TW: sexual assault
Conflict is terrifying.
As a child, when my teacher snapped at me for being too silly, it cut to my heart. I still remember the shame I felt when my Grade 1 teacher snapped at me to be quiet because I kept shouting out that she forgot to put the periods at the ends of sentences on the board. (I’m sorry, Lori! I wanted to make sure you understood punctuation!!)
As a teenager, when a boss would talk about me behind my back or yell at me for burning toast in the reliably fickle toaster, I’d convince myself they weren’t being unfair to me.
I started my adult life this way as well. When a new partner did something I interpreted as being disrespectful, I’d let it slide. When a friend stood me up six times in a row, I’d pretend to be understanding. If I felt someone I worked for was demanding too much, I’d cut back my workload with them until we were barely in contact.
The thought of standing up for myself or opening a potentially heated discussion about not feeling satisfied left my chest tight. It’s almost impossible to know how someone will react. However, it’s pretty clear where keeping the lips zipped gets you, and it’s not a good place.
I’d build up anger until I was so overwhelmed with emotion I could not longer handle it. At that point, I wouldn’t be able to start a healthy dialogue; my emotions were too strong. If it was someone I knew well enough that I was comfortable confronting them, I’d end up screaming and completely blow the situation out of proportion.
If it was someone I didn’t know well, I’d ghost. Quit the job. Drop the friendship. Stop doing that activity. Change buses. Shop at a different store.
Avoiding conflict is so apart of who I am, I didn’t even realize what a massive issue it was until I started exploring my anxiety.
While sitting quietly with cups of tea—understanding that the nausea, headache and difficulty breathing are signs I was anxious—I ask myself what is wrong .
One day, I was upset because someone had almost cut me off in traffic and I had to honk at them. Another time, a cashier had been rude to me earlier that day despite how cheery I was and I couldn’t stop thinking about it, wondering what I’d done wrong. There was the time a mechanic charged me way too much for an oil change, but I just handed over my credit card wanting to avoid the argument and fumed all day. I’m still pissed about that one, actually.
Another time, I was upset because I’d run into an ex-roomate who used to drunkenly crawl into my bed, and eat me out and fuck me while I cried, trying to think about anything else and waiting for him to stop.
I wasn’t upset because it brought back memories. Rather, I was mostly upset because I wondered what would happen if I ran into him again and he saw me. Would he pick a fight, as he’d done in the past? Would I lose my shit and yell at him? Would someone I was with recognize him and start something?
That’s pretty messed up that that was what was causing me anxiety about seeing that SOB. I realized it was time to change.
I started by quietly pulling my partner aside to tell him I was bothered that he’d made fun of me in front of my friends for where I chose to park my car. He thanked me for telling him and apologized.
Then I told my mom I was really tired of her making fun of my messy car because it made me feel bad for not having the time and money to keep it clean. She apologized and didn’t bring it up again.
I told some folks I worked for that I didn’t think the communication was great. That started quite a huge blow-out argument that ended with me walking away after being made to feel like an under-educated jerk. But, you know what? I lived. And I’m proud of myself for starting that discussion, (mostly) keeping calm and taking the time afterwards to evaluate how it went and identify the new conflict resolution tools I learned and where I need to improve.
I’m not going to pretend that I’m feeling cool as a cucumber about this conflict thing. However, I am no longer overwhelmingly disturbed by the idea of getting into a heated discussion.
When I think I’m being treated poorly, I let the treating-me-poorly perpetrator know. If someone upsets me, I talk to them about it. I don’t hesitate to use my horn when necessary, but I think of it as a gentle reminder to my neighbour vehicles that my car is there and doesn’t want to kiss.
I’m working towards lessening the energy I put into avoiding conflict so I can use that energy to be pissed about being mistreated, when it’s someone who actually deserves my fiery rage to be directed towards them.
If anyone has a problem with me standing up for myself or others, they can go fuck themselves. That’ll leave them happier than me keeping my mouth shut would, anyways.
On this week’s episode of Ramblings of an Anxious Mind, I talk about the tools I’ve added to my life skills toolbox to help me chill when I’m having a panic attacks, which is something that frequently happens when I think about or deal with conflict. If you’re like me, maybe listen to this before putting the fighting gloves on.
Shout out to Jenna Anderson who let me use her badass selfie!