“Difficulties are meant to rouse, not discourage. The human spirit is to grow strong by conflict.”
— William Ellery Channing, writer and Unitarian
“I don’t like conflict,” she admitted. “It terrifies me. I don’t want people upset with me.”
“And what happens when you encounter conflict?” asked the workshop facilitator.
“I shut down both physically and emotionally,” she replied. “I want to run away.”
I was in a management seminar and the facilitator was talking about a concept she called “Moving Away From/Drawn Toward.” Initially, the conversation was about goal-setting but had evolved to include coping mechanisms and negative, dysfunctional patterns of behaviour.
I admired my colleague for her courageous confession. Like me, she was a sensitive soul. I had felt a painful twinge of familiarity in the words she spoke. We had each been asked to share our thoughts about conflict but, feeling self-conscious, I declined to comment.
The facilitator explained that some people are motivated by reward — they are the “Drawn Toward” group. These goal-focused individuals will set their sights on what they want — promotion, raise, or recognition — and relentlessly move toward the achievement of that goal. The “Moving Away From” group is focused on what they don’t want and, typically, that’s conflict or confrontation. The problem with a moving-away strategy is that it’s fear-based and always has you walking backwards, looking back. It’s easy to trip and fall into the same situations you’ve been trying to avoid. Life for such an individual is often filled with sad, recurring themes.
The entire session made me feel uncomfortable, so on the ride home I had time to ponder my unease. I came to the sobering realization that my primary strategy for coping with work and life had been centred on moving away from. I had spent my entire adult life moving away from conflict and the people or situations that intimidated me.
If that’s you as well, then you’ve probably spent a lot more time focusing on what you don’t want and have a pretty clear picture of it in your mind. Focusing on what you don’t want will simply bring more of it into your life. If you’re ever going to live a truly empowered life, you will need to embrace a new approach: you’re going to need to turn around.
Now don’t get me wrong, there are times when avoidance is a good strategy. Avoiding might take the form of diplomatically skirting an issue until a better time or withdrawing from a threatening situation. But I was aware enough to realize my moving-away-from strategy was not serving my best interest. I vowed immediately to begin focusing on what I did want in my life.
After years of running backwards, how could I possibly turn around, turn my back on what I didn’t want, and start moving in the direction of what I did want in my life?
I started by listing all the things in my life that had me feeling frustrated and fearful — the things I didn’t want or was afraid to face. For you, these items could include a stressful job, your children’s behaviour, regret, guilt, financial concerns or conflict in your relationships.
Next, I made a list of all the positives. For each situation on my list, I found everything I could think of that was positive in the situation. For example, a difficult job may also bring the bene-fits of a better income, creative challenge or personal growth. The job can certainly be a vehicle for expanding your level of patience and expertise. At the very least, it could bring you the valuable insight that what you’re doing isn’t what you want to be doing with your life.
I chose to maintain a positive attitude. This didn’t mean I pasted a smile on my face. It did mean that I worked at feeling grateful for what I already had and for what I believed would come. With effort, I shifted my focus from feelings of lack to feelings of gratitude and abundance. I started to believe in myself, in the future, and the positive changes in my life.
I began to visualize a better life. I made a detailed list of what I wanted in my life because, up to that point, I didn’t really know what I wanted. Each day, I sat down and visualized what my new life would look like and how it would feel to have the changes take effect.
I worked hard to ensure my thoughts, feelings, and behaviour were all in alignment with my goals and not my fears. Over time, I began to think, feel, and act differently.
It didn’t happen overnight. In fact, many of the changes are still happening and will likely continue to require effort the rest of my life. It’s interesting to note that in the process of adjusting my thinking, I discovered I had a number of disempowering strategies. For example, when I felt I couldn’t run away, I would give in to everyone else’s wishes, seldom voicing my own opinions, or I would switch into my people-pleaser persona — trying to please everyone and make them like me. When that failed, I played the victim, trying to convince everyone to go easy on poor, pitiful me. In the end, I would always return to my moving-away-from strategy.
I have learned that by trying to avoid difficult situations, I run the risk of growing bitter and depressed. I’ve discovered that I can’t just think about myself and my personal need to avoid conflict. Healthy relationships sometimes require us to broach difficult subjects. And I’ve realized that conflict can often be resolved in a kind and gracious manner as opposed to the frightful explosion I expected them to be. Facing conflict can lead to solutions you never imagined.
Turn your back on what you don’t want — turn around and face what you do and find your-self drawn toward a new life of empowerment, gratitude, love and abundance.
Murray Fuhrer is a self-esteem expert and facilitator. His recent book is entitled Extreme Esteem: The Four Factors. For more information on self-esteem, check the Extreme Esteem website at www.extremeesteem.ca.