Conflict and the Inner Child

Before I could talk, I learned my family’s patterns of conflict. Every child does this. Behind those large innocent eyes, the baby’s brain is storing up gestures, tones of voice—who shouts, who shrinks back. I learned that my father made scary noises and stomped around. My mother got quiet and would not speak.

Even after I worked for years to heal from the sexual abuse I experienced, these preverbal patterns remained frozen in me. In situations of conflict, I took one of those paths: fighting like my father, or fleeing like my mother. In public and professional settings, I was often tough and sometimes confrontational. In more intimate settings, I felt like a marshmallow. (I exaggerate. I get on pretty well and have good friends, but always inside me there’s been this fear of dealing with conflict.)

I’m beginning to get the sense of a third way, that is not fierce or fearful but could show a certain confidence. Maybe I can express my feelings and my observations as a “simple” extension of my being. Maybe I can approach friends with whom I’m having difficulty and tell them how I feel—with care and maturity, but truthfully. This sounds stupid as I write it, simpleminded and obvious, but it goes against all my old training. Maybe this child can finally grow up to be confident.

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