I’ve been feeling a little overdue for a more personal post around here, so today I’m sharing a topic I’ve been thinking a lot about over the past couple years. It’s something that I’ve struggled with consistently in my adult life and I imagine it’s affected some of you at one point or another, and that is the fear of confrontation. Over the past year or two, I’ve been making small strides towards speaking up for myself and it’s made such a difference in my life that I think it’s high time I talk about it here.
(Just have to say I can’t stop laughing at this wholly unrelated outfit picture because every other article on the internet about overcoming a fear of confrontation is riddled with absurd stock photos and I literally found myself going through my archives trying to find something more relevant but shockingly couldn’t come up with a photo where I’m having a tearful heart-to-heart with a loved one so here we are. 🙃 ANYWAY!)
I’ve often joked in the past that I was allergic to confrontation. There are several situations I can count on to trigger my social anxiety, but nothing makes me more anxious than having to tell someone they’ve hurt my feelings, no matter how justified I think those feelings are. Whether it’s having a tough conversation with a girlfriend or even responding to a stranger on the internet, a situation that calls for direct confrontation never fails to induce total panic (complete with racing heart, sweaty palms, etc.).
Historically I’ve often resorted to venting to my mom or husband about something that’s bothering me, instead of proactively addressing the issue and effecting real change in the situation. And while venting can be temporarily helpful for blowing off steam, avoiding confrontation ultimately just lets problems fester and resentment grow. A couple years ago, it really hit me that I wasn’t doing myself any favors by avoiding confrontation in the name of keeping the peace. In fact I was causing myself inner turmoil and undue stress, while the other person or people involved had no way of knowing how I was feeling. And how absolutely not peaceful is that?
And so I realized that my avoid-conflict-at-all-costs mentality was actually doing me more harm than good. Instead of having one hard conversation and putting an issue to bed, I found myself going out of my way to avoid seeing certain people. I would give myself permission to opt out of potentially difficult situations and, perhaps worse, I would make myself a doormat or a punching bag in others. It really took me getting to a point where I was making myself miserable trying to avoid difficult conversations to realize that confrontation could be not only completely healthy but completely necessary as well.
I’ve overcome this fear of confrontation several times in the past couple years: letting go of a difficult employee, telling a family member how they’d repeatedly hurt my feelings, and course-correcting a couple friendships that had been bringing me more angst than joy. In every instance I’ve had to battle that feeling of panic and trust that things could only improve if I started speaking up for myself. Each time I have a conversation that I would have avoided like the plague in previous years, I feel like a giant weight has been lifted. I certainly don’t enjoy confrontation (and still find myself avoiding it from time to time), but finding my voice in these moments has been both freeing and empowering.
Here are a few things that have helped me overcome my fear of confrontation, but I would love to hear anything that’s worked for you in the comments. First and foremost, I remind myself that the only way out of a stressful situation is through it — avoiding conflict never eliminates the problem. Next I talk the situation through with someone I love and trust (again usually my mom or husband) before I have the conversation with the person I actually need to address. I also think about the best timing for a tough conversation; for me, it’s usually as soon as possible so it’s not hanging over my head, but not so soon that I’m running high on emotions — a cool head is a must for resolving conflict. Then when it’s go time, I just take a deep breath and do the best I can to express how I’m feeling before hearing the other person out. I’m not sure there’s a perfect process or a one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to confrontation, but I will say I’m always more at peace having addressed an issue than I had been while I was avoiding it.
Overcoming my fear of confrontation is less a singular milestone and more an ongoing process, but I’ve tackled it enough times now to know that life is better with a handful of few-and-far-between tough conversations than it is with a mission to avoid conflict at all costs. If you take one or two things away from this post, I hope it’s knowing that it’s never too late to start improving a weakness and that you are so worth sticking up for. Please continue the conversation in the comments if you’ve faced your own fear of confrontation — I know I for one still have a lot to learn!