“Conflict is growth trying to happen.” — Harville Hendrix

We had this quote carved into the wooden ramp leading to Center for the Healing Arts until the ramp needed to be replaced. I try to remind myself of the meaning as often as I can. Sometimes it’s easier to do so than others.

As a therapist and as a human being, I am always learning about myself in relation to the rest of the world. I will also be the first to admit that I have my own resistance to the process from time to time. Recently, a growth opportunity has presented itself to me regarding my work. I am faced with a chance to grow as a therapist, and I am hesitant to make that leap. This is because the growth is coming to me in the form of conflict. It is not a CEU course I can take online or a workshop I can attend, it’s not the result of some extended meditation practice or journaling endeavor. This is conflict with another person. A chance for me to step through my triggers and insecurities and fears, and potentially grow from the interaction.

In my opinion, it’s fascinating that I do not have to give any other information than that. The details of the situation are irrelevant, and it could very well refer to a multitude of changes in my life right now. Any conflict that arises in my life, whether it be at work or home or elsewhere, results in a similar opportunity.

If you are like me, you might be conflict avoidant. This trait can take so many forms. Some of us are people pleasers, others— like me— put up walls when the conflict gets too close. I get to a place where my boundaries become rigid and used in a reactive method to protect myself. I directly or indirectly end the prospect for dialogue and my defenses become sharp. It’s often well-worded, which makes it even more justifiable. That doesn’t make it healthy.

I’m not suggesting abandoning all boundaries and accepting conflict in whatever form presents itself. We have our limits; burn out is real and not exclusive to therapists. Yet, we must be aware of our avoidance. Is it coming from a place of fear? If I avoid conflict because it is too uncomfortable, when do I give myself the chance to learn from it?

Conflict is growth trying to happen.

I’ve announced on social media and it only makes sense to share it here as well. I am in my fourth month of pregnancy. It was very planned. I am excited, and at the same time, I am absolutely terrified. Reading as much as I can on the subject has probably done just as much to confuse me as settle my fears, and the waiting game at this stage seems like torture.

I am certain that all my flaws will become readily apparent when I am raising a child. My impatience and wall building will not be appropriate methods of handling conflict when it comes to teaching, protecting, and nurturing a little one. The conflict that can be presented in parenting, between parents and kids and parents themselves is daunting. But there is growth there.

With enough time working with teens and the parents of teens as a therapist, as well as being a teenager who sought therapy, I see how the lessons we learned as kids reflect how parents raise their children. And those lessons don’t always work. The world we were raised in is not the same as the world kids are growing up in today. Change is mandatory, and not only on the part of the child. When kids trigger us, it is a clue to look deeper. Something in our childhood is triggered. There is healing to be done and growth is trying to happen.

I’m holding onto this logic as I get closer to motherhood. It’s not always easy to remember, but it certainly helps me to find the courage to address conflicts with diligence. Right now, I see conflict as preparation for what I might encounter as a parent.

Conflict is growth trying to happen.

It is difficult to remember this when conflict is in our face— when someone is being difficult, unwilling to cooperate, abrasive or mean, or when life is throwing challenge after challenge right at us. Yet we must remember if we are to take care of ourselves through this moment— if we are to be any more prepared for the next time conflict arises. Humans are not stagnant creatures. Our brains are not hard-wired.

Conflict calls out our complacency and requires us to change.

Opposites Attract

It’s an old theory that opposites attract, and as a couples therapist and a person in a relationship, I agree. However, that does not mean that a couple must have polarized interests in music, hobbies, political beliefs or the rest. Some level of commonality is necessary for a couple to thrive. In my opinion, the most drastic and compulsory differences occur in communication and emotional processing. These can be narrow individuals down to two categories: minimizers and maximizers.

Minimizers tend to avoid conflict by— you guessed it— minimizing the severity of the issue in their mind. Minimizers are likely to shut down during an argument or emotional discomfort, literally unable to find words to express themselves. They might hold inner logic that if they don’t interact with the problem, the problem will go away. It’s important to note that minimizers usually learn to handle conflict in this manner through childhood. As a kid, parents might have taught their child not to talk about family problems, to bottle up feelings by distraction rather than discussion, or to prioritize keeping the peace via silence rather than resolution. Children can learn this dynamic in many ways to a small child, and the impact is lasting.

Maximizers, on the other hand, take small problems and think them into much bigger ones, often (though not necessarily) becoming loud and vocal about their dissatisfaction. They can also be the one more likely to yell in an argument. Maximizers are more likely to want to talk about the issues at hand and become anxious, if not obsessive, with the unknown until that discussion occurs. As a child, maximizers learn that their needs, often the needs for love and attention, weren’t met unless they sought out the love and attention. That might have taken the form of crying, tantrums, or backtalk.

