Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series on anxiety. Each of our experiences with anxiety is very different based upon who we are as a person and the circumstances that we find ourselves in. We are writing about the experience of anxiety from many different angles so you may not find every article as helpful to you as another one that better describes your experience. The good news is that the Bible isn’t a one-size-fits-all guide to life, but be confident that the answers found in the Bible can help you. God does understand what you are going through, and He will guide you.
In this article, Donna Hart works through the fear and anxiety that relational conflict causes. Relational conflict can cause the deepest pain and the greatest amount of anxiety. Do you want to find help with relational anxiety? This post will help better understand your conflicts and how to engage them in a healthy way.
Conflict is everywhere. In our world of sin and shame, unity and love are hard-won achievements. The goal is to learn to persevere, fight with wisdom and humility, and overcome relational anxiety.
What is your conflict style? Do you doggedly hound a person for resolution? Are you an avoider? Do you fear difficult conversations minimizing and sidestepping any way you can? Do you hold a strong stance defending your position, even though you know you are wrong because your pride keeps you from humility? Do you charge into the fight blaming, complaining, and criticizing? Or are you the person who withdraws in silence putting up walls of defense?
God wants us to be able to move toward conflict seeking to hear, understand, empathize, and persevere toward reconciliation embodying all the fruits of the Spirit in Christ-like love (Galatians 5:22-23). Our conflict resolution styles reveal our hearts. We may not intend to respond in ways that are unhelpful. Our responses may be instinctive self-protection more than intending to be aggressive.
Our goal is to respond in intentional love. As we abide in Christ we cultivate and enjoy our relationships seeking to know and be known, to love and be loved with deliberate attention and frequent connection. When we withdraw from relationship painful relational starvation is the devastating result.
Quiet and Distancing
In the heart of a person who is quiet and distancing we will find fears, desires, insecurity, discomfort, confusion, and weaknesses. People who distance themselves have hearts that are deep waters that feel dark and dangerous (Proverbs 20:5). Safety for them is to remain on the surface pushing down the emotions. It is how they hide from God and others when they feel inadequate, ineffective, and criticized.
Unfortunately, they suppress their fears and never get in touch with how God is calling them to grow. When they discover their needs, they will be drawn to reach out, and depend on Christ. They must start by having the courage to humbly and transparently share their fears, desires, and doubts.
If you are the quiet and distancing person will you turn away from God and others or will you reach up to God and move toward another?
Conflict avoiders fear expressing and talking about problems because talking will only make it worse. They see their deep emotions as dangerous and bury them to stay safe keeping conversation on the surface. They often have the thought that their response is a strength because they ignore their emotions and stuff them down. Avoiders hate the thought of being seen as needy, weak, or a burden. They must face their fears and doubts and see them as a doorway to depend on Christ.
Conflict avoiders fear failure, being a disappointment, being inadequate, not knowing what to say, that they are emotionally immature, and might be unfairly treated.
Conflict avoiders want peace, quiet, safety, and comfort. Walking away signals how hurt they are. They want others to read their minds and know what they need. They want to punish others with their silence, and they do not want to risk being vulnerable for fear of getting hurt.
Conflict avoiders must see that withdrawing is not a fruit of love and that a withdrawing heart is self-seeking. Conflict takes work and they might have to become skilled at doing it. As God has turned toward them in love, they must imitate Him and turn to love another.
They must strive to understand the reasons that drive and perpetuate their withdrawal and how it impacts others. They must ask God for grace (Hebrews 4:16), become aware that walking away is causing relational starvation (Proverbs 18:1).
Initiate: by starting the hard conversation learning to ask questions.
Dedicate: Commit themselves to the others in the conflict (Hebrews 13:5-6). Energize: Lean toward others as Jesus calls them to do (Philippians 2:5-9).