Conflict Avoidant? Here’s What It’s Costing You

I’m bad at confronting people  — I don’t always choose the right words because I’m so nervous about having the conversation in the first place —  but I’m even worse at suffering in silence.

So when something’s up between me and someone else I just have to say something, even though it’s guaranteed to be awkward and uncomfortable (at least for me).

That discomfort is definitely the downside of approaching conflict head-on. But there’s an upside as well: No matter what happens, the “relationship rug” stays nice and flat, because there’s nothing swept under it. It’s easier to walk on without all kinds of bumps from long-ago problems that were never ironed out.

As I always do, I got inspired by my students at a recent assertiveness training. I decided to write about the ever-popular pastime of avoiding conflict, and point out that doing so is never free.

Here are a few thoughts on The Hidden Cost of Conflict Avoidance. As usual, I’d love to know what you think.


On the 12th Day of Therapy…

When my partner, Mike, first heard the Christmas carol The 12 Days of Christmas as a child, he thought the “partridge in a pear tree” was something about a “juniper tree.”

I’m impressed that he knew the word “juniper” before he ever heard of a partridge.

My own experience with The 12 Days of Christmas is that, as much as I respect holiday traditions, this is one that’s fun to monkey with. You can sing about “the 12 days of…” just about anything, making up lyrics to fit the theme.

I guess you wouldn’t want a word with more than 3 syllables or fewer than 2; The 12 Days of Salmon-Fishing probably isn’t going to sound good, and neither is The 12 Days of Golf.

Many more creative people have done it before me, but I couldn’t resist putting my own new spin on this sensational seasonal song.

Here are the lyrics for my rendition: The 12 Days of Psychotherapy

Let me know if you decide to go around singing this in your neighborhood. I want to see the video.

How Much Security Can You Stand?

Woman holding paper sign with prison bars drawn in front of her faceSecurity is comfy, isn’t’ it? It’s like being able to stay home all day in your pajamas, surrounded by your stuff, knowing what to expect from the cat, the TV, and the kitchen faucet that drips once an hour. The big, ugly outside world isn’t there to bother you, or judge you, or expect anything from you.

What would we do without a basic sense of security? Probably not much. Security allows us a reasonable expectation of safety. Without that, we’d pretty much need to spend all our time worrying and planning for disaster.

Of course, having security means sticking with what’s familiar. Safety requires predictability. If anything could happen, anything just might!

The cost of security, then, is limitation on how far (or whether) we can venture outside our comfort zones.

E.g., If I want a new career, I might have to leave my old one and take a leap of faith. If my need for security is greater than my need to be free from my old career, I might never take that leap.

How often do we really consider the cost of overvaluing security? What happens to our lives and our potential if we don’t make conscious choices about how much security and freedom to allow ourselves in any given instance?

The price of security is loss of freedom —  the freedom to explore, to make attempts at achieving our dreams, even to grow as people. All of that requires stepping away from what we know and toward the unpredictable, the unknown.

The more we need to feel secure, the more freedom we lose.

I wrote some thoughts on this tension between security and freedom, along with a checklist and some tips for bringing in more freedom to balance this yin-and-yang-like duo.

The post is here:

Stay In or Go Out? A Bigger Question Than You Might Think | Psychology Today

Why You’re Attracted to the Wrong People

Last week, I was giving a presentation to other mental health professionals when the talk turned to unmet emotional needs.

This is the kind of thing we therapists tend to discuss when we get together. That, and reality TV shows. Or maybe that’s just me.

Unmet emotional needs are often unconscious, and they cause all sorts of havoc in our lives. Mostly they tend to control our behavior. Come to think of it, they may even lead to agreeing to be on TV… But I digress.

It struck me that choosing the wrong person to date (or marry) can spring directly from unmet emotional needs.  So I decided to write about it. Please let me know what you think.

The post is here: Why You Keep Picking the Wrong Partner | Psychology Today

Photo courtesy of nuttakit at

What Scares You in Relationships?

scared couple in movie theaterSome of us barrel into relationships as if the very fact of being alone could cause severe itching.

Others are skittish, shying away from promising new people or finding ways to engage while subtly keep them at a distance. Ultimately, the skittishness takes a toll (barreling into relationships can wreak havoc too, but that’s for another post).

