Struggles with Conflict

Among the most important of the tools I use in my psychotherapy practice are self-care contracts.  They were developed over the years by several generations of therapists, starting with Jacqui Schiff (1971).  The therapists use them both in their personal lives and with their clients.  The contracts are:

  • I will not hurt myself or others nor provoke/allow others to harm me. I will stay safe and honor the safety of others
  • I will not run away. I will stay and work through my problems.
  • I will not be sneaky or lie. I will be honest with myself and others.
  • I will not make myself sick or go crazy. I will stay sane and healthy.
  • I will not be passive. I will be proactive.
  • I am responsible for my feelings, thoughts, actions and attitudes.

The self-care contracts are not about becoming perfect.  No one could keep them at all times no matter how much therapy they do. It is more about developing intention and awareness. When we realize we have broken one of the contracts, we look at how and why we broke it, and what we will do to prevent ourselves from breaking it again.

These contracts are meant to be lifelong contracts both for the clients and  therapists. While I do a pretty good job of keeping them, there will always be more for me to learn  as I break them. The one I will focus on in this post is “I will not be passive. I will be proactive.”

To me passivity occurs when we do not focus on solving problems that need to be solved.  Instead  we 1) do nothing and hope the problem goes away, 2) over-adapt and do what others want us to do, 3) get agitated (e.g. physical agitation such as playing with our hair, picking nails, washing the kitchen floor at 3 a.m., or any kind of addictive behaviors), or 4) escalate (i.e.escalate outwardly by screaming and throwing things or escalate inwardly by becoming depressed or by having headaches and stomach aches.)

In general, I am anything but passive. If I have an idea, I work to manifest it NOW. If I know there is a problem, I want to solve it NOW. I don’t have much tolerance for waiting around when there is a problem to be solved.  However, when the problem involves conflict, it can be a different matter.

Generally speaking, I am good about handling conflict in my professional life.  By and large, I do fine with this in my personal life as well, but if I’m going to go back into old unhealthy ways of being, this will more than likely be the arena. At those times I may get passive by 1) not saying something because I don’t want to “rock the boat” 2) feeling anxious about confronting or being confronted, 3) obsessing about being treated unfairly, 4) obsessing about something I said or didn’t say, 5) obsessing about something that was said to me.  (You can no doubt see the pattern.  If I am in my “stuff”, I over-think!)

A good example of this happened many years ago. An acquaintance blasted me for doing something that she disapproved of. She screamed and criticized me relentlessly. I felt attacked, misjudged, and not respected. We stayed away from each other for some time, but since we are both part of the same organization, we still run into each other regularly, and probably always will.

My daughter made an astute observation about it one day. She said “Mom, the difference between the two of you is that she let it out and was done with it. Soon she won’t even remember it happened, and you will still be nursing the feelings five years from now.” She’s right. It has been more than five years and while we do fine with each other in general, I still have the sense that I need to walk on eggshells around her.

I am human. I am in this life to learn. It is okay for me to take all the time I need to learn life’s lessons. I have a feeling this particular lesson will be one I will be working on throughout my lifetime.

Written for Dungeon Prompts- Season 2, Week 16: Our Hidden Modus Operandi


37 thoughts on “Struggles with Conflict

  1. shoot is it over already, I was just getting warmed up. I think this is a subject that there is so much to be written on. Of course, I see myself all over this piece. I am a big nurser of my own feelings about what other people may or may not be feeling. Growing up in a therapy household most of these lessons are so ingrained but passivity I have mixed feelings about. For example one thing that I’ve learned from working in an all woman’s kitchen is that my way is not always the way that something needs to be done, and it is usually way easier to just go with the flow if I want to save myself unneeded heartache and mental agitation. There is a lot to be said for adapting, and not insisting to always have it done in the way that we would be most happy with. But that is assuming it is still healthy behavior and just a difference in outlooks, and you’re probably talking about unhealthy behaviors… anyways great article


    1. There is a difference in adapting and over-adapting. In over-adapting you are losing yourself in the interaction and usually coming from a “my needs aren’t important” or “your needs are more important than mine” place.

      I’m glad you like the post!


