Fight or Flight

Conflict happens to the best of us, even some of God’s workers in the early days of the church, Paul and Barnabas, had “a sharp disagreement” (Acts 15:39) that resulted in their going their separate ways. The cause for contention was that Barnabas wanted to take his cousin John Mark with him and Paul as they revisited cities where they had ministered.  Paul disagreed, mindful of John Mark’s deserting them on an earlier mission trip.  John Mark had obviously regained the trust of Barnabas, but not of Paul. Their differences were resolved by the launching of two missionary journeys instead of one with Barnabas and his cousin going to Cyprus and with Paul and Silas going to Syria and Cilicia. 1 Corinthians 1:10 “I appeal to you … that all of you agree with one another.”

There are indeed different kinds of people in a conflict.  There are those who “Attack” (they fight) and those who “Avoid” (they try to flight from conflict).  Who are they?

Fight-or-FlightAttackers will make accusations, which generalise and categorise everybody like, “You’ll never change.” “You are always against me.” “You will reject me – it’s just a matter of time.” “You can never be trusted.” “You’ve failed too much – you are a failure.” “You are hopeless—there’s no hope for you.” “You are totally at fault if this relationship fails.”  Those people most probably got hurt somewhere in their past, and because of the hurt and the effort to protect themselves, they attack with these accusations.

Avoiders make faulty (sometimes unfair) expectations, which generalise to the other extreme like, “You should never create conflict in our relationship.” “You will always see things my way if you truly love me.” “You will always do things my way if you are loyal to me.” “You must never get angry with me because I will not be able to handle it.” “You must look only to me to meet all of your needs.” “You are to look only to me to make you happy.” “You will always need me to make you secure.”  These people might have been hurt in their past and try to get away from conflict by avoiding it.

Each of us begins to develop a style of handling conflict at an early age. Our personal ways of “fighting” come from our natural instinct, personality, and early family dynamics. Many of us are unable to defuse conflict because we are repeating the extreme patterns of childhood … either attacking or avoiding.  Those in these two different categories can be thought of as either attackers or avoiders.  Neither the attackers or the avoiders are successful in conflict resolution, the conflict comes back about every time, because it was not effectively resolved.  The problem with both styles is that neither strategy appropriates the grace that is available to a child of God. “See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” (Hebrews 12:15)