I’ve been dealing a lot with the idea of what I thought was “conflict resolution” in my head lately, until I realized that what I needed to be focusing on was conflict UN-resolution.
I have this obsessive compulsion to force things into some sort of resolution when there is conflict. So, any time that cannot happen because one or both parties cannot or are not willing to attempt to come to a satisfying middle ground, I find myself unable to let the situation go.
It’s such an amorphous being, though…conflict, I mean. It never looks the same twice. How do you take something to the mat (Conflict, as an entity, not the individual on the other side of it) when its face is always changing?
I will go over and over everything that was said on both sides, trying to see if I missed something, if I said something I shouldn’t have, if there was something I could’ve done differently. The situation will eat at me for basically as long as I let it, and even then will pop up in my mental microscope at the most surprising of times, sometimes years later, and that same feeling will arise. It’s the feeling of self-doubt, of injustice, of longing for some way to understand what in the world happened, and wishing there were judge and jury to determine if, as I usually believe, I did everything I knew how to do in order to resolve it. Don’t get me wrong, I know I’ve made mistakes in my efforts to resolve conflict. But when I DO believe I’ve made a mistake, I try to acknowledge it, and hope that the effort is recognized in the proceedings.
And so I find myself with an ever growing list of conflicts that just feel…open. Unfinished.
Examples, you say? Everyone is always squirming for an anecdote. I don’t feel like going into details, but I will attempt a generic list. (Aside: my list proved to be thoroughly opposed to condensing itself.)
The most recent is an ongoing customer service issue with a group of people with which I must continue doing business for a time, and in a personal setting, not over the internet. After a number of unsatisfactory events, where I would calmly express that I was frustrated, and calmly ask for a little more communication next time there was an issue (you get the idea), I was sent a very defensive, sarcastic message. I responded with a message that was a good deal more to the point, though still nothing I feel the need to apologize for. This interaction was completely ignored by the recipient. *Queue obsessive over-analyzation.* My next week was spent in dissatisfaction, trying to determine whether a) I really did go to far, b) they are just insanely bad at customer service or c) is there a c? Someone help me out if there’s another option. After that week of misery, I decided it was clearly not going to be resolved to my satisfaction unless I was pro-active. I didn’t want to make enemies of those people, but I also did not want to seem copacetic towards being treated like that by someone to whom I was paying money. So, I took them a box of chocolates with a card that said, essentially, “Hey, I don’t want to be enemies, so let’s make peace, thanks.” I didn’t apologize, still not feeling that one was needed, though I’m sure they thought otherwise. The devil on my shoulder didn’t want me to do even this, as it could be misconstrued an apology, but the angel won out.
I will say that this is one step towards accepting conflict unresolution – doing what you can to make peace, despite ongoing differences, and then letting the chips fall where they may, so to speak. My inner soul still does not find it overwhelmingly settled…it’s like a song that someone brought one chord closer to finishing, but still did not complete. It continues to linger, though no longer in manic waves.
Another recent event involves a person…a friend…whom I feel is frequently trying to manipulate me (and others) into doing various things. If a tag showed up under this person’s name when you introduced them, lately I feel it would be: “Donna*: Always Wanting Something from You.” (*Names changed to protect the living.) This is one of those different faces of conflict..the conflict that arises in you to which the other person may very well be entirely ignorant. To raise or not to raise? That is the question. And even this is different for every person, in every situation. There is no hard and fast rule.
Historically, in my life, I have been a conflict raiser. If something was wrong, you were going to know about it, and truthfully, because I wanted to fix the issue that I was having trouble dealing with so that we could all go on living happily and peacefully, and not (generally) because I wanted to be able to complain to you about your faults. I clearly have not always done this successfully, but it was my goal 90% of the time. The other 10%, I admit, amounts to something akin to verbal abuse as a way to satisfy my feelings of injustice. I’m not proud of that, but I am going for full disclosure here. I have tried to come to a level of moderation in this, because I felt that I was becoming, myself, defensive and imperious…not who I want to be. Accepting the injustices done to you, after all, was a trait carried by Jesus to a level that most of us will never even understand. And what I call “injustices” are generally so petty, that I would be ashamed to face the Lord and tell him about the level of wrath that was kindled because of some minor inconvenience. Hebrews 10 discusses the new Christians having faithfully and joyfully accepted the stealing of their property as well as many public punishments and reproaches. How foolish are most of my complaints?
However, interpersonal issues are real, and must still be dealt with. In this particular scenario, I realized today that I was allowing someone else’s expectations of what I should do cause me to feel pressured, guilted, and often, in the end, forced to do something I didn’t want to do. And that is on ME. Not them. Someone else’s expectations do not have the ability to force me into those actions. Boundaries, people. Simple boundaries. The expectations are theirs, but I get to decide what I will do with them. If saying, “No,” and disappointing or angering someone is the result, then so be it. I don’t have to get mad, I just have to not do things I don’t want.
The last face of conflict I’m going to talk about is on the flip side: when you think someone has internal conflict involving you, but instead of trying to resolve it, they just disappear. The disappearing is usually when you begin thinking they have said internal conflict involving you, because I’m not talking acquaintances here. I’m talking about people you’ve been through stuff with, people you opened your soul to…friends you thought would be around forever. And then suddenly, they’re gone. As an introvert (I’ve been reading a lot of books about introversion), I don’t make close friends easily, nor take them lightly. So, the sudden absence of those people with no explanation (or in some cases, just inadequate platitudes) becomes something close to, if not an actual, traumatic event. The lack of information creates a world where anything terrible they could have thought of you becomes a possible truth, playing and re-playing the chart-topping broken records of self-accusation and self-doubt, whatever those might be for you: “Am I boring? Too serious? Too intense in friendship? Critical? Judgmental? Negative?” And then, because you want to feel OK, you run to the other extreme and start considering good traits that maybe they just couldn’t handle in you: “I’m probably too honest or too spiritual.” The problem is that you don’t believe any of them. You feel that there must be some glaring flaw deep down in your soul that you’ve never even considered and you will never know, because no one will be honest or brave enough to expose it to you. And by “you,” I mean me.
This one, I don’t have an answer for. I’ve been trying to figure it out for years. How do you learn from mistakes you don’t know you’ve made? On days I am putting my confidence in the Lord (as I should always do) and not basing my emotional stability on my own capabilities and persona, I can look at this philosophically, distance myself from it, and realize that whatever flaws I have, Jesus is well aware of them and loves me anyway. And that if those people were still needed in my life, God would’ve left them there. But on days when my conflict unresolution obsessive-compulsive disorder rears its head and I am focused on my faults and downfalls, my broken record still plays the top ten, and sometimes throws some new ones in there, too.
This is a tough post for me. I usually won’t let myself say anything until I’ve got it mostly figured out. I bet that there are some folks out there, though, who are further along in figuring this out than I am, so maybe I’ll get the chance to learn a few things.