HSMs and conflict avoidance
I have never dealt with conflict very well. With males conflict is often the only way to settle things. Whether that constitutes violence or overly aggressive behavior, it often results in determining male pecking order. Conflict avoidance is often a big deal with HSMs. We are caught between our egos, our cultural programming and our natural tendency to be overwhelmed with the tidal wave of emotions surrounding argument or conflict. It’s not an easy place to be.
I’m not sure if the problem is a deep seeded fear of being physically hurt, i.e., getting punched, or the guilt of hurting someone else or even having in the end to say we are sorry for even going down that path. But I know for me, the minute conflict arises, and man, do we ever know when that happens, the brain starts to go into scramble mode. Sensory data is flooding in and our thoughtful processing ceases to function, the feeling of freezing up occurs and the inability to act calmly and collectedly shuts down. In other words, we become overwhelmed.
The brain shutting down in mid argument does not show well in conflict situations. That too is an embarrassment. Often we take the high ground for defensive reasons or employ other tactics, many of which are ineffective.
Passive aggressive behavior as a failed strategy in conflict situations
I know for myself that often I go into a habituated withdrawal, which of course is seen as being passive- aggressive. Perhaps, that’s true, by all definitions, but seems a bit broadly defined, when one is acting in a defensive posture, as opposed to purposeful manipulation. Another label might be cowardly, especially for men. Either way, both labels, have negative connotations, and perhaps, highlight the fact that it is almost universally agreed that conflict avoidance is a failed strategy for dealing with differences.
Retreating from conflict to avoid conflict is dooming the HSM to a life of fear of facing the raw emotions associated with heated “debate.” Yeah, we get overwhelmed, but the impacts are huge. Relationships, business dealings, online interactions, political debates with friends and family, work and home environments are all affected. So, yes, it’s a big deal.
But how does conflict avoidance make us overly dramatic or passive-aggressive?
The cultural ideal/role model for men shows little or no emotion, except in anger – where the alpha male, warrior/protector emerges. Being overwhelmed in conflict, well, makes you, shall we say, less than ideal or less than masculine (the Barney Fife syndrome). Like Barney we don’t have any bullets in our gun.
However, avoiding conflict is also avoiding practice at working out life’s little dramas. Make a footnote of that. As for myself, when pushed I will defend my territory or my position, but I don’t actively seek conflict. When the buttons are pushed; I tend to overreact, which of course, makes it all seem overly dramatic.
The reality on conflict
I have a perfectionist view with my ego, which has hampered my whole life experience. I don’t like positioning myself for failure. To me, arguments mean failure, so I simply avoid them at all costs. The reality is that life is full of conflict. Conflict is life, life is drama, and drama is conflict. Allowing fear to drive avoidance of conflict is not living life. Conflict is an inevitable part of life and should not be avoided.
This is considered to be the healthy response by most psychologists I have talked with over the years. Face the fear of conflict, experience the emotion and without trying to conquer your antagonist, express yourself. Meet the emotion head on, use pauses to allow your brain to catch up and work towards a common resolution and peace again --the part we’re really good at it. But sometimes it would really be nice to be like those quick witted TV crime drama attorneys who relish courtroom conflict and do so with great aplomb.
Dealing with conflict constructively as an HSM
There are probably good HSM lawyers, real or scripted, who have practiced the art of conflict resolution enough to be expert at it, but for the most of us, I’m betting this is an ongoing life challenge. Again, I don’t see this as an overall trait for weakness, but more of vulnerability, like the tender under belly of a predator cat. We as HSM males (and I realize I don’t speak for all HSMs), must deal with this in an honest and authenticate way. Realizing at times we have to adapt to life as it comes to us.
Allow ourselves to express our anger, dismay and disagreement, but then breathe and pause, being honest and true to our beliefs and feelings. Perhaps, even in the heat of battle, turning off the empathy long enough to make our point. After all, in the end it is sometimes good to think about yourself first.
Approaching conflict in a philosophical way
There are many good books out there about conflict resolution – strategy, approach, philosophy and technique. One I have from way back was a book called, The Art of Verbal Self Defense, by Dr. Suzanne Haden Elgin. Maybe just a basic primer, but a good book for HSPs.
Speaking of self-defense, a good strategy might also be to take classes in Aikido, a martial art that emphasizes a non-violent approach to disarming your attacker. It’s a good way to stay mindful and train the mind and the body to reacting to and handling aggressive conflict seeking individuals in a manner consistent with HSP values. Of course, mindfulness training, meditation and doing some form of brain training (more on this in a later post) are also, good ways of learning to slow down the mind under duress.
I acknowledge that these strategies and comments will not readily appeal to the 80 per cent non-HSP male population, but it is going against grain for HSP males to conform to a strategy that is aggressive and conquering. We disavow our purpose if we accept and adhere to an unnatural position in conflict; draining energy from ourselves simply to comply with old traditional ways of resolving conflict. The use of non-violent energy to diffuse conflict is more natural for us and works towards our evolutionary purpose. Think of all the great religious teachers as examples.
It does not make us wimpy or wusses to take this approach. Good leadership focuses on apprising situations and looking for a best approach on common grounds. Besides, look at where aggressive violent strategies have gotten us today. We may not always win, if winning is the objective, but protecting ourselves from negative energy, diffusing a bad situation and working towards a common solution is what we do best and what the planet needs – right now. Be proud of who you are HSMs.
Thanks for dropping by, until next week…
Bill Allen lives in Bend, Oregon. He is a certified hypnotist and brain training coach at BrainPilots.com. He believes that male sensitivity is not so rare, but it can be confounding for most males living in a culture of masculine insensitivity which teaches boys and men to disconnect from their feelings and emotions. His intent is to use this blog to chronicle his personal journey and share with others.