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The High Cost of Avoiding Conflict

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conflictConflict is necessary for growth, but we often avoid it. Sometimes it’s because we feel emotionally insecure when we think about contradicting someone we care about or bringing up a topic that might make them defensive. Yet we might be overestimating the risk of their responding with anger, hurt or resistance to what we have to say. Even if some risk is involved, and the other person is not entirely happy with our confronting them, avoidance can be a costly choice. We might miss valuable potential payoffs, such as the opportunity to learn, to expand our expertise, or to deepen our emotional intimacy with another person.

We may avoid conflict because we fear our expertise or importance might be questioned and that makes us feel insecure. I know many shamans, healers who are guided by the teachings of ancient wisdom traditions, who are well respected in their communities and by those they work to heal. The most effective ones I know are those who do not take themselves too seriously despite their impressive reputations. They understand that self-importance and the need to see oneself as adept at all times can be a weakness. If we can overcome our fears of losing our reputation and being judged as not so clever or wise after all, we can find it easier to engage in conflicts that might lead us to becoming even more knowledgeable and skilled.

By using shamanic and Jungian techniques for accessing the unconscious mind, we can let go of any fear of conflict and engage in difficult conversations that hold potential for growth. We can discover ways to resolve conflicts rather than avoid them.

Engaging in conflict while being humble and willing to remain fully present in the conversation despite any discomfort can help us to make that conflict positive and productive. We increase the likelihood that we will grow from the experience.

In my work as a shamanic practitioner and a Jungian analyst in clinical practice, I’ve had people complain to me about someone in their lives. When I ask, “Have you talked to the other person about your complaints?” they often admit they haven’t. They want to avoid an uncomfortable conversation and hope someone else will resolve the conflict, or that it will resolve on its own.

Usually at this point in our conversation, I will help free them from the grip of ego fears and self-importance by using shamanic and Jungian techniques that engage the unconscious mind. I know this can help them face their fears and resistance. I might have them close their eyes and allow their fear of confrontation to arise in their mind and become a symbol with which they can dialogue. I tell them to ask this symbol, “What message do you have for me?” and “What do you want from me?”

When the symbol answers, it speaks with the wisdom of the unconscious mind. In such a conversation, a person might discover that her fear of conflict is related to a fear of losing a relationship that is important to her. She might discover that she is holding on to shame leftover from childhood and afraid of being seen as a lightweight whose ideas and opinions have little value.

If there is a conflict you are avoiding or dreading, you might want to take a walk in a natural area or spend some time just sitting among the trees or on a park bench. Don’t think about the conflict. Instead, simply observe nature. Pay attention to the movements of the leaves, the creatures and the clouds. Bring your awareness to the sensation of breathing and to the feeling of sitting on the earth. Notice what you are hearing, seeing, smelling and experiencing. Let your senses come alive. Then, ask yourself, “What do I need to know about talking to (fill in the name of the person you need to face or confront to discuss the conflict)?” or “What do I need to know about this conflict I’ve been avoiding?” Wait quietly for an answer.

The answer or insight might come in symbolic form, perhaps as a movement of animals or insects, a sound coming from far away or a shape in the clouds. Although these natural phenomena may seem random, your unconscious mind can work with nature and its symbols to provide your conscious mind with insights. What might that squirrel switching directions and scurrying away be telling you? What message does the sound of a bubbling creek have for you concerning the conversation you have been dreading because you fear the discomfort of conflict?

After using these techniques involving your intuition and your unconscious mind, you might want to journal about what you learned.

The unconscious mind is a rich pool of insights, energies and information that can be used in everyday life to resolve problems and identify positive actions you can take to change your life. By using shamanic and Jungian techniques to tap into its riches, you make it easier to let go of any fear or anxiety about conflict and face it with confidence and even curiosity about the possible outcomes. In fact, sitting quietly on a park bench and watching the clouds may be just what you need to ensure a positive resolution to the conflict before you.

How do you handle conflict in your life? Do you seek it out, avoid it, dislike it but deal with it effectively, or have some other way of coping with it? Do you go within and access the insights of your unconscious mind before trying to resolve the conflict? Reflect on what you have discovered as a result of bypassing your analytical mind and ego and tapping into the wisdom found within your unconscious mind. While what you find in your unconscious may not always make you feel good about yourself, and might cause you embarrassment, the exploration and the insights you gain may be exactly what you need to resolve a conflict with minimal drama and discomfort for all involved.

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About Author

Carl Greer, PhD, PsyD is a practicing clinical psychologist, Jungian analyst and shamanic practitioner. He teaches at the C.G. Jung Institute of Chicago and is on staff at the Replogle Center for Counseling and Well-Being. Learn more at CarlGreer.com.

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