The Freedom of Embracing Conflict

And the benefits addressing it head on.

We hit another milestone! Thank you for being open to explore mental health from an Asian American perspective. And a huge thank you to everyone for sharing the newsletters and your continued support.

Hopefully this newsletter has been as rewarding for you as it has been for me. Digging into each of these topics has pushed me in ways that I didn’t expect. Not only has writing once a week been harder than I had anticipated, the emotional work behind the newsletters has stretched me as well. But it’s been a great experience so far and I’m honored that you would join me.

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Last week, I discussed some of the cultural reasons for why conflict was so terrifying for me as an Asian American. But conflict in general can be intimidating for many reasons:

  • It requires vulnerability.

  • It tests the relationship between two people.

  • It can end up being verbally, emotionally, or even physically painful.

However, conflict doesn’t have to be bad and it doesn’t always have to damage a relationship.

Conflict can be good. It can get people on the same page and prevent future misunderstandings from happening. It can even strengthen a relationship. In this way, there is freedom in embracing healthy conflict.

My Friend Bob

I had a friend in seminary who was also in the Pastoral Care and Counseling program. One day, he got upset with one of the professors. He felt like the professor was a hypocrite and that the professor didn’t care about him. Because of this, Bob refused to forgive him until the professor apologized.

Bob ended up venting to me everyday in class for over month. He stewed in his anger and with each passing day, it grew worse. His frustration was palpable. It manifested in the way he slouched in his chair in class and the anger he had when he talked about the professor.

But here’s the thing. The professor had no idea that he had offended Bob. So Bob was essentially stuck in an endless cycle of anger and bitterness without an exit strategy. The professor wasn’t going to apologize because he wasn’t aware of what was going on!

Eventually I encouraged Bob to confront the professor and said, “Why don’t you talk to him about it? He has no idea that you feel this way. You’re holding him to a standard he isn’t aware of and you’re blaming him for not living up to it which is making you angrier. I’m sure he’d apologize if you brought it up.”

Watching Bob struggle like this was painful for me. Why? Because I was (am) Bob.

There have been several times in my life where I’ve held onto bitterness and have regretted it. I wasted so much time and energy being mad that it robbed me of my opportunity to enjoy life.

Had I only embraced conflict and not been so terrified of it, the quicker I could’ve resolved it and gotten more out of life. Looking back, there were several occasions where I had wasted years of a relationship due to a simple misunderstanding.

For example in High School, I had a close friend named James. He was a huge Lakers fan and I was a huge Clippers fan. I made a really dumb comment about Kobe and we ended up not talking for an entire year until he approached me to bury the hatchet. What a silly reason to miss out on a year’s worth of friendship!

Avoiding conflict has robbed me of many wonderful opportunities. But embracing it has given me the freedom to experience them.


The Freedom of Embracing Conflict

By choosing conflict, several things happen:

  1. You communicate that you care enough to fight for the relationship.

  2. You stand up for yourself.

  3. You create opportunities to strengthen the relationship.

When I was in therapy, there were a few rocky moments that occurred. One of them was when I felt like my therapist broke a promise he made with me. The week before, we had run out of time when I was processing something difficult and he assured me that he would bring it up first thing in our next session. Unfortunately, he ended up forgetting.

Because of this, my trust in him was slightly broken. I was hurt because I felt like maybe my issue wasn’t important enough for him to remember.

But the funny thing is, I was mentally aware that I was being very overly sensitive. He probably had several clients that week. He’s also human and so he should be allowed to make mistakes. If I really wanted to talk about the issue, I should be the one to bring it up. But it still bothered me so I decided to confront him.

At first I was scared. I didn’t want to further ruin the relationship because I was making a fuss over something so small. I was ashamed of how I felt. But it was important for me to give a voice to my feelings and so I confronted him.

When he apologized, the relationship was very quickly repaired and my trust in him grew even stronger. After that, I was able to go deeper in our sessions because I felt safe. Also, the other times he made a mistake didn’t affect me as much because our relationship was more secure.

By embracing conflict, I was able to clear the air and get on the same page. I was also able to stand up for myself by giving my feelings a voice. And finally, I felt the boldness and the freedom to go deeper in my sessions with my therapist.

Discussion Questions

  • When has conflict resulted in something positive in your life?

  • What happened?

  • What lessons did you learn from it?

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