I’m a strong believer that most of the trouble in relationships is caused by fear: Fear of not being loved, of being taken for granted or taken advantage of, of being “found out” as not worth someone’s time, and the list goes on.

Three of the most common of these fears are abandonment, rejection and humiliation. I wrote about how and why to get the root of these in a recent post.

Essentially, we need to recognize that the outcomes we fear most are those we’ve already survived… because in one form or another, they’ve already happened.

The post is here:

3 Common Fears that May Be Affecting Your Relationships | Psychology Today

Don’t be afraid to let me know what you think.

Do Toxic People Even Exist?

Whenever I hear the term “toxic person,” I picture a glow-in-the-dark green zombie covered in radioactive waste.

Personally, I consider this to be the proper definition of a toxic person. I don’t think too many people agree with me, though.

There are tons of blog posts out there, not to mention comments on Facebook and other social media, urging us to purge so-called toxic people from our lives.

Someone talks trash to you? Kick ’em to the curb.

Do they rain on your parade and stick pins in your dream balloons? Send them packing.

Are they giving you the silent treatment? Good riddance!

Is it really that easy to fix your relationships that way?


I don’t think so.

Real life rarely consists of villains and heroes.

Most of us are part villain, at least sometimes, and part hero. We muddle through and do our best.

Sometimes, without wanting or meaning to, we become the villain in someone else’s life.

Other times, people become villains in ours.

Who’s toxic? And who’s judging?

By the way, I’m talking here about garden-variety villains. These are not rapists, murders, thieves or criminals of any kind; they’re just people who make us feel bad.

We like to label them “toxic” as if they had the power, like radioactive zombies, to infect everyone around them.

But really, the yuck is not about who they are, but about what’s going on between us and them.

If I get into a relationship with someone, and come away feeling more bad than good, I have to ask myself, “What is it about this relationship that feels bad to me?”

If I ask myself instead, “What is it about this person that feels bad to me?,” I’ve lost an opportunity for personal growth.

There’s nothing for me to learn about myself if that person is just toxic. Except that, Gee, aren’t I a good judge of character? Good thing I dodged that bullet!

Let’s say I have a “toxic” friend who’s always putting me down.

If I label her as a toxic person and throw her out of my life, I’ve learned nothing except how to remove people from my life. (Admittedly for some, that’s a good lesson.)

But if I ask myself about the relationship, including my part in it, I might discover that I seem to be attracted to people who put me down.

They reflect my low self-esteem, remind me of home, or in some other way keep me stuck in self-defeating patterns.

Yes, some people do seem to alienate just about everyone around them. But if you refuse to engage in a toxic relationship with them, even the most relationally challenged person can be reasonably good to you.

If you’ve entered into a toxic relationship with someone who’s advertising for a partner (“Come be my friend! Get insulted and undermined at every turn! I will make your life miserable!”), there’s something there for you to learn.

Individual people aren’t toxic, but relationships definitely can be.

Photo courtesy of

Do You Have an Inner Bully?

Bully tripping someoneOne day, almost 20 years ago, I was standing on a corner waiting for the light to change so I could cross the street.

I was spaced out, not thinking about much of anything, when I suddenly heard a faint voice inside my head.

It wasn’t so much a voice as a feeling. But it had a definite message.

Out of nowhere, it said to me, “You suck.”

Short, but not sweet.

This was how I learned I had low self-esteem; I heard a bully talking to me, from right inside my own head!

After the bully showed herself like that, I knew something had to change.

Over time, I grew less self-critical to the point where my inner bully was replaced by an inner bystander, then an inner friend, and now I even have a part-time inner gladiator who defends against bullies, inside or out.

(But only part-time. It’s hard to get good help.)

Mostly it was being in therapy that helped me make headway.

As a therapist myself these days, I meet many people who are very much aware that they have a bully living inside their heads.

That’s the first step to overcoming self-criticism; you have to notice it to deal with it.

Some people enter therapy just to figure out how they can shut that inner bully up.

It’s easier said than done.

In this article that I wrote for, I focus on the hidden downsides of ditching the inner bully. If you don’t address the reasons for the bully’s presence, you can’t fully commit to getting rid of it.

Here’s the post:

How to Deal with the Bully Inside Your Head

What do you think? Do you have a bully inside your head? If so, what’s worked for you in overcoming self-criticism?