Why does conflict cause me so much overwhelm and anxiety?
Updated: Jun 7
As childhood trauma survivors, many of us we will do just about anything to avoid confrontation because, from our experiences, we grew to believe conflict equals abandonment.
Morgan Wilde ~ Trauma Recovery Coach ~ Rising Warrior Collective
I grew up watching the adults in my life fight like cats and dogs nearly every day. I’m not talking about simple disagreements, I’m talking about in your face, spit flying from your mouth, hands being thrown, screaming rage. The sort of fighting where you fear the cops will be called, but if they don’t, you worry someone might not make it out alive.
Nobody shielded or protected me from it. I was usually in the same room, trying to break it up, or in bed expected to be sleeping through it. I always knew what the fighting was about and it wasn’t unusual to be asked to choose a side or have them vent their frustrations to me. It was equally as terrifying in my teens as it was when I was a little girl.
There were no boundaries between me and the adults who were supposed to be caring for me and as a child I was often expected to hold space for their feelings.
In all those years, I never once witnessed conflict resolution after the fight. The fighting would simply be over by the next day, and life went on, until the next one. They never checked in on me or let me know I was safe. I was always left wondering, worrying, and preparing for the next. Because of this, my body never learned to regulate itself. Over time, my system got stuck in the “on” position and slowly I learned how to live and function with a dysregulated nervous system. I learned to live in a constant state of fight, flight, or freeze.
I learned how to scan a room, identify triggers, read body language, count drinks, and watch the clock. As a small child, I knew when it was time to armor up and prepare for battle. The survival tools we learn when we experience long-term developmental trauma in childhood don’t just go away, we carry them into our adult lives. We unknowingly continue to use them until we bring awareness to them and heal the wounds that they needed to protect.
Because I never had the chance to experience conflict resolution, I grew to believe that “conflict equals abandonment,” and I carried this story with me throughout my life and into every single relationship I ever had.
I didn’t understand why, back then, but I went into my adult life with a tremendous amount of anxiety and overwhelm about any potential conflict or disagreement. This kept me from ever feeling fully safe or settled in any relationship - family, work, friendship, romance. It also caused me to be a people pleaser, walk on eggshells, and focus on the needs of others at the expense of my own. I over gave, over committed, over loved, and overextended, all to avoid conflict at any cost. I was a full-time peace keeper, and it was exhausting. I felt stuck in a loop and had no idea how to get out of it.
For so long, I brushed my childhood experiences off as if they were no big deal. I survived, and I was “fine.” This could not have been further from the truth. Bringing awareness to my trauma helped me to understand that those experiences still lived inside of me. Every move that I made was an act to protect myself. The anxiety and overwhelm was my body prepping for the next disagreement, fight, or confrontation. I never had a chance to see how healthy communication can allow everyone an opportunity to speak freely, find a solution, respect one another, and still love each other in the end. I didn't know there was any other way then the way I experienced confrontation my whole life.
Trauma recovery helps us to slowly let go of our old survival tools and the stories we carried from childhood that keep us trapped in our old patterns and replace them with new skills, tools, and resources.
Bringing awareness to and identifying that I was using emotional avoidance as a tool to protect myself, created space for me to learn that there are healthier ways of handling and navigating confrontation. I’ve since replaced my old tools with a whole new updated set that support me to in navigating confrontation without feeling abandoned.
Today, healthy boundaries are a non-negotiable, I can ask for what I need, leave relationships when they are no longer good for me, express hurt feelings, speak my mind, say no when it’s not a yes, and course correct when something does not feel right. I can do this now because I know how to navigate confrontation safely. I no longer have to fear it.
Many of the people we come in contact with in our daily lives have experienced trauma as well and they are unknowingly using their old tools too. This can make healthy confrontation for a recovering trauma surviver feel challenging and scary at times. Not everyone in our lives will understand the deep work we are doing to heal and shift - our new way of being may even trigger them. This is ok. They don't have to understand AND we can keep doing our work and stay the course. This is where the real healing begins.
"Avoiding your triggers isn't healing. Healing happens when you're triggered and you're able to move through the pain, the pattern, and the story - and walk your way to a different ending." ~ Vienna Pharaon
If you are ready to heal your childhood wounds so that you can begin dating from a more grounded, whole, and healthy place, I would love to support you on your journey. My 1:1 coaching container creates a compassionate, non-judgmental, and safe space that meets you right where you are today. From there we move at a pace that supports your life, goals, and visions for your unique and beautiful future, a future that can look anyway you CHOOSE.
Click here to book your free 1-hour discovery call.
You never know how one conversation could shift the direction of your life.
Lots of love ~ Morgan