekeepers” and who worry about offending or hurting others, even in moments when others are being offensive or hurtful.

They describe scenarios that frequently involve people in their lives who repeatedly interact with them in ways that are hostile, manipulative and inappropriate.

In session, I will ask something like “Well, when your (brother) made those snide remarks, did you leave? Did you tell him the comments were gross?”

Confrontation Misperceptions

More often than not I will get some variation of “No. I didn’t want it to be awkward” or “I didn’t want to hurt his feelings” or even “it didn’t even occur to me.”

There appears to be a self-perception among these folks that if they respond, it means they are the problem, they are the ones who have created a scene.

More often than not, people who avoid confrontation also believe that to confront has no purpose. “What’s the point?” a client said just last week, “It’s not going to change anything.”

And yet, if asked “Well, imagine your child was in your place, being talked to like that…would you just watch? Would you do nothing?” the answer is a resounding “No.”

People who avoid confrontation on their own behalf would not do so if a child was in trouble. Of course there could be many reasons for this, one of them I believe is the sense that a child should be protected.

Which begs the question, why not protect the self?

This is a good question to ponder if you are one who tends to avoid conflict. Why not protect yourself? Why not be assertive about your viewpoint, or your preference? Why not call it like you see it?

Questions like this are explored in therapy to help reduce anxiety and empower the client to begin protecting the self.

If you’re ready to confront why you avoid confrontation,

and how it may be adding to your anxiety and depression,

counseling may hold the answer for you.

Image of two friends appearing to be in an argument. Abigal Blackburn PdyD helps clients learn to avoid confrontation
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