How Unresolved Conflict Impacts Your Mental Health

We all experience anxiety, bouts of depression, stress and insomnia. These are normal emotional responses to what life throws at us and the things we can’t control.

They become a mental health concern when they take over our life and lead to an inability to cope with everyday tasks. It can lead to avoidance of situations that cause us anxiety and that can limit how we live our lives.

This is a very simplistic explanation and you don’t truly understand these conditions until you have been through them. Anxiety prevents you from thinking about anything other than what will harm you. It exhausts you, your body reacts with a racing pulse, a feeling of breathlessness and in my case, I would wake up with panic attacks in the early morning. I couldn’t think straight, I couldn’t eat and everything that I used to love had no impact on me whatsoever. If I wasn’t exhausted through fear, I was numb. My anxiety was related to a bereavement, but many people can’t identify the cause.

How Conflict Affects Mental Health

Conflict can often result in anxiety, depression, stress or insomnia for the following reasons:

  • It can be very expensive, especially if lawyers are involved. This is especially hard to deal with if you are already in financial difficulties.
  • The result can sometimes be unpredictable. You can never predict what a judge will decide and it’s often not clear whether a negotiated settlement is desired by the other side.
  • Sometimes parties are unreasonable and will not change their position, especially when dealing with a narcissist.
  • Conflict is scary. You’ll know this if you have faced a violent party or somebody who acts or speaks aggressively.
  • It makes you feel vulnerable, especially if you are in conflict with a spouse, a business partner or somebody who you once trusted.
  • It can change how you view the world. You can experience feelings of loss relating to a relationship, a conflict can change how you view the future and it can also distort your view of the past. This can be very difficult to accept.

One of the problems I see with court proceedings is that it escalates costs, it takes away the parties’ power to decide the outcome as the solutions only relate to money and there is always an element of uncertainty. If what you really want is a dialogue that results in an apology, a judge cannot order that, even if this is what you need to move on emotionally.

What Options Do I have?

No matter what the conflict is, you always have options. It’s important to know that when you are feeling anxious or stressed out. The trouble is, you don’t always know what they are. Here are a few to help you:

  1. Get free advice from online charities. I’ve listed a few below that are always helpful in times of conflict.
  2. Consider mediation. A mediator will spend a day with the parties and find out what solutions will suit you both. They will help coach you through the conflict and the negotiation putting some of the control back into your hands. It’s cheaper and quicker than court proceedings.
  3. Talk to a friend you trust. It may seem obvious, but in times of crisis, I have a very practical friend who I talk things through with when I am not sure what to do about a problem.
  4. Take things one step at a time. A conflict has different stages that you have to deal with one step at a time. Looking too far ahead too early will lead to anxiety, stress, insomnia or depression. By looking at it this way, you can begin to focus your strategy.
  5. Remember that you have emotional options. Even if that seems hard to imagine when you are suffering from incapacitating anxiety or when you are exhausted from insomnia.
  6. You also have options as to how you communicate. Don’t feel that you have to meet face to face or speak over the telephone. If the other person is aggressive or threatening, this is not the best way to communicate. Consider sending your written feelings and views to the other person.
  7. Conflict is normal. Everyone goes through it and you can learn from it.
  8. Get some distance if you think it will help you. That might take the form of a yoga class, a walk in the park or taking a few deep breaths. This is more about headspace than physical distance but I would strongly advise this to anyone feeling like they cannot cope with conflict.

It’s not an easy place but by resolving conflict constructively and reformulating how you view it, you may just be half way there to finding emotional and mental balance. In that journey, I wish you well.

Links to Organisations Who Can Help

Mind

The Citizens Advice Bureau

Shelter

The National Debt Line

Click for a list of organisations relating to relationships and child issues

The Loss Foundation for help with grief – they get a special mention for just being brilliant in times of crisis.   

