How to avoid conflict in the family when everyone has their own character, needs and expectations? How to build relationships with others if you’re an introvert and you’re not really understood? Psychotherapist Stephanie Gentile offers six steps to understanding, tested by her own experience.
In any family or community, character clashes happen. Psychotherapist Stephanie Gentile often hears about such conflicts from clients. Whether they are familiar with the concepts of “introversion” and “extraversion” or with the Myers-Briggs personality types, people are acutely aware when others do not meet their needs.
This can cause feelings of frustration and disconnection. But connection with others is absolutely essential to our well-being, even if we are introverts. Stephanie Gentile speaks to many people who feel their relationships are beyond repair. Introverts in particular often feel that their needs are not being met and their voices are not being heard.
The therapist cites her own family, in which she, her sister and her parents are of very different personality types. “In fact, the only thing we have in common is a love of privacy. Otherwise, our approaches to life are too different, and clashes are inevitable. You can imagine the conflict and frustration our differences have caused over the years.”
Relationships with people are complicated, you have to be yourself and still grow … toward each other. Citing examples from her own experience, Stephanie suggests six steps for introverted clients to resolve interpersonal conflicts.
1- Determine what you need in a relationship
Sometimes we wonder, “Where do we start?” The first step is to determine what we need in a relationship. This can be a daunting task because many of us have been taught to meet the needs of others while ignoring our own. But if we don’t feel our own needs, our connection with others will be limited or won’t work out at all.
I used to struggle with this on my own, isolating myself from those closest to me, believing I wasn’t understood. It was an incredibly painful time in my life. And while we still have our moments of miscommunication, I now know better what I need in a relationship.
Identifying my own needs allows me to have peace of mind with friends, colleagues or loved ones who don’t share my personal preferences. I can’t guarantee that someone will meet my needs, but I now understand the reasons for conflicts of interest.
- Ask questions.
The steps outlined here may seem simplistic, but they are also sometimes difficult for many of us “quiet” individuals. As a person who avoids conflict, I have still learned to ask questions, even though it can be difficult. By asking questions, we help ourselves and our loved one make sense of the situation that led to the confrontation and the feeling of disconnection.
It also helps both of us appear to each other for who we are. For example, a friend makes passive-aggressive comments about our need for privacy. We feel misunderstood and angry – we get offended in return, and this can lead to conflict.
Instead, we can ask, “How do you feel when I point out that I need to be alone?” This is how we take care of our partner’s emotions without forgetting our own need. This promotes mutual understanding and allows for a dialogue in which both could find a healthy compromise.
- Ask for feedback
There is a tendency in society: someone defiantly declares himself and his personality type and expects others to please him. But in dealing with others, it’s important to remember: in a sense, “personality” is just a term, the name of a set of skills we learned as children to meet our needs.
When we turn to those around us for feedback, we ask them to tell us how they perceive us. This can be difficult and painful, so it’s important to remember to take care in doing so. For example, we might ask, “I want to understand what it means to be my friend/spouse/colleague. What feelings do you feel around me? Do you feel my love, care, acceptance?”
It’s important to emphasize that feedback should only be sought from trusted loved ones. And at work, from a colleague or supervisor who has shown us warmth and compassion. What they say can be hard to hear. But it’s a great opportunity for us to understand how we interact with the world and ultimately resolve conflicts.
- identify what character traits are protecting you.
It’s worth it to get to know our personality type, to get to know our strengths. Instead of saying, “This is who I am, and therefore I can’t…fail…” and so on, we can practice phrases like, “I tend to act this way, and it helps me feel meaningful, needed, valuable or protects me from feelings of vulnerability, shame.” This is important because it will help identify and recognize what is going on inside during encounters with other personalities.
- Accept the fact that you cannot change others
Everyone, of course, has heard that people don’t change. As someone who has spent more than two decades trying to change and save others, I can attest that this is true. Trying to do such a thing will lead you to feel a sense of inner chaos. It may be helpful to think back to times when, as children, we felt like our parents were trying to drive us into an image they had formed. Or when a partner couldn’t come to terms with our way of doing things or our beliefs.
Each of us deserves a true, deep connection with others, and our needs met
How did we feel then? Such memories will allow us to accept others for who they are. We can also practice self-compassion. Remind ourselves how difficult it is to make positive, lasting changes in our lives. In the same way, we will begin to be sensitive to other people’s shortcomings. It won’t happen overnight, but this practice can lead to greater acceptance.
- Set healthy boundaries.
There’s a lot of talk about boundaries, but not about how to set them. Why are healthy boundaries so important? They allow us to experience greater compassion for others. By holding our boundaries, for example, we choose not to engage in toxic conversations or unhealthy relationships. This is closely related to our willingness to accept others as they are, not as we would like them to be.
The steps listed will help set healthy boundaries. Stephanie Gentile emphasizes that these recommendations are not given as a one-size-fits-all recipe for resolving all interpersonal conflicts. For example, there are unhealthy relationships that you have to walk away from. If boundaries with a loved one are set but constantly violated, it may be time to let him or her know that a relationship is not possible.
“These steps are the result of my personal experience,” Gentile writes. – To this day, I still sometimes experience frustration with my loved ones. But understanding the difference between our personalities brings me relief. Now I know why they react to me in a certain way, and I don’t get hung up on conflict situations.
It’s a tough job that may even seem futile at first. But in the end, it’s a gift to yourself. Each of us deserves a true, deep connection with others as well as the fulfillment of our needs. A better understanding of ourselves and our character can help build the kind of relationships we need.