Healthy conflict resolution is essential to maintaining positive and constructive adult relationships. Individuals usually learn how to handle conflict in childhood. Children watch the way adults work through disagreements and model those patterns of behavior as they develop into adults and begin to form relationships with others. The bonds that children have with their caregivers also influence the way in which they address conflicts. People who have secure attachments with their parents and caregivers are often able to work through challenges with other people in respectful, affectionate, and loving ways. They are capable of recognizing when they need to ask for forgiveness and are willing to compromise to achieve a resolution that is mutually satisfying to all involved. Individuals who have insecure attachments, however, are often unable to handle situations as amicably. Insecure attachment can be expressed through avoidant or anxious behaviors. People who are avoidant in nature tend to withdraw and shut down when faced with conflict. Anxious individuals may demand attention, even negative attention, and use aggressive and hostile tactics to engage someone in a conflict dispute.
For children who have grown up witnessing dysfunctional conflict resolution strategies, having a secure attachment with others could help them avoid making the same mistakes of their parents. Rather than continuing the negative behaviors they have seen displayed by their own parents, these secure, self-reliant, and confident people may choose to use healthier mechanisms to maintain harmony in their adult relationships. Joyce A. Baptist of the School of Family Studies and Human Services at Kansas State University wanted to better understand how attachment style affected emotional processing learned in families of origin. She enlisted 203 young adults who had been raised in families with various emotional functioning styles for a study that evaluated how the adult children managed conflict.
Baptist found that the participants who had witnessed extreme disengagement in childhood were more likely to use aggressive and antagonistic disagreement strategies in adulthood. The most anxiously attached individuals in this group were the most apt to engage in hostile behaviors as their anxiety escalated. Those with minimally avoidant styles worked through disagreements in a more civil way. Baptist believes these results suggest that secure attachments can help protect individuals from dysfunctional and destructive conflict resolution patterns. These findings could impact how professionals assist people who have communication and compromise problems in their adult relationships. She added, “Considering the interrelations between emotional processing in families of origin and insecurities in attachment will allow therapists to better identify and treat the root of the destructive conﬂict behavior.”
Baptist, J. A., Thompson, D. E., Norton, A. M., Hardy, N. R., Link, C. D. (2012). The effects of the intergenerational transmission of family emotional processes on conflict styles: The moderating role of attachment. American Journal of Family Therapy 40.1, 56-73.
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