Imagine a parent who is in a bad mood and a kid who assumes it’s their fault. The maximizer child learns to make the parent their primary focus until they received concise information, perhaps by crying until parent comforts them, or even acting out and causing trouble to understand a parent’s bad mood. The minimizer child learns that the best method for handling an unhappy parent is to hide until the coast is clear.

Following the idea that two people in a relationship will tend to lean toward being a minimizer or a maximizer explains much of a couple’s progression during conflict and needs for resolution. Please note, individuals usually lean toward maximizer or minimizer, but this is not exclusive all the time. Both people attempt to balance the other, but each person’s maximizing or minimizing will be reactionary. The maximizer will justify their obsessions and blame the other person, while the minimizer will justify their avoidance, also blaming the other. Neither logic is particularly helpful for strengthening a couple.

Admittedly, I am a maximizer, through and through, and gaining the freedom to see through that tendency has been liberating. In the past, I would fixate on everything I was unhappy within my relationship. My partner could not do anything right because my expectations were rigid, and I took everything he did or didn’t do personally. It was exhausting for both of us. Though I justified leaving, I never did, and at some point, we went to couples therapy. We learned about minimizers and maximizers and healthy dialogue, and it saved us. I learned that I could not attempt to change someone else’s behavior to make me happy in a relationship. No one can make me feel anything; my expectations make me feel things. I discovered that my partner, in all his minimizing ways, can talk if I create a safe place for him to tell me he’s having a hard time. I learned that some of my complaints were irrational, and my expectations were unrealistic based on the type of human I had selected to be my partner. Though I stubbornly clung to what I wanted our relationship to look like for a long time, eventually I accepted what our relationship could be. I believe we are kinder and more compassionate toward each other now than we have ever been.

Most importantly, and this is a tool I take with me into every session and with every couple in my office, I learned to see the other person’s inner child. My partner’s tendency to minimize is something he learned at a very young age, and when I become compulsive about making him talk, it does not get me closer to what I want. I do not create a safe space for either of us.

The goal is for each person, whether minimizer or maximizer, to make a concerted effort toward meeting in the middle. In doing so, the minimizer can step up as the partner they want to be, and the maximizer can step back, no longer overcompensating to progress a relationship’s growth. While this process is not always easy, there is peace within it when we learn to soothe our own inner children.


I have been overwhelmed by the massive disconnect I am witnessing around me lately. Tensions are high, opposing views have been identified, highlighted, and wedged between individuals and groups. Particularly I refer to the internet, which seems to be a war zone of people out to prove others wrong for their opinions and beliefs. Please do not think for once that I am at all innocent.  I have come to a fork in the road and chosen the dark path of dispute, investing my time and energy arguing values on more than one occasion. I find it interesting that opinions and beliefs are topics of discourse when at their most fundamental level- by definition- they cannot be disproven. When we separate from others, we harm our mental health.

I’m sure most people can relate to scrolling through Facebook or Twitter and noticing an outrageous post or comment. You start typing your response; your head becomes hot while you expel all your fury into this reply debunking the claims of the article or commenter. Then you wait. For a few minutes you might believe you were victorious, successfully proving your point and negating the other. But then the replies start to trickle in, your phone or computer pings alerts of others’ retorts to your argument. The heated rush comes back to your head and you continue the disagreement. You might even lose hours to this endeavor. Surprisingly, even those who post agreement with you only seem to fuel the fire rather than quell it.

What drives people to stand behind their views so vehemently at the expense of human connection? Something vital to our survival, in my opinion, when you consider each of us is conceived from connection, developed by connection, and raised through connection. Why would we fight so adamantly to disconnect?

Since what we do outwardly is reflective of our own inner struggle, I propose this disconnect is rooted somewhere deeper than external stressors, far more complicated than a heated debate with an online acquaintance. When we feel disconnected within ourselves, it translates into our actions. Some may disagree with my theory, but I challenge them to look inward.

The constant undercurrent of all negative emotions is fear. In an irrational logic of the unconscious mind, any negative emotion has the potential to be life-threatening. It sparks fear and drives us to distance ourselves from the source of the discomfort. The most interesting part is that the distance from others only rationalizes the reaction. Validating our irrational and unconscious logic only strengthens the negative emotions. In short, if we feel bad and act on it by avoiding human connection we only feel worse.

The solution?

My challenge to everyone, myself included, is to choose to connect anyway. Even when unconscious panic is suggesting us to attack or hide from any theoretical foe (online behind the safety of a computer or cell phone) stand against it. If a calm discussion is not available, choose a healthy conversation elsewhere for no one’s interest but your own and contradict your fears. If each of us continues to choose to connect instead of creating distance, we foster solidarity. Right now, we all need it.

If you are also feeling this socio-cultural disconnect, join me. Let’s stop arguing online or avoiding contact. Let’s communicate and connect anyway, in spite of our unfounded fears. Contradicting the unconscious logic gives freedom to live in action rather than reaction. We get to make choices to better ourselves, cultivating a healthy mind, and ideally that will trickle into the rest of our lives.