Dealing with Fear of Conflict

It’s amazing how much we can truly inhibit ourselves when we back off or avoid conflict with others. For those people who are afraid of dealing with conflict, the world becomes way more limiting and restricted, and prevents real growth and authenticity.

You see, we live in a world of interpersonal conflict. I don’t mean that in a pessimistic way, it’s just a fact of life. Our lives are populated with people who could potentially be upset with us. Wives, friends, coworkers, bosses, family – they all have the potential to get angry with us. When we pull back from these people, and inhibit our own wants, needs and our own voice, we stop plugging into the world out of fear. Fear overtakes us, and we avoid conflict at all costs. The very thought of upsetting someone quiets our own inner voice, and we learn to live our lives in response to or in preparation for others being upset with us. This is no way to live.

For some men, the idea of people pleasing goes hand-in-hand with avoiding conflict. People pleasers, or “nice guys,” may work very hard to please other people, usually to the detriment of themselves. These “nice guys” stuff their own needs and wants, and work hard to accommodate, please, assuage or prevent conflict with others. They don’t want to lead others down, for fear that people will be upset with them.

People pleasing is a phony endeavor. We’re not being true to ourselves, and others are only seeing a saccharine version of us. What those who avoid conflict usually have is repressed anger, anger that runs deep and needs to be pushed down in order to not spill over onto other people. It’s actually somewhere in that anger that one’s true feelings lie, and the road to recovery might start to take place.

So, what can one do to better deal with the fear of conflict?

  1. Like anything, coming to develop your awareness and admit that you are afraid of conflict is the first step. Not knowing that you act out of fear prevents you from making the changes that you need to make.
  2. Start to explore how you avoid conflict. Ask yourself these types of questions: Are there specific people that you avoid conflict most with? Are there situations that make you shy away more so than others? How exactly do you avoid conflict – do you withdraw, do you avoid people or situations, or do you tell people what they want here?
  3. Is there people pleasing behavior on top of the fear of conflict? If so, what does that look like.
  4. Ask yourself this very important question: what is the worst thing that would happen if someone were to be upset with you. What if they reject you? Would they fire you? Would they stop being your friend? Play out the rational fantasy to the end, and see what you come up with. It may not be quite as bad as you think.
  5. Can you differentiate the primary emotion of fear from the behaviors that you engage in on top of the fear? This requires some detailed attention, to tease out the immediate responses of fear from how you act on them. If you can strip away the fear from how you react to the fear, you’ll be one step ahead. Ultimately, it’s up to you to take responsibility for your own fear, rather than letting it run your life.
  6. Journal some early childhood memories where you were afraid to engage in conflict. What comes to mind? Usually, we have early experiences where we succumb to conflict at an early age. A lot of times, we’ve learned this from our families of origin, or interactions with our parents or parent figures.

Dealing with the fear of conflict is difficult, but it’s ultimately very rewarding because you get to take your life back and become more authentic. When we let a negative emotion, or another person for that matter, dictate the terms on which we live our lives, life becomes almost slave-like. Dealing directly with the fear of conflict will help you live a better life, and wrestle it out from under the grip of others.


About Jason

As "The Man That Men Will Talk To," Jason Fierstein, MA, LPC is a private practice counselor and psychotherapist for men and couples in the greater Phoenix, Arizona, area. He works with struggling men to find happiness in their lives, and with their wives.
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