Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Rock the Boat, Don't Rock the Boat Baby...

The traditional view of women is of meek, submissive accommodation. We've certainly come a long way from that stereotypical role. But, many of us still struggle with the idea of conflict.

Some of this comes from the whole "sugar and spice and everything nice" mentality. Girls are always supposed to play nice and are rewarded with smiles and praise when they do so. Standing up for ourselves, voicing dissenting opinions can be labeled as "bitchy" and "confrontational."

Some conflict avoidance develops from the emphasis that female socialization places on relationships. We're taught to nurture and maintain relationships at all costs. That often translates into "don't do or say anything that might rock the boat."

And some of us avoid conflict because of how we viewed or experienced conflict in our families while growing up. I use to avoid conflict because I viewed it as frightening and synonomous with loss of control. I'm aware of the family dynamics that led to this view, but I still have to fight the urge to crawl up inside myself when I'm preparing to tell someone something that I don't think they're going to like or agree with.

So, we often end up swallowing our pride and keeping quiet so as not to upset anyone else or to "rock the boat." Some women avoid conflict so much that they feel stifled, voiceless, and resentful.

The truth is, conflict is not always bad. In fact, it is often good in many ways. If done right, it can bring people closer together. Good relationships can tolerate disagreement. Healthy disagreement that is honest and clear while still respectful of the other person can help you understand each other better and feel more intimate with each other.

Healthy self-expression begins just there...with the self. Statements should start with "I" and focus on your thoughts and feelings. "I feel frustrated when you..." "I felt disappointed that..." It's important that you own your feelings and reactions and that you present them in ways that are less likely to put the other person immediately on the defensive.

Opening up a potentially sensitive dialogue is most effective once the heat of the moment has passed. If you're in the throes of intense anger or hurt, it's best to take a time-out to experience and deal with the feelings before bringing them up. That way it's easier to express yourself in a way that you'll feel good about and that you're more likely to be heard.

Once you have expressed yourself firmly and clearly, be prepared to listen. Try to be open to the other person's reactions and views. But don't let their views invalidate your own. You have a right to your feelings and you have a right to express them. You may be able to use the different perspectives to explore options for change.

Healthy self-expression is good self-care. It prevents unpleasant feelings from tearing us down, creating walls between us and our loved ones, or building up until they become explosive. Rocking the boat does not have to cause it to tip over. Rocking upsets the old, stifled rhythm and replaces it with a new, more coordinated rhythm that makes the ride much more fulfilling.

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