  2. Now this IS spooky…I was hiding from so many of these issues in this contract and still know not how to word it…still simmering…teaching and helping others on their path is a great way to remind oneself of our own journeys. What an extraordinary offering for this prompt!! Thank you for sharing this, Karuna.


  3. This is such a great post, Karuna. What a lesson about passivity! I’m all over the board. On one hand, like you, If something needs fixing I want to take care of it NOW, yet my road block is the over-adapting! And that leads to a whole lot of frustration. I like your daughter’s observation, too. Rather than “make waves” I would rather let it go–only you can’t let it go if you’re holding it inside. This post gives me much food for thought. Thank you!


    1. I hear you and definitely understand!

      Take a look at the reply I gave to eclecticoddsnsods below. It has information that may be helpful to you.


      1. Yes, thanks! Knowledge is power and I really believe once I know better I can do better. I’m so glad, though, that you remind us that we don’t always leave the old belief systems 100% behind. That means 1. I don’t have to beat myself up when I now know but can’t always manage it perfectly. And 2. If I become aware of the old belief systems, happening, I can catch myself when they take place! (Sorry Karuna, I always have to play things back, Lol!) Great great post. Thank you 🙂


      2. Playing it back is very helpful and I’m glad you do it! I totally agree with what you say here. I have to leave now, but when I come back I will write you a “story” that I think will be helpful.


      3. I decided I would do a post about the “story” but found I need to get permission since it is copyrighted. I’ve written them but I don’t know when or even if I will hear back. What I will do is give you a link and you can look it up.

        You may already know about it. It is called “Autobiography in Five Short Chapters” It is a wonderful description of the process of change.


    1. Those old belief systems usually don’t leave 100%. Whenever we are deeply into our “stuff”, it is usually something familiar, such as over adapting. Luckily, since it is familiar to us, red flags go up and we recognize and deal with it much faster than we would have in the past. Also the flare-ups are likely to be infrequent and we know what to do with it when it does!

      Congratulations on stopping your over adapting!


  4. An amazing post and really gives food for thought for everyone I imagine. Your daughter is very insightful in what she said and do you think you still need to let go of what happened and if so how and will you actually do it? We could all do with contracts and it’s comforting to know people in such a profession as yours have such things. I am probably too non passive, I’m impatient, a do’er and want now yet I hate conflict and insecurity in difficult situations make me over analyze and procrastinate over what others think too much normally after I have gone on the defensive xx


    1. I’d say that I’ve let go of at least 95% of it, maybe more. Some of the trauma in my cells still remains I think.

      Consider experimenting with using the contracts yourself. Since it is impossible for anyone to keep them perfectly, and because we all want to grow, we also use something called accountability work when we break the contracts. When doing accountability work we identify 1) the contract we broke, 2) how we broke it, 3) the mistaken belief/underlying issue (i.e. inner child belief) that was going on at the time we broke the contract, 4) what we are going to do in the here and now to keep ourselves from breaking it again and 5) what we are going to do in therapy to deal with the mistaken belief, i.e. the childhood issue. Maybe I will do a post on accountability work some time too! 🙂


  5. This post was very helpful to me. I find it so hard to deal with conflict or even other people being upset about anything that I wear myself out trying to keep everyone happy. Not just family but EVERYONE and I am now ill and exhausted! Can’t find a follow button though.


    1. There should be three places to press follow. 1) on the black bar at the top of the post, 2) in the space in-between the list of recent posts and top posts and 3) at the very bottom of the blog, after the comments. I hope you can find it!

      Yes, taking care of everyone else’s feelings can make you exhausted and sick.

      Also I heard a joke not long ago. The question was “What happens when a co-dependent person dies.” The answer was “Someone else’s life flashes across their eyes.” There is a lot of truth to that I think.

      I hope the post helps you in learning to live life for you!!!!


  6. What a great insight!!!!!!! “Mom, the difference between the two of you is that she let it out and was done with it. Soon she won’t even remember it happened, and you will still be nursing the feelings five years from now.”

    I avoid conflict if at all possible and shy away from aggressive people. I know it’s old stuff (My mother was a screamer and my dad taught us to walk on eggshells do as not to upset her, and enforced it with spankings), but it brings on anxiety attacks I am mostly over.

    Visiting/following you from Zero to Hero. I am a retired therapist (MSW) also.


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