The Turtle Way

There are different approaches to managing conflict. One way is the Turtle way. The Turtle way is to hide in your shell and avoid conflict altogether.

Simone was generally a very ‘good’ girl growing up, got good grades and stayed out of trouble. However, when she got to a certain age and started dating boys, her parents never approved. The first boyfriend was too moody, the second one too old, the third was a bad influence and so on. Simone hated conflict, didn’t want to have to argue with her parents, yet didn’t want to stop seeing her boyfriends. So she started to pretend that she was meeting up with her girlfriends when she was actually going on a date. She became quite creative in spinning a good story.

When things became serious with boyfriend number 3, Simone moved in with him. When she couldn’t see eye to eye with her boyfriend’s father, she avoided family meet-ups. She would feel ill or be too busy. She avoided difficult topics with her boyfriend too. Even though their sex life was lousy, Simone focused on preserving the ‘good’ bits of the relationship.

In her new job as well if she made a mistake, she became expert at covering it up so as to avoid any criticism or conflict.

By behaving this way, the Turtle way, Simone was achieving her goal of avoiding difficult and confrontational situations. However, there were costs attached which she didn’t realise for quite a long time.

Simone was having to hide her true self from her family, then her boyfriend and this became so normal she started doing it everywhere she went. No one knew the real Simone. Simone started to wonder if she knew the real Simone too. As a result Simone felt incredibly lonely. She felt she couldn’t be herself because that would lead to conflict, which was just unbearable to her.

It also meant that Simone rarely got her needs met, as she never voiced them. In fact, she had become so good at denying she had any needs, people stopped checking if she ever did have any.

The Turtle way is sadly a lose/lose approach. It means that you withdraw, so you both withdraw in terms of the relationship with the other person and you don’t put forward your own needs so they don’t get met. There are contexts where this approach is ok, for example, when you can’t agree the price of a hatstand at a car boot sale, you walk away as there is no need to preserve the relationship with the seller and you didn’t really need a hatstand anyway.

But when it comes to more important relationships and situations, it becomes problematic. The trouble is, that although Simone was good at denying she had needs, she did have them. We all do. One of my key messages in working with recovering people pleasers is that it is ok and normal to have needs and to put your own needs first. And it actually makes you become more attractive as a human being.

The Turtle way is only one of several approaches to managing conflict. One of the areas that I explore with people is new ways of approaching conflicts. As with anything new, it feels scary and awkward at first. But it really is possible. It is beautiful to see people taking brave steps in getting their own needs met and flourishing as a person.

And to be able to stop hiding and be the real you? As Oscar Wilde said “Be yourself, everyone else is taken”.

Thanks for reading. If you have any challenges with conflict or getting your needs met that you would like some support with, let’s have a chat about how I can help. I offer a free, no obligation, introductory session where you can experience my coaching firsthand.

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Article as featured in the Noomii Coaching Directory.