Growing up in a family that avoided conflict at all costs, I never learned to stand up for myself. A disagreement at work became the catalyst to profound personal transformation.

Until recently, I always counted myself as fortunate that my family rarely fought. We’re all calm by nature — something we inherited from our parents. 

If we had an issue, we always prioritized keeping the peace. And while things seemed peaceful at the surface, I now realize that a lot of important issues went undiscussed. 

I recently had a major conflict at work which caused me to go into something of a personal meltdown. 

It affected me so much that I was forced to re-evaluate the value of having conflicts out and speaking what’s on your mind. 

I’m now on a journey of breaking down old boundaries and redefining what it means to have relationships with people. 

It’s been both an extremely liberating and immensely uncomfortable experience. But the discomfort and fear tells me I’m on the right path.

Childhood shapes us

It sounds weird to say, but how can I fault my parents for not having enough conflict? Does it make sense?

But whatever way I look at it, I can’t seem to escape the fact that I never learned to stand up for myself. I was taught to always get along with others. And that’s what I did. 

In a perfect world, where everyone is respectful, considerate, and thoughtful of others, you wouldn’t need to learn how to set boundaries or tell people to back off. 

I guess, naively, I always thought the world was mostly full of considerate and respectful people. Whenever slight conflicts arose, I just did whatever was necessary to quell them — often at my own expense.

When I retrospect on my childhood, it makes so much sense. Like many others, I was taught the “always play nicely” adage. 

As I navigated through the tranquil waters of my childhood and adolescence, this mantra of avoiding conflict became my compass. 

I developed a knack for blending into the background, nodding along to the opinions of others, and smoothing over any ripples of disagreement with a swift change of subject. 

This strategy served me well, or so I thought — until I stepped into the real world.

Testing the model in the real world

After graduating college, I landed a great job at a bustling marketing firm in the city. It was a world apart from the sheltered life I’d been used to.

Deadlines were tight, the stakes were high, and the office thrummed with an undercurrent of unspoken rivalries and power plays. To be honest, everything just seemed a little … harsh. 

My colleagues had all been there longer than me. They knew the suss and what’s more, I think they could sense that I was a little more sensitive than the environment called for. 

I didn’t really get their jokes and bit by bit, I noticed I was being taken advantage of

At work, we mostly work on group projects. We match our skills to hit goals and we’re all supposed to put in equal work. 

This wasn’t what was happening, though. 

I noticed that I was consistently getting the biggest workload. And I mean on EVERY single project. 

I think on average, this caused me to have to put in an extra 10 hours of work each week — at no extra pay. I mean, does that sound fair? 

It was then that I realized how unfair the world would be to you if you let it. And I have to say, it was a tough pill to swallow. 

For the first time in my life, I felt like I was low-key being bullied. And it was in the last place I expected. 

Beware wolves in sheep’s clothing. 

The tipping point came gradually yet forcefully. The long hours and unacknowledged efforts began to take a toll.

The journey home from work often ended in tears, a physical release for the emotional turmoil brewing inside. 

sneaky phrases passive aggressive people use to indirectly criticize you Growing up in a family that avoided conflict at all costs, I never learned to stand up for myself. A disagreement at work became the catalyst to profound personal transformation.

So, what happened next?

The stress just continued building up. I was holding it in but I was starting to lash out when I was alone. 

On the way home from work — often the last in the office — I’d often be so exhausted that all I could do was burst into tears. I started hating my life. I hated myself. I couldn’t understand why it was happening to me. 

Was there something wrong with my personality? 

I ended up taking tonnes of personality tests — I was desperate for answers at that point. One that really stuck out to me was the Big Five personality test

It turned out that I scored very high in something called trait agreeableness. At 96%, it means that in a room of 100 people, I’d be more agreeable than 96 of them. Wow. 

So, what did that mean? I started delving into the subject to learn more. 

And suddenly everything was making sense. I looked at how agreeable people perform in the workplace. Everything that was happening suddenly clicked in my mind like a jigsaw puzzle. 

I didn’t know how to stand up for myself. And it was becoming a serious problem for me. 

The conflict that erupted at work was like a storm brewing beneath the surface. Unspoken tensions, unresolved issues, and suppressed emotions had created a volatile environment. 

When it finally erupted, it was as if a dam had burst, releasing a torrent of frustration, resentment, and pent-up anger. The consequences were devastating, both for me personally and for the team as a whole. 

It was really embarrassing, but it needed to happen. And to be honest, nobody was surprised. 

Low-key, they all knew they were taking advantage of me. They weren’t blind.

In the aftermath of that turmoil, I realized that avoiding conflict and bottling emotions can be detrimental to your health. 

How things have changed

You’d be so surprised how easy it was to deal with the problem once I was aware of it. Okay, maybe not easy. 

But the hardest part was definitely realizing what was wrong and coming to terms with the fact that how I interacted with people wasn’t functional. 

Day by day, I became more sensitive to situations where project work was being distributed. I made a point out of ensuring equality was at the forefront of everyone’s mind. 

They listened. I mean, what could they say? 

This journey of self-discovery and transformation wasn’t just about learning to assert myself in the workplace. It extended into every facet of my life. 

Relationships, both personal and professional, began to evolve. I found that people respected me more when I respected myself enough to speak up. 

I started to form deeper, more genuine connections with those around me.

Each step forward, each moment of discomfort, was a sign that I was moving in the right direction. I was finding my voice and learning to use it in a way that was true to who I am.

In retrospect, I can’t fault my parents for the conflict-free environment they provided. It was done with love and the best of intentions. 

Yet, I’ve come to realize that shielding me from conflict also shielded me from developing essential life skills

It’s a delicate balance that I now strive to maintain in my own life – embracing harmony without sacrificing the need for honest, sometimes difficult, conversations.

Does any of this sound familiar?

If you’ve made it this far into my story, there’s got to be a reason, right? 

Does something strike a chord with you? Do you recognize yourself in my little tale? 

If so, it might be time for you to examine yourself on a deeper level. What model are you using? 

If the model no longer works, I say change the model. 

I know saying no and setting personal boundaries can be extremely difficult for some people. I’ve been there. 

Not only have I been there, but it’s where I came from. It was my bread and butter to be a pushover. And as someone who has come out the other side, I’m here to tell you — change is possible. 

My advice? 

My advice is actually quite simple. There are only two steps:

Step one: Identify the problem PRECISELY

Step two: Start taking steps to solve it TODAY

I don’t mean to undermine your pain or sound crass by simplifying it that much. But for me, it really was that simple. I hope it is for you, too.

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Tina Fey

Tina Fey

I've ridden the rails, gone off track and lost my train of thought. I'm writing for Ideapod to try and find it again. Hope you enjoy the journey with me.

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