I’m convinced that unresolved conflict is a major cause of poor mental health and that confrontation that leads to healing can be the best elixir to a troubled soul. Yet even the word “confrontation” brings a sense of adversity, does it not?
The truth is that conflict doesn’t have to be adversarial! Addressing offences can be loving and gentle. Healing confrontation is the portal where vulnerability and greater understanding merge to create unity and growth.
This morning I woke to a private message from a lovely woman at church. I only knew her as a casual acquaintance but she had gone through a difficult time recently and was questioning why I had not acknowledged her when we crossed paths in the weeks prior. Even more so, why I hadn’t responded to her many Facebook posts that explained the trials she had been going through lately. Did I not care? Did I not like her? Weren’t we sisters in our faith? She had to know if this was just her imagining the worst or if this was really a slight on my behalf.
I was stunned.
I didn’t remember seeing her recently at church. I didn’t remember seeing her Facebook posts in my feed.
In the past I might have been a little defensive. What did she expect from me?
In the past I might have been a lot overwhelmed. OMGosh…I can’t please everyone! I’m going as fast as I can and I can’t keep up. I’m failing at my primary responsibilities and relationships and now I’m offending people that I barely know and don’t have time to get to know!
Today, however, all I saw was the raw, underlying message: I’m hurting. Do you care?
This was exactly one of my objectives in attempting to slow down my life by leaving my job for a year. I wanted to make time to really see, know and love others. In spite of this, I hadn’t seen, known or shown love to this precious lady. Blinded by my own insecurity, pain and distraction I had walked right by someone who needed me and would never have known unless she had been brave enough to say something about it.
The timing was providential because I am mentally working through a different, yet similar situation with another individual…only in the reverse.
I knew from my own circumstance that what she was experiencing was very real to her and that she deserved a loving, honest explanation. I had not made a conscious decision to reject or ignore her but I was genuinely sorry. I shared my own struggle with feeling disconnected and alone in my troubles and the fear of rejection that tends to keep me from reaching past invisible social barriers more often. I invited her to call me and we engaged in a truly healing conversation for over an hour.
We established a new connection and she ministered to me while experiencing reassurance that she is not alone in her suffering. I invited her to physically stop me if I ever passed by her without an acknowledgement in the future and I am certain we will be talking again as friends.
MODEL FOR HEALING CONFRONTATION
It was a perfect example of confrontation leading to loving resolution as described in this Bible scripture:
Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.
Matthew 18:15 KJV
WAIT! BUT IT DOESN’T WORK!
I needed this positive experience because for me, confrontation has typically been negative and rarely life-giving in resolution. Most people don’t appreciate it when you approach them and tell them their faults. It has the potential to explode like a grenade leading to defensiveness, blame, excuses, anger, and oft-times a worse relationship than what existed before.
Most of us have that experience and it makes us shy away from the risk involved in engaging in any form of confrontation. For a long time I wondered if there was truly such a thing. All I witnessed incident after incident was a vaguely declared winner and a loser with a lot of carnage all around. At best, trite or overly-dramatic apologies and politeness masking underlying relational tension and at worst, all out war with each party going separate ways with the offence having grown deeper.
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STUDENT, NOT A MASTER
Ask me how I know this.
I know because I have done conflict wrong in just about any way you can and because my disagreements always engaged others, I have experienced the varying effects of other’s mistakes too. I am not writing this post as an expert but rather a student who has failed many times and is still attempting to master an elusive skill.
WOUNDING CONFRONTATION ACTION LIST
The only positive thing I can take from my past mis-steps is to stack it up as to how NOT to do conflict. These are just a few things I’ve done that have had wounding results:
- Talk about my offence with others instead of to the person directly (venting or processing)
- Passive-aggressive social media posts (you know who you are)
- Ignore or cut the person out of my life with or without explanation
- Waiting until my offence had accumulated to many issues and I was overly angry before starting the confrontation process
- Trying to do the conflict in writing instead of face-to-face (text and email fights are the worst!)
- Not approaching confrontation with the goal of reconciliation but rather wanting to prove the other person wrong and fix their behaviour
- Taking notes to record the other persons responses to prove how wrong they are
- Not sticking to the issue at hand and bringing up past events to build my case
- If a mediator was involved, not selecting one who was completely neutral to both parties
It’s embarrassing to admit I have done all these things. Anyone who is skilled at conflict management is probably cringing and shaking their head right now. Do you see yourself here too?
HEALING CONFRONTATION ACTION LIST
Let’s talk about the proper way to deal with conflict.
You can start by simply doing the OPPOSITE of the above list but here are some more tips:
- It’s always best to voice a problem as quickly as possible after the event has occurred but timing is important so sometimes it needs to wait until a moment when you and the other person can be alone.
- As difficult as it can be to not dive immediately into the confrontation, it’s best to start with some genuine, relaxed and civil conversation to establish “We come in peace”. Even just a few comments is enough.
- It’s always best to express an issue verbally, not in writing. There are so many good reasons to have conversations face-to-face or at minimum, over the phone.
- The voice you write your words with is likely not the voice they will hear when they read your words.
- Your text can be copied, cropped and circulated without proper frame of reference.
- Written words can be read later after the disagreement has been settled and reignite negative emotions.
- Sometimes written messages are not even actually read!
- If one-on-one discussion doesn’t remedy the issue it may be good to pick a neutral third party to mediate.
- The main goal should be healing relational peace and it’s always good to keep in mind that “winning the argument” isn’t the objective. It is possible to win a battle and lose the war. If you are always winning arguments and the other person is always wrong, you may actually be losing in the long run.
If you follow these suggestions and have the wonderful experience I enjoyed today with my new friend, then you are very blessed indeed. Healing confrontation is an opportunity to grow in relationship and you have succeeded in resolving a potential problem with minimal hurt and damage. Yay! I would love to hear about it!
The reality is that not everyone is on the same page at the same time and grievances vary in severity and consequence so further reconciliation steps may be needed. If mutual reconciliation cannot be achieved after trying every available venue, then personal closure through a forgiveness process may need to happen independently. In fact, even if amicable resolution IS achieved, it can be extra healthy to go through an independent, prayerful forgiveness process just to be absolutely sure of healing.
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Read about other contributors to poor mental health here
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