The idea of confrontation has always made me sick to my stomach. Up until very recently, I got incredibly anxious even considering someone didn’t like me or that I might have to engage in conflict – whether it was at work or in my personal life.
That was, until therapy came into the picture. Each day, I’m learning that anger is a healthy emotion when valid, and that it’s completely acceptable to stick up for yourself when you know the situation is wrong. Learning to argue in a healthy way is one of the main ingredients to this whole “adulting” thing, and everything from little fights with your partner to standing your ground at work fall into that category.
Doing anything to avoid confrontation is not only counterproductive, it can stunt your emotional growth. We’ve been conditioned to think that fighting is harmful, dangerous or exposes us as vulnerable to the negative emotions of others but in the end, it’s really about owning our truth and standing our ground when someone enters to shift it.
In the past few months, I’ve dealt with a lot of conflict. While it can be emotionally draining, we must learn to stick up for ourselves. If you’re having trouble fighting the fear of confrontation, here are a few tips:
Respond, Don’t React
I’ve had a lot of trouble with this. Whenever I feel attacked or cornered, the first instinct with my own anxiety is to get angry. That usually isn’t the best response, although anger can be a valid feeling.
Then there is a completely different knee-jerk reaction some people with anxiety experience. Fear. The intense feeling or need to hide, panic or even please them to make the conflict end. Fight the feeling – you are allowed to disagree with others.
Deep breath. In and out. Focus on expressing a rational, direct and clear response – do not just react in fear.
Getting to this place takes both practice and the right tools, so don’t beat yourself up if future conflict brings on an emotional reaction – even if you’re doing your best to avoid it.
Practice Saying No
Oh boy, have I learned this. Perpetually a people pleaser, the word no wasn’t really in my vocabulary. With my own anxiety, I would avoid conflict and just agree or say yes because I was afraid of the other person leaving – abandonment. Particularly in a romantic relationship, I would appease the partner to stay away from bigger fights or getting emotional on my end, because then they would definitely leave, or so Anxiety Erica led me to believe.
In my most recent relationship, I continued to grow and break the boundaries of conflict avoidance. Even though the relationship didn’t last, I am thankful that that specific partner respected and allowed me to get mad, to start a fight. I’ve never been comfortable with it due to my fear of abandonment, so I consider that to be growth – no matter the end result.
If saying no is something that’s on the more difficult side, start small. Whether you’re at the grocery store, a cafe, or movie theater, practice refusing. Take the baby steps and like repetition therapy, you will quickly learn that the world doesn’t end when you stand your ground. No one will yell at you, there won’t be any negative consequences – you’re allowed to say no.
Know Your Value
One of the main reasons conflict anxiety exists is from undervaluing ourselves. Especially at work, it can be hard to know we are in the right when a manager, coworker or any employee is directly engaging with you. With the normal instinct being to shrink and hide, we must firmly plant our feet on the ground and speak our truth.
Panic and fear have no place in conflict when we are clear and direct. It takes confidence, self worth, and a helluva lot of growth to reach the place where truth matters more than the negative consequences our anxiety creates, but once you get there, stay there – stay empowered.
We are only our truth, it will set us free and keep us from any harm. If you know you are in the right, fight for that feeling.
Believe me, I know this takes time. This isn’t some snap of the fingers shit – practice makes perfect. In fact, the whole reason I wrote this post was because in my last therapy session, I spoke with my therapist on how I handled a confrontation in my life, and halfway through my story I noticed she had a look of approval on her face.
When I finished, she told me that she was proud of me. She said, just a little over a year ago, I would have handled a conflict exactly like that very differently. It would have been a series of hurt, anxiety, fear, and intense crying. And eventually appeasement. This time, I responded with a healthy combination of anger, authenticity, and owning my truth. I didn’t have any concern for the consequences that came after the confrontation, or a crippling fear of abandonment – I just looked to my truth. I’m proud of how far I’ve come, it’s a long journey to unlearn behaviors like these.
Do you have a fear of conflict or confrontation? Share how you handle it in the comments below!