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In the 1950s, prominent psychologist Karen Horney established three patterns of adjustment when faced with conflict: moving toward, moving against, or moving away from others. 

The Compliant Approach

Do you long for approval and affection? When faced with conflict, you may tend toward a “compliant” response. Compliant people move toward others, wanting quick reconciliation at any cost. In childhood, the compliant adjustment pattern looks like clingy attachment and fear of abandonment. In adulthood, it can look like codependency, or the person who believes, “If I can just find a partner, I’ll be okay!”

The Aggressive Approach

“Aggressive” personalities cope with conflict by moving against others. They’re motivated by a need for power and control, often wanting social recognition not for the limelight factor so much as the desire to be known and feared. In childhood and adulthood, aggressive types can appear angry or hostile when in conflict. 

The Withdrawn Approach

As the name indicates, “withdrawn” or “detached” personality types move away from others. These are the people who resign and disengage when faced with conflict. In childhood, it can look like self-sufficiency, independence, or even indifference to others. Interestingly, they’re often motivated by the need for perfection and may detach to avoid being exposed as flawed. 

Simple Steps Toward Healthy Conflict Resolution 

First, recognize your core desires. Many psychologists have studied the connection between personalities and conflict resolution styles, and they’ve found that surface responses to conflict aren’t always indicative of core motivations. For example, some may appear withdrawn when facing conflict, but beneath the surface they’re often aggressive because they’re motivated by control. They just know how to temper their reactions. Similarly, some may move toward others outwardly (compliance), while inwardly checking out (detachment). 

What drives you? What are your deepest desires? Answering these questions is the first step toward understanding why you respond to conflict the way that you do. 

Second, talk to Jesus about those desires. Let Him meet your felt needs. If you’re angry because you lack control, sit with Jesus long enough to remember He’s in control, and you can trust Him. If you’re compliant, give yourself permission to be unliked. Remember that if you’re still trying to please people, you’re not living as a servant of Christ (Galatians 1:10). If you’re detached because you fear being exposed, remember the gospel – you are free to fail and be imperfect because Jesus is enough and He loves you unconditionally.

Third, live in obedience to God’s Word even when it contradicts your instincts. Especially when it contradicts your instincts. Consider Romans 12:17-18, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is at all possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” 

If those verses irritate you, you probably have an aggressive approach to conflict. Don’t ignore that passage. Press into it. Allow it to change you – that’s the only way to grow. If you’re compliant, you probably love that passage! Stop hiding behind it. Paul is not instructing us to “please everybody.” Notice the phrase, “as far as it depends on you.”

This passage presupposes we can’t live at peace with everyone. That’s okay. Recognize that you can only be accountable for one side of any conflict, and release yourself from ruminating over how someone else may or may not feel about you.
Let God have the loudest voice in your life. 

Looking for professional or pastoral counseling? Check out to learn more about Grace’s Care and Counseling Center. 

One Comment

  • Pam says:

    This article meets me where I am. Although I am in my 70’s, I still struggle with being too compliant. Thank you for this article. I will seek to let GOD have the loudest voice in my life.

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