6 Reasons You’re Not Asking For What You Want

Knowing what you want and how to communicate it will help you to manage conflict. In its most basic form, conflict is fuelled by the perception that your access to a resource will be blocked by another person which means your needs and interests will be unsatisfied.

This blog post is essentially about being assertive which is not the same as being aggressive. Firstly, it comes from a place of self-confidence, balance and poise and is aimed at persuading, influencing and directing. Aggression is based on insecurity and seeks to dominate the other person rather than respecting that they have needs too.

In any type of relationship, the extent to which our needs are satisfied will determine how happy we are in it. When we are not fulfilled, we can often feel trapped, unhappy, undervalued or angry. I used to experience this when I had career conversations with my managers or I tried to discuss a problem with them. I would shy away from saying that I wanted a promotion or I wanted to travel to see clients. I would see other colleagues progress in some way and feel resentful. I immediately blamed an exterior force acting against me such as my manager not having good people skills or that he was harbouring a prejudice against me. This may have been true but I wasn’t making myself responsible for my own actions and behaviours.

Here are six reasons why you might not be asking for what you want:

  • A fear of vulnerability. Asking for what you want involves revealing something about yourself. It might be that you want more intimacy with your partner or you are concerned about a team mate’s attitude at work. It can feel like you are disclosing a weakness but all you are doing is taking care of yourself and the relationship. Being human entails being vulnerable and being comfortable with your vulnerabilities will make you stronger, more compassionate and most beautiful of all, more comfortable being who you are.  
  • You feel inferior. This is ultimately about self-worth. When you put your manager, partner or anyone else on a pedestal, you sacrifice your own desires and needs so that theirs can be fulfilled. Your manager may have more authority within the four walls of your office but it will help to see them as having needs just like you do and for that reason alone, neither one of you is entitled to better treatment. Instead, why not find a way to satisfy both?
  • You worry what others will think about you. Perhaps you were raised in an environment that taught you not to ask for what you want or maybe when you were young, you learnt that good girls don’t express themselves openly or that it is impolite for boys to make demands. There are so many ways that we are taught that this is ‘bad’.
  • It’s not easy to express your emotions. It’s normal to feel strongly about something that you really want. Whether that’s the promotion, the need for a closer bond with your partner or for things to change in any other relationship. You may worry you will struggle to talk because of anxiety or you are concerned that you may end up shouting because you feel so angry. For more tips on how to express your feelings neutrally, read my blog post on emotional options.
  • You’re scared about the other person’s reaction. You may have formed a friendly attachment to a new service provider or a co-worker and you don’t want to anger them by being too direct. You fear that the relationship will instantly end, lead to conflict or that they will form a negative opinion about you. You may even fear being fired! Our imagination can snowball when we feel anxious. It’s important to remember that we cannot control the reaction of the other person, nor can you know what they are thinking. We can, however, control how we communicate , especially when managing conflict.
  • You fear you will lose approval. From a very young age, we are taught to gain the approval of our parents and those who we see as senior to us. We equate that approval with our self-esteem and our self-worth and this influences the actions that we take.  I stopped gunning for a promotion in a job I hated because I realised, I was doing it solely to get the approval of my managers. The promotion itself made no sense to me as it meant more responsibility for a miniscule pay rise. After that realisation, I began to focus on what I do want, free of any conditioning.  I also became more open about my wants and needs in my personal relationships because by staying quiet about them, I was hoping to maintain a safe level of approval and self-esteem.

The Consequences of Staying Quiet

When you aren’t communicating assertively about the things you want, the other person may perceive that you don’t care about the relationship, you’re not interested, you’re happy to be pushed around or you don’t know what you want. That might be the case but make sure you aren’t unintentionally communicating that!

When you start to become more assertive, it may sometimes feel uncomfortable in certain areas of your life because you are behaving differently to how you always have done. Remind yourself that this will pass and if you want more satisfying relationships, you need to learn how to manage potentially conflictual situations and accept the discomfort that this may cause you.  With practice, it will become second nature.

Leave a comment and let me know how it goes!

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